Out of the Silent Planet POSTSCRIPT

(Being extracts from a letter written by the original of 'Dr. Ransom' to the author)

... I think you are right, and after the two or three corrections (marked in red) the MS. will have to stand. I won't deny that I am disappointed, but then any attempt to tell such a story is bound to disappoint the man who has really been there. I am not now referring to the ruthless way in which you have cut down all the philological part, though, as it now stands, we are giving our readers a mere caricature of the Malacandrian language. I mean something more difficult - something which I couldn't possibly express. How can one 'get across' the Malacandrian smells? Nothing comes back to me more vividly in my dreams ... especially the early morning smell in those purple woods, where the very mention of 'early morning' and 'woods' is misleading because it must set you thinking of earth and moss and cobwebs and the smell of our own planet, but I'm thinking of something totally different. More 'aromatic' ... yes, but then it is not hot or luxurious or exotic as that word suggests. Something aromatic, spicy, yet very cold, very thin, tingling at the back of the nose - something that did to the sense of smell what high, sharp violin notes do to the ear. And mixed with that I always hear the sound of the singing - great hollow hound-like music from enormous throats, deeper than Chaliapin, a 'warm, dark noise.' I am homesick for my old Malacandrian valley when I think of it; yet God knows when I heard it there I was homesick enough for the Earth.

Of course you are right; if we are to treat it as a story you must telescope the time I spent in the village during which 'nothing happened.' But I grudge it. Those quiet weeks, the mere living among the hrossa, are to me the main thing that happened. I know them, Lewis; that's what you can't get into a mere story. For instance, because I always take a thermometer with me on a holiday (it has saved many a one from being spoiled) I know that the normal temperature of a hross is 103¡ᬠI know - though I can't remember learning it - that they live about 80 Martian years, or 160 earth years; that they marry at about 20 (= 40); that their droppings, like those of the horse, are not offensive to themselves, or to me, and are used for agriculture; that they don't shed tears, or blink; that they do get (as you would say) 'elevated' but not drunk on a gaudy night - of which they have many. But what can one do with these scraps of information? I merely analyse them out of a whole living memory that can never be put into words, and no one in this world will be able to build up from such scraps quite the right picture.

For example, can I make even you understand how I know, beyond all question, why it is that the Malacandrians don't keep pets and, in general, don't feel about their 'lower animals' as we do about ours? Naturally it is the sort of thing they themselves could never have told me. One just sees why when one sees the three species together. Each of them is to the others both what a man is to us and what an animal is to us. They can talk to each other, they can co-operate, they have the same ethics; to that extent a sorn and a hross meet like two men. But then each finds the other different, funny, attractive as an animal is attractive. Some instinct starved in us, which we try to soothe by treating irrational creatures almost as if they were rational, is really satisfied in Malacandra. They don't need pets.

By the way, while we are on the subject of species, I am rather sorry that the exigencies of the story have been allowed to simplify the biology so much. Did I give you the impression that each of the three species was perfectly homogeneous? If so, I misled you. Take the hrossa; my friends were black hrossa, but there are also silver hrossa, and in some of the western handramits one finds the great crested hross - ten feet high, a dancer rather than a singer, and the noblest animal, after man, that I have ever seen. Only the males have the crest. I also saw a pure white hross at Meldilorn, but like a fool I never found out whether he represented a sub-species or was a mere freak like our terrestrial albino. There is also at least one other kind of sorn besides the kind I saw - the soroborn or red sorn of the desert, who lives in the sandy north. He's a corker by all accounts.

I agree, it is a pity I never saw the pfifltriggi at home. I know nearly enough about them to 'fake' a visit to them as an episode in the story, but I don't think we ought to introduce any mere fiction. 'True in substance' sounds all very well on earth, but I can't imagine myself explaining it to Oyarsa, and I have a shrewd suspicion (see my last letter) that I have not heard the end of him. Anyway, why should our 'readers' (you seem to know the devil of a lot about them!), who are so determined to hear nothing about the language, be so anxious to know more of the pfifltriggi? But if you can work it in, there is, of course, no harm in explaining that they are oviparous and matriarchal, and short-lived compared with the other species. It is pretty plain that the great depressions which they inhabit are the old ocean-beds of Malacandra. Hrossa, who had visited them, described themselves as going down into deep forests over sand, 'the bone-stones (fossils) of ancient wave-borers about them.' No doubt these are the dark patches seen on the Martian disk from Earth. And that reminds me - the 'maps' of Mars which I have consulted since I got back are so inconsistent with one another that I have given up the attempt to identify my own handramit. If you want to try your hand, the desideratum is 'a roughly north-east and south-west "canal" cutting a north and south "canal" not more than twenty miles from the equator.' But astronomers differ very much as to what they can see.

--- Read books free online at novel68.com ---

Now as to your most annoying question: 'Did Augray, in describing the eldila, confuse the ideas of a subtler body and a superior being?' No. The confusion is entirely your own. He said two things: that the eldila had bodies different from those of planetary animals, and that they were superior in intelligence. Neither he nor anyone else in Malacandra ever confused the one statement with the other or deduced the one from the other. In fact, I have reasons for thinking that there are also irrational animals with the eldil type of body (you remember Chaucer's 'airish beasts' ?)

I wonder are you wise to say nothing about the problem of eldil speech? I agree that it would spoil the narrative to raise the question during the trial scene at Meldilorn, but surely many readers will have enough sense to ask how the eldila, who obviously don't breathe, can talk. It is true that we should have to admit we don't know, but oughtn't the readers to be told that? I suggested to J. - the only scientist here who is in my confidence - your theory that they might have instruments, or even organs, for manipulating the air around them and thus producing sounds indirectly, but he didn't seem to think much of it. He thought it probable that they directly manipulated the ears of those they were 'speaking' to. That sounds pretty difficult ... of course one must remember that we have really no knowledge of the shape or size of an eldil, or even of its relations to space (our space) in general. In fact, one wants to keep on insisting that we really know next to nothing about them. Like you, I can't help trying to fix their relation to the things that appear in terrestrial tradition - gods, angels, fairies. But we haven't the data. When I attempted to give Oyarsa some idea of our own Christian angelology, he certainly seemed to regard our 'angels' as different in some way from himself. But whether he meant that they were a different species, or only that they were some special military caste (since our poor old earth turns out to be a kind of Ypres Salient in the universe), I don't know.

Why must you leave out my account of how the shutter jammed just before our landing on Malacandra? Without this, your description of our sufferings from excessive light on the return journey raises the very obvious question, 'Why didn't they close their shutters?' I don't believe your theory that 'readers never notice that sort of thing.' I'm sure I should.

There are two scenes that I wish you could have worked into the book; no matter - they are worked into me. One or other of them is always before me when I close my eyes.

In one of them I see the Malacandrian sky at morning; pale blue, so pale that now, when I have grown once more accustomed to terrestrial skies, I think of it as almost white. Against it the nearer tops of the giant weeds - the 'trees' as you call them - show black, but far away, across miles of that blinding blue water, the remoter woods are water-colour purple. The shadows all around me on the pale forest floor are like shadows in snow. There are figures walking before me; slender yet gigantic form, black and sleek as animated tall hats; their huge round heads, poised on their sinuous stalk-like bodies, give them the appearance of black tulips.  They go down, singing, to the edge of the lake. The music fills the wood with its vibration, though it is so soft that I can hardly hear it: it is like dim organ music. Some of them embark, but most remain. It is done slowly; this is no ordinary embarkation, but some ceremony. It is, in fact, a hross funeral. Those three with the grey muzzles whom they have helped into the boat are going to Meldilorn to die. For in that world, except for some few whom the hnakra gets, no one dies before his time. All live out the full span allotted to their kind, and a death with them is as predictable as a birth with us. The whole village has known that those three will die this year, this month; it was an easy guess that they would die even this week. And now they are off, to receive the last counsel of Oyarsa, to die, and to be by him 'unbodied.' The corpses, as corpses, will exist only for a few minutes: there are no coffins in Malacandra, no sextons, churchyards, or undertakers. The valley is solemn at their departure, but I see no signs of passionate grief. They do not doubt their immortality, and friends of the same generation are not torn apart. You leave the world, as you entered it with the 'men of your own year.' Death is not preceded by dread nor followed by corruption.

The other scene is a nocturne. I see myself bathing with Hyoi in the warm lake. He laughs at my clumsy swimming; accustomed to a heavier world, I can hardly get enough of me under water to make any headway. And then I see the night sky. The greater part of it is very like ours, though the depths are blacker and the stars brighter; but something that no terrestrial analogy will enable you fully to picture is happening in the west. Imagine the Milky Way magnified - the Milky Way seen through our largest telescope on the clearest night. And then imagine this, not painted across the zenith, but rising like a constellation behind the mountain tops - a dazzling necklace of lights brilliant as planets, slowly heaving itself up till it fills a fifth of the sky and now leaves a belt of blackness between itself and the horizon. It is too bright to look at for long, but it is only a preparation. Something else is coming. There is a glow like moonrise on the harandra. Ahihra! cries Hyoi, and other baying voices answer him from the darkness all about us. And now the true king of night is up, and now he is threading his way through that strange western galaxy and making its lights dim by comparison with his own. I turn my eyes away, for the little disk is far brighter than the Moon in her greatest splendour.

The whole handramit is bathed in colourless light; I could count the stems of the forest on the far side of the lake; I see that my fingernails are broken and dirty. And now I guess what it is that I have seen - Jupiter rising beyond the Asteroids and forty million miles nearer than he has ever been to earthly eyes. But the Malacandrians would say 'within the Asteroids,' for they have an odd habit, sometimes, of turning the solar system inside out. They call the Asteroids the 'dancers before the threshold of the Great Worlds.' The Great Worlds are the planets, as we should say, 'beyond' or 'outside' the Asteroids. Glundandra (Jupiter) is the greatest of these and has some importance in Malacandrian thought which I cannot fathom. He is 'the centre,' 'great Meldilorn,' 'throne' and 'feast.' They are, of course, well aware that he is uninhabitable, at least by animals of the planetary type; and they certainly have no pagan idea of giving a local habitation to Maleldil. But somebody or something of great importance is connected with Jupiter; as usual "The seroni would know." But they never told me. Perhaps the best comment is in the author whom I mentioned to you: 'For as it was well said of the great Africanus that he was never less alone than when alone, so, in our philosophy, no parts of this universal frame are less to be called solitaire than those which the vulgar esteem most solitaire, since the withdrawing of men and beasts signifieth but the greater frequency of more excellent creatures.'

More of this when you come. I am trying to read every old book on the subject that I can hear of. Now that 'Weston' has shut the door, the way to the planets lies through the past; if there is to be any more space-travelling, it will have to be time-travelling as well ...!

Prev
Free Novels Read Online | Read Wuxia Novel | Read Xianxia Novel