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Readable but philosophically flawed
on 19 November 2011
Much more interesting than the previous two volumes in CSL's "Space Trilogy", mainly because its set on Earth with a large cast of human characters. The previous books had only two or three human characters, all the aliens being stereotypes. The working class characters in THS are patronising stereotypes but there's not many of them. CSL was an academic and can therefore write convincingly about a small university in the 1940s. And somewhere in this book there's an interesting, inventive fantasy fiction book struggling to get out. The idea of every country having two "personalities", with Logres as the hidden manifestation of Britain, like a Platonic ideal, is intereting but is hardly developed. Likewise the brief references to other words and ancient lore- he even throws in a reference to Numenor which appears in his friend Tolkein's books. Merlin is by far the most interesting character, all the others do very little. I kept turning the pages, but I feel this book has huge flaws.
Firstly, the lead characters, Jane and Mark, ddi not engage my interest. Mark is "a man of straw" as CSL tells us at some length, while Jane is a dreary little snob who despite having neither job nor children still thinks she needs a daily cleaning woman. Merlin, who is portrayed as morally suspect, is by far the most interesting character, but he doesn't appear till more than halfway through.
Secondly, CSL ignores the common advice re creative writing, "show don't tell". CSL insists on telling us stuff in the authorial voice instead of showing us through narrative and dialogue. For instance, he expounds at length on how Mark lacks moral fibre due to having studied sociology instead of classics or science.
Thirdly, although CSL writes as a Christian, he makes his God look very ineffectual. In volume two, Ransom was bitten in the foot by a Satanically posessed academic. In this voume, we find him In this volume, some years later, we find him still in severe chronic pain from the unhealed injury! surely a tiny miracle wouldn't be too much to ask, for a man who's already saved a planet from damnation? Failing that, a course of antibiotics.
Fourthly, as in volume two (Voyage to Venus), the Devil's agents are eventually defeated by means which, although quite exciting, are entirely un-Christian. Merlin is regarded as so morally dubious that his own salvation is in doubt, yet Ransom's dreary crew rely on him to defeat the enemy while they basically just sit around. At the end of the book one of them actually points this out to Ransom, and recieves a most unsatisfactory answer.
Fifthly, CSL uses Jane and Mark's relationship to expound his Christian teaching that the woman should submit to her husband's authority. (We might suppose that Feminism started in the 1960s, but for CSL the rot had evidently started long before!) Now, I've read several of John Norman's works, in which male superiority is expounded in even more uncompromising terms. But even John Norman would not expect any woman to submit to a "man of straw" like Mark. CSL, through his mouthpiece Ransom, suggests explicitly that obedience to authority is a good in itself. In the aftermath of the Nazi era there's really no excuse for preaching that idea.
In conclusion, I feel that while attempting to expound his religion, CSL succeeds only in exposing its weaknesses. Is this really the best they could do?