CS Lewis’s Space Trilogy is a very interesting set of books which are much more complex than a journey into science fiction. They are science fiction, but they also are deeply philosophical and theological. All of us at Plumfield and Paideia have been impressed with them at different times and for different reasons and all of us would happily recommend them to adults or very mature readers. They are layered and multifaceted. They are different than most science fiction or fantasy works of our era but that is entirely by design. As much as we want to give you an in-depth review, however, we think it best to refer you to a really solid review that already exists: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crywoof/2015/03/c-s-lewis-the-space-trilogy/
As good as that review is, and it is pretty good, it fails to address one key aspect of the books that we care about: family friendliness or age appropriateness. To our shock and dismay we often see this series recommended to young readers – the 10 to 12-year-old boy niche in particular – and we could not more emphatically disagree. Our purpose with this review is to highlight some specific content issues in each of the three books so that parents can discern when to share this story with their children.
Like classic Lewis, these all fit together without really fitting together. He simply isn’t Tolkien and didn’t spend 30 years designing an alternative reality for us to wander around in without getting lost. Inkling historians claim that Lewis wrote Out of the Silent Planet on a bet with Tolkien. Both wanted to respond to H.G. Wells and other atheists who were turning the heavens into strange anti-moral other worlds. According to legend, the friends flipped a coin and Lewis was assigned the theme of space and Tolkien was relegated to time travel. (Note: Tolkien lost the bet and never produced a serious time travel novel.) I mention this because we will treat the three books separately from each other since their styles vary widely.
All three space trilogy books are for mature readers. They were never designed for children. Lovers of Narnia mistake Lewis’s intention and think that this is wholesome fare for young readers. This is not Narnia.
In the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, the story arc deals with man’s human nature – whole, broken, and bent. The main character is kidnapped and brought to Mars as a human offering to inhabitants of Malacandra (Mars). The main character journeys through the planet and befriends several man-like creatures. As he tries to understand their culture, their relationships, their government, and their religious nature, comments about sexual intercourse, prostitution, and murder are all explored. These are topics I would not approach with a reader who has not had some kind of Theology of the Body understanding.
In the second book, Perelandra, our protagonist, Ransom, is summoned by the celestial creatures to the planet of Venus. In this book a newly created human female-like creature is living in an Eden-like place. She is innocent and loves her Maker. The introduction of Ransom and another human, however, disrupts that paradise and her innocence is replaced with bitter knowledge. The two men engage in what amounts to spiritual warfare. Ransom seeks to preserve her innocence if he can and help her maintain her hopeful and trusting nature. The villain, however, seeks to pervert her innocence with bent and broken notions. It is my sense that this book is inappropriate to any reader who has not had training in logic and rhetoric. The philosophy contained herein would be excellent fare for a junior or senior high student who is looking for a literature-based approach to modern apologetics. Younger readers would be bored, confused, and possibly scandalized.
The third book, That Hideous Strength, is, just as the title implies, dark, strange, war-oriented and, frankly, hideous. It is a clear response to HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds. While very interesting, it is positively scary in places. The bad guys are genuinely bad. The good guys are stretched, tested and nearly defeated. While we see younger versions of this in a lot of other excellent books, this one is done very much from an adult perspective. Conversations about birth control, marital relations, cold-blooded murder, eugenics, and euthanasia are tossed around in significant ways. Also of note, the third book features a severed head which is animated in a way that is clearly Satanic. This is not a book for the ill-prepared.
That said, these are tremendously good books for upper-level high school students or college students. When young people are leaving their parents’ protection and venturing out into the real world, these books can serve as a healthy preparation against the lies of modernity, moral relativism, spiritual apathy, and false teaching.