Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Are The Whisperers Eldila?

In addition to the more famous Chronicles of Narnia Clive Staples Lewis, i.e. C.S. Lewis, wrote The Space Trilogy. In the first of these novels Out of the Silent Planet the protagonist, a man named Ransom is taken from Earth to another planet in our solar system known to its inhabitants as Malacandra. Malacandra is inhabited by three human equivalent, though physically not very human-like, people groups. They are ruled by a being named Oyarsa who is the greatest of another group of beings, the eldila.

Below are descriptions of these eldil put into terms that Ransom, the mere human, will hopefully understand. Ransom has heard an eldil, but he's never seen one.

"[Ransom begins:] 'But what are eldila, and why can I not see them? Have they no bodies?'

[The being he's talking to, a sorn, replies:] 'Of course they have bodies. There are a great many bodies you cannot see. Every animal's eyes see some things but not others. Do you know of many kinds of body in Thulcandra [Earth]?'

Ransom tried to give the sorn some idea of the terrestrial terminology of solids, liquids and gases. It listened with great attention.

'That is not the way to say it,' it replied. 'Body is movement. If it is at one speed, you smell something; if at another, you hear a sound; if at another you see a sight; if at another, you neither see nor hear nor smell, nor know the body in any way. But mark this, Small ONe, that the two ends meet.'

'How do you mean?'

'If movement is faster, then that which moves is more nearly in two places at once.'

'That is true.'

'But if the movement were faster still--it is difficult, for you do not know many words--you see that if you made it faster and faster, in the end the moving things would be in all places at once, Small One.'

'I think I see that.'

'Well, then, that is the thing at the top of all bodies--so fast that it is at rest, so truly body that it has ceased being body at all. But we will not talk of that. Start from where we are, Small One. The swiftest thing that touches our senses is light. We do not truly see light, we only see slower things lit by it, so that for us light is on the edge--the last thing we know before things become too swift for us. But the body of an eldid is a movement swift as light; you may say its body is made of light, but not of that which is light for the eldil. His "light" is a swifter movement which for us is nothing at all; and what we call light is for him a thing like water, a visible thing, a thing he can touch and bathe in--even a dark thing when not illumined by the swifter. And what we call firm things--flesh and earth--seem to him thinner, and harder to see, than our light, and more like clouds, and nearly nothing. To us the eldil is a thin, half-real body that can go through walls and rocks: to himself he goes through them because he is solid and firm and they are like cloud. And what is true light to him and fills the heaven, so that he will plunge into the rays of the sun to refresh himself from it, is to us the black nothing in the sky at night. These things are not strange, Small One, though they are beyond our senses.'

pp. 94-95

Later Ransom finds that he can sense the eldila when he comes to an Island filled with them.

"[Ransom] said to himself that he was having a look at the island, but his feeling was rather that the island was having a look at him. This was greatly increased by a discovery he made after he had been walking for about an hour, and which he ever afterwards found great difficulty in describing. In the most abstract terms it might be summed up by saying that the surface of the island was subject to tiny variations of light and shade which no change in the sky accounted for. If the air had not been calm and the groundweed too short and firm to move in the wind, he would have said that a faint breeze was playing with it, and working such slight alterations in the shading as it does in a corn-field on the Earth. Like the silvery noises in the air, these footsteps of light were shy of observation. Where he looked hardest they were least to be seen: on the edges of his field of vision they came crowding as though a complex arrangement of them were there in progress. To attend to any one of theme was to make it invisible, and the minute brightness seemed often to have just left the spot where his eyes fell. He had no doubt that he was "seeing"--as much as he ever would see--the eldila. The sensation it produced in him was curious. It was not exactly uncanny, not as if he were surrounded by ghosts. It was not even as if he were being spied upon; he had rather the sense of being looked at by things that had a right to look. His feeling was less than fear; it had in it something of embarrassment, something of shyness, something of submission, and it was profoundly uneasy."

pp. 108-09

Finally, when Ransom first encounters the greatest eldila, Oyarsa he describes Oyarsa as "the merest whisper of light--no, less than that, the smallest diminution of shadow." p. 118

I don't want to give away directly what type of being known to us humans the eldil are apparently intended to represent, but I did want to share these descriptions of these beings that are heard and not seen though are sensed in the way light moves around them since they reminded me of some of the stranger goings-on occurring on a certain Island we're all familiar with.

***All citations are to the Scribner edition of the paperback published in 2003.


Capcom said...

Very good points Memphish!

I tried to read those books, but for some reason I could not get through the first one. I tried numerous times. That was about 20 years ago, maybe I should try again, I love Lewis.

RRB said...

Memphish good stuff and I think it's safe to say that book would confuse the hell out of me..thanks for the edited down version..

tall guy said...

Hi! I just wanted to thank you for promping me to join in the Lost fun again.

I very much enjoyed the CS Lewis SF books when I was young. Never did get around to reading the third one, That Hideous Strength, though.

Chris JC said...

I should probably give those a read at some point. I'm fairly familiar with radio versions of Silent Planet and Perelandra that come around very frequently on BBC7 over here, often just as I go to bed. they run nightly and seem to be on for months at a time.

I mostly remember someone learning the language of a Hrossa.

That might not be the spelling, obviously.

memphish said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. I read Books 2 and 3 this past week while I was away and will post some stuff from them probably after episode 4.8 airs and is discussed. For anyone interested in reading them, each does stand alone though they build slightly in terms of our and the hero's understanding of the eldils and how they operate. I think That Hideous Strength was my favorite. It's the least SciFi-ish which is probably why. I'm still pretty new to Sci Fi though my repertoire is growing thanks to LOST.

Cool_Freeze said...

Memphish, I tried reading that book a few years ago before LOST and it really was simply annoying. I had NO idea what the basis of the story was or what Lewis was trying to convey when he wrote it. I got the basic storyline of what was happening but the characters were just all over the place. I have a feeling though that if the book was made into a movie, I would LOVE IT and I would probably be able to read the book than. (Which it is usually opposite) but I don't recommend this book by a long shot.