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Chapter 20 Study

An archived study of the first book in Lewis' theological science fiction Space Trilogy.

Chapter 20 Study

Postby Kanakaberaka » 15 May 2006, 13:34

Synopsis: Now that Weston has cooled down his head, he is given a chance to explain himself before Oyarsa with the help of Ransom acting as a translator.
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This chapter has me wondering how OOTSP can ever be successfully made into a movie. The translation of English into Malacandrian is the point of the whole chapter. I suppose that subtitles could be used, but they would be distracting. And it's not just the translation of words that is illustrated. It is the exchange of ideas, or in one case the inability to exchange them that is shown. For example :
As soon as Ransom had finished, Weston continued. "Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute. It is not by tribal taboos and copy-book maxims that she has pursued her relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization."

"He says," began Ransom, "that living creatures are stronger than the question whether an act is bent or good -no, that cannot be right -he says it is better to be alive and bent than to be dead -no -he says, he says -I cannot say what he says, Oyarsa, in your language.

In fact it is rather comical to compare Weston's original bombastic, jingoistic speech with the practical translation Ransom has to give to Oyarsa. The translation has to explain things like what a thief or an army is. Technical terms like transport system becomes "carry heavy weights very quickly a long way".
When Devine attempts to placate Oyarsa by claiming that Weston is a fool and that all they want is to return to Earth with gold, Oyarsa shouts "Silence" which sends Devine crumbling onto the ground.
I can't blame Stanley for posting the study of this chapter because all of the book has been leading up to this dramatic confontation of minds.
_________________
so it goes...
so it goes...
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Kanakaberaka
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Original Chapter 20 Comments

Postby Kanakaberaka » 15 May 2006, 13:55

My tardiness in posting Chapter 20's study caused Stanley Anderson to begin this chapter himself. This was at the time Into the Wardrobe began it's new format. :
Sorry K, just couldn't wait. I've been chomping at the bit for this chapter in particular (others too, but this is one of the goodies). Please post your summary and comments as normal -- I'm just being a wally here:-)

The first thing I wanted to point out is what I see as a similarity this chapter has to the crucial scene in Till We Have Faces where Orual at last gets to read her book of complaints to the gods and finds that it not what she had written. But she still reads it anyway -- over and over apparently until she is finally silenced by the gods. And it is only then that she realizes that altered though it is, the thing she was reading really was her book of complaints, distilled and stripped (as she was before the crowd) down to its bare and true meaning.

This is essentially what Weston goes through (without the final recognition and repentence of his own error that Orual is able to achieve) with Ransom acting as the distillation and stripping bare effect of Weston's intended speech to Oyarsa. Though Weston is not stipped physically (his head dunking is probably not unlike Orual's trials), he is, to a slight degree, stripped of the honour he might expect, as indicated in this bit: "Weston, who had now finished his statement, looked round instinctively for a chair to sink into. On Earth he usually sank into a chair as the applause began. Finding none...he folded his arm and stared with a certain dignity about him."

I also can't resist commenting on the wonderfully funny bit where Weston continues speaking:
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"She---" began Weston.

"I'm sorry," interrupted Ransom, "but I've forgotten who She is"

"Life, of course," snapped Weston...
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Aside from its sheer humour, I am pretty certain that Lewis is also playing off of an idea he explains in some detail in The Discarded Image (TDI) in the section of chapter III called "C. Statius, Claudian, and the Lady 'Natura'". I wish I could quote the whole section, but it is way too long. The gist of it is that Lewis describes how the medievals made a lot of the personification of Nature, but that, although they got most of their knowledge and ideas from classical sources, the personification of Nature is not very prominent in Classical literature. He explains that this is because Nature was essentially "everything" to the Classical authours. As he writes:
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You cannot have the goddess Nature till you have the concept "Nature", and you cannot have the concept until you have begun to abstract. But as long as the concept covers everything, the goddess (who personifies the concept) is necessarily a jejune and inactive deity; for everything is not a subject about which anything of much interest can be said.
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Lewis says of the medievals, in contrast, that "they believed from the outset that Nature was not everything. She was created. She was not God's highest, much less His only, creature. She had her proper place, below the Moon."

Well, there is a lot more I would love to quote, but I will have to pass. My point here is that I think Lewis is playing on Weston's view of Life that is, to Weston, "everything". And this is why Ransom, who has by this point "transferred" more to the medieval viewpoint, finds it difficult to keep track of who "She" is when Weston refers to Nature as "She". Weston himself cannot even keep it very straight as seen when Oyarsa questions him about what it is exactly that he values in life, and finds that it is neither the form nor the hnau-ness, but only a sort of seed that Weston values -- and even that Weston denies with exasperated comments of "if you can't understand, I can't explain it to you".

There is also that stange section where Oyarsa alludes to what is, if not temptation, at least some kind of influence from the Bent One on Malacandra which Oyarsa prevented in the end.

And finally, I'll reiterate my pure thrill at the prospect of Oyarsa being led by Ransom's tales, Narnia-like into strange unknown territories of Maleldil's mysterious activity (ie, the Incarnation and man's Redemption) on Earth. Of course all we get of it is the anticipation of Oyarsa's comment at the end of the chapter, "But I must talk with Ransom," and his comment to Ransom after the talk at the beginning of the next chapter, "You have shown me more wonders than are known in the whole of heaven".

Ooh. Sends a shiver down my back again, even typing it this second time.

--Stanley


Steve commented :
I also like the part where Ransom translates a paragraph of Weston's discourse as "He does not know what will happen in the future, but he wants it to happen very much."


To which Stanley replied :
Yes. You remind me that I forgot to mention another reference I was thinking of reading that part -- it is very much along the line of Lewis' very funny poem "Evolutionary Humn" (which is written as a parody to fit the style and meter of the well-known hymn that begins "Lead us Heavenly Father, Lead us", and can actually be sung to that tune -- the first line is "Lead us Evolution, lead us, up the furture's endless stair"). The mocking verse in particular that relates to that line from OSP is this:
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Far too long have sages vainly
glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
"Goodness = what comes next."
By evolving Life is solving
all the questions we perplexed.
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--Stanley
so it goes...
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