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  • Home > C.S.Lewis > Cosmic > Out of the Silent Planet (Page 9)     
  • Out of the Silent Planet(Cosmic #1)(9) by C.S.Lewis
  • Of the community in general his earlier impressions were all gradually being corrected. His first diagnosis of their culture was what he called 'old stone age.' The few cutting instruments they possessed were made of stone. They seemed to have no pottery but a few clumsy vessels used for boiling, and boiling was the only cookery they attempted. Their common drinking vessel, dish and ladle all in one was the oyster-like shell in which he had first tasted hross hospitality; the fish which it contained was their only animal food. Vegetable fare they had in great plenty and variety, some of it delicious. Even the pinkish-white weed which covered the whole handramit was edible at a pinch, so that if he had starved before Hyoi found him he would have starved amidst abundance. No hross, however, ate the weed (honodraskrud) for choice, though it might be used faute de mieux on a journey. Their dwellings were beehive-shaped huts of stiff leaf and the villages - there were several in the neighbourhood - were always built beside rivers for warmth and well upstream towards the walls of the handramit where the water was hottest. They slept on the ground. They seemed to have no arts except a kind of poetry and music which was practised almost every evening by a team or troupe of four hrossa. One recited half chanting at great length while the other three, sometimes singly and sometimes antiphonally, interrupted him from time to time with song. Ransom could not find out whether these interruptions were simply lyrical interludes or dramatic dialogue arising out of the leaders' narrative. He could make nothing of the music. The voices were not disagreeable and the scale seemed adapted to human ears, but the time pattern was meaningless to his sense of rhythm. The occupations of the tribe or family were at first mysterious. People were always disappearing for a few days and reappearing again. There was a little fishing and much journeying in boats of which he never discovered the object. Then one day he saw a kind of caravan of hrossa setting out by land each with a load of vegetable food on its head.  Apparently there was some kind of trade in Malacandra.

    He discovered their agriculture in the first week. About a mile down the handramit one came to broad lands free of forest and clothed for many miles together in low pulpy vegetation in which yellow, orange and blue predominated. Later on, there were lettuce-like plants about the height of a terrestrial birch tree. Where one of these overhung the warmth of water you could step into one of the lower leaves and lie deliciously as in a gently moving, fragrant hammock. Elsewhere it was not warm enough to sit still for long out of doors; the general temperature of the handramit was that of a fine winter's morning on Earth. These food-producing areas were worked communally by the surrounding villages, and division of labour had been carried to a higher point than he expected. Cutting, drying, storing, transport and something like manuring were all carried on, and he suspected that some at least of the water channels were artificial.

    But the real revolution in his understanding of the hrossa began when he had learned enough of their language to attempt some satisfaction of their curiosity about himself. In answer to their questions he began by saying that he had come out of the sky. Hnohra immediately asked from which planet or earth (handra). Ransom, who had deliberately given a childish version of the truth in order to adapt it to the supposed ignorance of his audience, was a little annoyed to find Hnohra painfully explaining to him that he could not live in the sky because there was no air in it; he might have come through the sky but he must have come from a handra. He was quite unable to point Earth out to them in the night sky. They seemed surprised at his inability, and repeatedly pointed out to him a bright planet low on the western horizon - a little south of where the sun had gone down. He was surprised that they selected a planet instead of a mere star and stuck to their choice; could it be possible that they understood astronomy?  Unfortunately he still knew too little of the language to explore their knowledge. He turned the conversation by asking them the name of the bright southern planet, and was told that it was Thulcandra - the silent world or planet.

    "Why do you call it Thulc?" he asked. "Why silent?" No one knew.

    "The seroni know," said Hnohra. "That is the sort of thing they know."

    Then he was asked how he had come, and made a very poor attempt at describing the space-ship - but again:

    "The seroni would know."

    Had he come alone? No, he had come with two others of his kind - bad men ('bent' men was the nearest hrossian equivalent) who tried to kill him, but he had run away from them. The hrossa found this very difficult, but all finally agreed that he ought to go to Oyarsa. Oyarsa would protect him. Ransom asked who Oyarsa was. Slowly, and with many misunderstandings, he hammered out the information that Oyarsa (1) lived in Meldilorn; (2) knew everything and ruled everyone; (3) had always been there; and (4) was not a hross, nor one of the seroni. Then Ransom, following his own idea, asked if Oyarsa had made the world.  The hrossa almost barked in the fervour of their denial. Did people in Thulcandra not know that Maleldil the Young had made and still ruled the world? Even a child knew that. Where did Maleldil live, Ransom asked.

    "With the Old One."

    And who was the Old One? Ransom did not understand the answer. He tried again.

    "Where was the Old One?"

    "He is not that sort," said Hnohra, "that he has to live anywhere," and proceeded to a good deal which Ransom did not follow. But he followed enough to feel once more a certain irritation. Ever since he had discovered the rationality of the hrossa he had been haunted by a conscientious scruple as to whether it might not be his duty to undertake their religious instruction; now, as a result of his tentative efforts, he found himself being treated as if he were the savage and being given a first sketch of civilized religion - a sort of hrossian equivalent of the shorter catechism. It became plain that Maleldil was a spirit without body, parts or passions.

    "He is not a hnau," said the hrossa.

    "What is hnau?" asked Ransom.

    "You are hnau. I am hnau. The seroni are hnau. The pfifltriggi are hnau."

    "Pfifltriggi?" said Ransom.

    "More than ten days' journey to the west," said Hnohra. "The harandra sinks down not in to handramit but into a broad place, an open place, spreading every way. Five days' journey from the north to the south of it; ten days' journey from the east to the west. The forests are of other colours there than here, they are blue and green. It is very deep there, it goes to the roots of the world. The best things that can be dug out of the earth are there. The Pfifltriggi live there.  They delight in digging. What they dig they soften with fire and make things of it. They are little people, smaller than you, long in the snout, pale, busy. They have long limbs in front. No hnau can match them in making and shaping things as none can match us in singing. But let Hman see."

    He turned and spoke to one of the younger hrossa and presently, passed from hand to hand, there came to him a little bowl. He held it close to the firelight and examined it. It was certainly of gold, and Ransom realized the meaning of Devine's interest in Malacandra.

    "Is there much of this thing?" he asked.

    Yes, he was told, it was washed down in most, of the rivers; but the best and most was among the pfifltriggi, and it was they who were skilled in it. Arbol hru, they called it - Sun's blood. He looked at the bowl again. It was covered with fine etching. He saw pictures of hrossa and of smaller, ahnost frog-like animals; and then, of sorns. He pointed to the latter inquiringly.

    "Seroni," said the hrossa, confirming his suspicions. "They live up almost on the harandra.

    In the big caves." The frog-like animals - or tapir-headed, frog-bodied animals - were pfifltriggi.  Ransom turned it over in his mind. On Malacandra, apparently, three distinct species had reached rationality, and none of them had yet exterminated the other two. It concerned him intensely to find out which was the real master.

    "Which of the hnau rule?" he asked.

    "Oyarsa rules," was the reply.

    "Is he hnau?"

    This puzzled them a little. The seroni, they thought, would be better at that kind of question.

    Perhaps Oyarsa was hnau, but a very different hnau. He had no death and no young.

    "These seroni know more than the hrossa?" asked Ransom.

    This produced more a debate than an answer. What emerged finally was that the seroni or sorns were perfectly helpless in a boat, and could not fish to save their lives, could hardly swim, could make no poetry, and even when hrossa had made it for them could understand only the inferior sorts; but they were admittedly good at finding out things about the stars and understanding the darker utterances of Oyarsa and telling what happened in Malacandra long ago - longer ago than anyone could remember.

    'Ah - the intelligentsia,' thought Ransom. 'They must be the real rulers, however it is disguised.'

    He tried to ask what would happen if the sorns used their wisdom to make the hrossa do things - this was as far as he could get in his halting Malacandrian. The question did not sound nearly so urgent in this form as it would have done if he had been able to say "used their scientific resources for the exploitation of their uncivilized neighbours." But he might have spared his pains. The mention of the sorns' inadequate appreciation of poetry had diverted the whole conversation into literary channels. Of the heated, and apparently technical, discussion which followed he understood not a syllable.

    Naturally his conversations with the hrossa did not all turn on Malacandra. He had to repay them with information about Earth. He was hampered in this both by the humiliating discoveries which he was constantly making of his own ignorance about his native planet, and partly by his determination to conceal some of the truth. He did not want to tell them too much of our human wars and industrialisms. He remembered how H. G. Wells's Cavor had met his end on the Moon; also he felt shy. A sensation akin to that of physical na**dness came over him whenever they questioned him too closely about men - the hmana as they called them.  Moreover, he was determined not to let them know that he had been brought there to be given to the sorns; for he was becoming daily more certain that these were the dominant species.  What he did tell them fired the imagination of the hrossa: they all began making poems about the strange handra where the plants were hard like stone and the earth-weed green like rock and the waters cold and salt, and hmana, lived out on top, on the harandra.

    They were even more interested in what he had to tell them of the aquatic animal with snapping jaws which he had fled from in their own world and even in their own handramit. It was a hnakra, they all agreed. They were intensely excited. There had not been a hnakra in the valley for many years. The youth of the hrossa got out their weapons - primitive harpoons with points of bone - and the very cubs began playing at hnakra-hunting in the shallows. Some of the mothers showed signs of anxiety and wanted the cubs to be kept out of the water, but in general the news of the hnakra seemed to be immensely popular. Hyoi set off at once to do something to his boat, and Ransom accompanied him. He wished to make himself useful, and was already beginning to have some vague capacity with the primitive hrossian tools. They walked together to Hyoi's creek, a stone's throw through the forest.

    On the way, where the path was single and Ransom was following Hyoi, they passed a little she-hross, not much more than a cub. She spoke as they passed, but not to them: her eyes were on a spot about five yards away.

    "Who do you speak to, Hrikki?" said Ransom.

    "To the eldil."


    "Did you not see him?"

    "I saw nothing."

    "There! There! " she cried suddenly. "Ah! He is gone. Did you not see him?"

    "I saw no one."

    "Hyoi," said the cub, "the hman cannot see the eldil!"

    But Hyoi, continuing steadily on his way, was already out of earshot, and had apparently noticed nothing. Ransom concluded that Hrikki was 'pretending' like the young of his own species. In a few moments he rejoined his companion.XII

    THEY WORKED hard at Hyoi's boat till noon and then spread themselves on the weed close to the warmth of the creek, and began their midday meal. The war-like nature of their preparations suggested many questions to Ransom. He knew no word for war, but he managed to make Hyoi understand what he wanted to know. Did seroni and hrossa and pfifltriggi ever go out like this, with weapons, against each other?

    "What for?" asked Hyoi.

    It was difficult to explain. "If both wanted one thing and neither would give it," said Ransom, "would the other at last come with force? Would they say, give it or we kill you?"

    "What sort of thing?"

    "Well - food, perhaps."

    "If the other hnau wanted food, why should we not give it to them? We often do."

    "But how if we had not enough for ourselves?"

    "But Maleldil will not stop the plants growing."

    "Hyoi, if you had more and more young, would Maleldil broaden the handramit and make enough plants for them all?"

    "The seroni know that sort of thing. But why should we have more young?"

    Ransom found this difficult. At last he said:

    "Is the begetting of young not a pleasure among the hrossa?"

    "A very great one, Hman. This is what we call love."

    "If a thing is a pleasure, a hman wants it again. He might want the pleasure more often than the number of young that could be fed."

    It took Hyoi a long time to get the point.

    "You mean," he said slowly, "that he might do it not only in one or two years of his life but again?"


    "But - why? Would he want his dinner all day or want to sleep after he had slept? I do not understand."

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