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The Planets

The following pieces are extracts out of the book "That Hideous Strength", by C.S. Lewis. While I am not sure of Lewis' original inspiration, the pieces seem to go perfectly with the symphonies by Gustav Holst called "The Planets". Holst wrote nine movements, each of which was based on a planet, the mythological figure associated with the planet, and an idea associated with one or the other. Lewis does not cover all nine planets, but the ones he does cover describe what the music is saying perfectly.

In "That Hideous Strength", each planet is an angel, spinning through the heavens. Earth, and the angel associated with it, has been cut off from the others by the evil in the world - it is the Silent Planet that the first book in Lewis' trilogy, "Out of the Silent Planet", is named after. At the end of the trilogy, Earth is renewed, and the other planets "come down" to Earth for the finale. Lewis describes it as the occupants of the house where the finale is set feel it. There are two groups - the secondary, commoner characters in the kitchen. Upstairs, the main characters know what is going on, and feel it more acutely.


Holst's Symphony:

  • Mercury, the Winged Messenger
  • Venus, the Bringer of Peace
  • Earth, the Bringer of Life
  • Mars, the Bringer of War
  • Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity
  • Saturn, the Bringer of Old Age
  • Neptune, the Mystic
  • Uranus, the Magician
  • Pluto, Lord of the Underworld

C.S. Lewis' space trilogy:

  • Out of the Silent Planet
  • Perelandra
  • That Hideous Strength


If anyone had gone near the room, he would have found something other than fear that barred his way - an almost physical resistance. If he had succeeded in forcing his way forward against it, he would have come into a region of tingling sounds that were clearly not voices, though they had articulation; and if the passage were quite dark he would probably have seen a faint light, not like fire or moon, under the door. I do not think he could have reached the door itself unbidden. Already the whole house would have seemed to him to be tilting and plunging like a ship in a Bay of Biscay gale.

He would have been horribly compelled to feel this Earth not as the bottom of the universe, but as a ball spinning, and rolling onwards, both at delirious speed, and not through emptiness but through some densely inhabited and intricately structured medium. He would have known sensuously, until his outraged senses forsook him, that the visitants in that room were in it, not because they were at rest, but because they glanced and wheeled through the packed reality of Heaven (which men call empty space), to keep their beams upon this spot of the moving Earth's hide.


In the kitchen, up till now, they had been instinctively talking in subdued voices, as children talk in a room where their elders are busied about some august incomprehensible matter, a funeral, or the reading of a will. Now of a sudden they all began talking loudly at once, each, not contentiously but delightedly, interrupting the others. Watching, one would think they were drunk, not soddenly but gaily drunk: would have seen heads bent close together, eyes dancing, an excited wealth of gesture. What they said, none of the party could ever afterwards remember. Dimble maintained that they had been chiefly engaged in making puns. MacPhee denied that he had ever, even that night, made a pun, but all agreed that they had been extraordinarily witty.


If not plays upon words, yet certainly plays upon thoughts, paradoxes, fancies, anecdotes, theories laughingly advanced yet (on consideration) well worth taking seriously, had flowed from them and over them with dazzingly prodigality. Even Ivy forgot her great sorrow. Mother Dimble always remember Denniston and her husband as they had stood, one on each side of the fireplace, in a gay intellectual duel, each capping the other, each rising above the other, up and up, like birds or aeroplanes in combat. If only one could have remembered what they said! For never in her life had she heard such talk - such eloquence, such melody (song could have added nothing to it, such toppling structures of double meaning, such sky-rockets of metaphor and allusion.

Upstairs it was different. They braced themselves, and a rod of light, whose colour no man can name or picture, darted between them: no more to see than that, but seeing was the least part of their experience. Quick agitation seized them: a kind of boiling and bubbling in mind and heart which shook their bodies also. It went to a rhythm of such fierce speed that they feared their sanity must be shaken into a thousand fragments. And then it seemed that this had actually happened. But it did not matter: for all the fragments - needle-pointed desires, brisk merriments, lynx-eyed thoughts - went rolling to and fro like glittering drops and reunited themselves. It was well that both men had some knowledge of poetry. The doubling, splitting, and recombining of thoughts which now went on in them would have been unendurable for one whom that art had not already instructed in the counterpoint of the mind, the mastery of doubled and trebled vision. Ransom found himself sitting within the very heart of language, in the white-hot furnace of essential speech. All fact was broken, splashed into cataracts, caught, turned inside out, kneaded, slain, and reborn as meaning. For the lord of Meaning himself, the herald, the messenger, the slayer of Argus, was with them: the angel that spins nearest the sun. Viritrilbia, whom men call Mercury and Thoth.


Down in the kitchen, drowsiness stole over them. Jane looked about her. How warm it was... how comfortable and familiar. She had always liked wood fires, but tonight the smell of the logs seemed more than ordinarily sweet. She began to think it sweeter than it could possibly be, that a smell of burning cedar or of incense pervaded the room. It thickened. Fragrant names hovered in her mind - nard and cassia's balmy smells and all Arabia breathing from a box; even something more subtly sweet, perhaps maddening - why not forbidden? - but she knew it was commanded... The other's faces appeared to her transfigured. She could no longer see that they were old - only mature, like ripe fields in August, serene and golden with the tranquility of fulfilled desire.


Arthur whispered to Camilla. There too...

but as the warmth and sweetness of that rich air now fully mastered her brain, she could hardly bear to look on them: not through envy (that thought was far away), but because a sort of brightness flowed from them that dazzled her, as if the god and goddess in them burned through their bodies and through their clothes and shone before in a young double-natured nakedness of rose-red spirit that overcame her. All about them danced grave and ardent spirits, bright-winged, their boyish shapes smooth and slender like ivory rods.

Upstairs, the temperature had risen. The windows, somehow, had swung open; at their opening the temperature did not drop, for it was from without that the warmth came. Through the bare branches, across the ground which was once more stiffening with frost, a summer breeze was blowing into the room, but the breeze of such a summer as England never has. Laden like heavy barges that glide nearly gunwale under, laden so heavily you would have thought it could notmove, laden with ponderous fragrance of night-scented flowers, sticky gums, groves that drop odours, and with cool savour of midnight fruit, it stirred the curtains, lifted a letter that lay on the table, lifted the hair that had been plastered to Merlin's forehead. The room was rocking. They were afloat. A soft tingling and shivering as of foam and breaking bubbles ran over their flesh. Tears ran down Ransom's cheeks. In Merlin also, the inconsolable wound with which man is born waked and ached at this touching. These yearnings and fondlings were however only the fore-runners of the goddess. As the whole of her virtue seized, focused, and held that spot of the rolling Earth in her long beam, something harder, shriller, more perilously ecstatic, came out of the center of all the softness. It was fiery, sharp, bright and ruthless, ready to kill, ready to die, outspeeding light: it was Charity, not as mortals imagine it, but the translunary virtue, fallen upon them direct from the Third Heaven, unmitigated. They were blinded, scorched, deafened. They thought it would burn their bones. They could not bear that it should continue. They could not bear that it should cease. So Perelandra, triumphant among planets, whom men call Venus, came and was with them in the room.


In the kitchen, MacPhee sharply drew back his chair so that it grated on the tiled floor like a pencil squeaking on a slate. "Man!" he exclaimed, "it's a shame for us to be sitting here looking at the fire. Maybe they'd be too many for us, but I wouldn't be easy in my grave if I knew they'd won and I hadn't had my hands on them."
"I'd like to have a charge in the old style," said Camilla, "I don't mind anything once I'm on a horse."
"I don't understand it," said Dimble, "I'm not brave like you, MacPhee, but I was just thinking as you spoke that I don't feel afraid of being killed and hurt as I used to do. Not now."
"As long as we're all together," said Mother Dimble, "It might be... not heroic, but... it might be a nice way to die."


And suddenly all their faces and voices were changed. They were laughing again, but it was a different kind of laughter. Their love for one another became intense. Each, looking on all the rest, thought, "I'm lucky to be here. I could die with these."
MacPhee was humming to himself: "Be not dismayed, for the loss of one commander"

Upstairs, it was, at first, much the same. Merlin saw in memory the wintry grass of Badon Hill, the long banners, the yellow-haired barbarians. He heard the snap of the bows, the click-click of steel points in wooden shields, the cheers, the howling, and the ring of struck mail. He remembered also the evening, fires twinkling along the hill, frost making the gashes smart, starlight on a pool fouled with blood, eagles crowding together in the pale sky. But all this passed. Something tonic and lusty and cheerily cold, like a sea breeze, was coming over them. There was no fear anywhere: the blood inside them flowed as if to a marching song. They felt themselves taking their places in the ordered rhythm of the universe, side by side with punctual seasons and patterned atoms and the obeying Seraphim. Under the immense weight of their obedience their wills stood up straight and untiring like caryatids. Eased of all fickleness and all protestings they stood: gay, light, nimble, and alert. They had outlived all anxieties; care was a word without meaning. To live meant to share in this processional pomp. They knew the clear, taut splendour of that celestial spirit which now flashed between them: vigilant Malacandra, captain of a cold orb, whom men call Mars and Mavors, and Tyr who put his hand in the wolf mouth.


"Stir the fire, for God's sake, that's a cold night. It must be freezing outside." All thought of that: of stiff grass, hen-roosts, dark places in the middle of woods, graves. Then of the sun's dying, the Earth gripped, suffocated, in airless cold, the black sky only lit with stars. And then, not even stars: the heat-death of the universe, utter and final blackness of nonentity from which Nature knows no return.


Another life? Possibly.

But the old life gone, all its time, all its hours and days, gone. Can even Omnipotence bring back? Where do years go, and why? Man never would understand it. The misgiving deepened. Perhaps there was nothing to be understood.

Saturn, whose name in the heavens is Lurga, stood in the room upstairs. His spirit lay upon the house, or even on the whole Earth, with a cold pressure such as might flatten the very orb of Tellus to a wafer. Matched against the lead-like burden of his antiquity, the other gods themselves perhaps felt young and ephemeral. It was a mountain of centuries sloping up from the highest antiquity we can conceive, up and up like a mountain whose summit never comes into sight, not to eternity where the thought can rest, but into more and still more time, into freezing wastes and silence of unnameable numbers. It was also strong like a mountain; its age was no mere morass of time where imagination can sink in reverie, but a living, self-remembered duration which repelled lighter intelligences from its structure as granite flings back waves, itself unwithered and decayed, but able to wither any who approach it unadvised.


Suddenly a greater spirit came - one whose influence tempered and almost transformed to his own quality the skill of leaping Mercury, the clearness of Mars, the subtler vibration of Venus, and even the numbing weight of Saturn.

In the kitchen, his coming was felt. Nobody knew how it happened, but somehow the kettle was put on, the hot toddy was brewed. Arthur was bidden to get out his fiddle. The chairs were pushed back, the floor cleared. They danced. What they danced, no one could remember. It was some round dance, no modern shuffling: it involved beating the floor, clapping of hands, leaping high. And no one while it lasted thought himself or his fellows ridiculous.


It may, in fact, have been some village measure, not ill-suited to the tiled-kitchen: the spirit in which they danced it was not so. It seemed to each that the room was filled with kings and queens, that the wildness of their dance expressed heroic energy and its quieter movements had seized the very spirit behind all noble ceremonies.

Upstairs, his mighty beam turned the room into a blaze of lights. Before the other angels a man might sink: before this he might die, but if he lived at all, he would laugh. If you had caught one breath of the air that came from him, you would have felt yourself taller than before. Though you were a cripple, your walk would have became stately: though a beggar, you would have worn your rags magnanimously. Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him as sparks fly from an anvil. The pealing of bells, the blowing of trumpets, the spreading outof banners, are means used on Earth to make a faint symbol of his quality. It was like a long sunlit wave, creamy-crested and arched with emerald, that comes on nine feet tall, with roaring and with terror and with unquenchable laughter. It was like the first beginning of music in the halls of some king so high and at some festival so solemn that a tremor akin to fear runs through young hearts when they hear it. For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings, through whom the joy of creation principalls blows across these fields of Arbol, known to men in old times as Jove, or Jupiter.