In the past week, I’ve been to two fantastical worlds: Eretz and Malacandra.
Reading Days of Blood & Starlight back-to-back with Out of the Silent Planet got me thinking about observation, psychic distance, and the role of the narrator.
It’s not often that I see stories with a detached, non-character narrator, as in Silent Planet. His presence is only mildly felt, as the statements he makes are a rarity. In fact, it was several chapters before I even realized the story had a distinct narrator, rather than being in the impersonal third-person omniscient.
But the periodic reminders that someone was telling this story–that I was experiencing a tale told to me, rather than witnessing it myself–underscored the protagonist’s role as an observer. Though the character of Ransom makes decisions and participates in action, his primary methods of interaction with Malacandra are observation, description, and translation. He did not set out to be a space-going anthropologist, but that is what he became. And filtering his experiences through the extra layer of a separate narrator only emphasizes the distance between the reader’s life on Earth and Ransom’s sojourn on Malacandra.
Eretz is no less a strange world, the home of angels and chimaera. The bulk of Karou’s narrative takes place on Earth, while most of Akiva’s is on Eretz. Both harbor a mix of strange and familiar, and both are shown to the reader in the same way–third-person with little psychic distance. We aren’t completely within the protagonists’ heads–but we are privy to their feelings, a scattering of their thoughts, and their motivations. We experience the world as they do, not as they tell it to us later.
Because of this, Eretz seemed more “real” to me, for lack of a better term. I believed it was a place I could go, if only I found one of the portals. Whereas I knew Malacandra was distant, incredible, and wholly out-of-reach.
I don’t mean this as a criticism. I’m not trying to imply one style or another is better…though I will say that the prose in Out of the Silent Planet is far-removed from the style advocated now: lots of telling and very little showing, lots of filter words, pages and pages of description or conversation with very little action to break it up. Now that I’m deep into the editing process, I notice these things more readily than I used to. But all of that reinforces the remote, alien nature of the world.
I don’t think I actually want to go to either world, though. They both seem a little scary. If I could somehow live in Rivendell, though…