Quotations and Allusions

in C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet


compiled by Arend Smilde (Utrecht, The Netherlands)



C. S. Lewis’s novel Out of the Silent Planet (1938), like most of his books, contains a great number of allusions to un­specified books and situations. Here is a listing by chapter and sub-chapter of many such words and phrases with brief references to what I have found to be their sources. I have also included a few other items where a short explanation may be of use to some readers. The list is based on notes I made for my Dutch translation of this book, published in 2002.


Double question marks in bold type ( ?? ) mark those places where I am still hoping to find relevant details. Additions, corrections, and proposals for new entries are welcome.


Page references, in square [ ] brackets, are to the first American edition (Macmillan, New York 1943). A survey of updates  is given at the bottom.








Mr. H. G. Wells’s fantasies

The way Lewis formulates his acknowledgement suggests that his debt to Wells could be thought too obvious for special mention. This was indeed the position of science fiction authors at the time, as appears from the following passage from a relevant recent study.

Herbert George Wells (1866–1946) was a fin de siècle phenomenon. Catapulted to fame by his turn-of-the-century “scientific romances” (1895–1905), which were translated into many languages, Wells rapidly became an international superstar as the inventor and head guru of futurology. Equally at home in scientific, social and humanistic discourse, he exercised an enormous influence over an entire intellectual generation. As J. B. S. Haldane noted in 1923, “The very mention of the future suggests him” (…). So pervasive was his influence that most contemporaries assumed there was no need to mention it; as Olaf Stapledon remarked in 1931, “A man does not record his debt to the air he breathes in common with everyone else.”

–– Mark B. Adams, “Last Judgment: The Visionary Biology of J. B. S. Haldane”, Journal of the History of Biology, Vol. 33 No. 3 (2000), 470.






The far-flung line even in the wilds of Sterk and Nadderby  [7]



DOP  [7]

Dear Old Place.


Lo, the poor Indian  [9]

From Alexander Pope’s Essay on Man (1734) –

Lo, the poor Indian! whose untutorʼd mind

Sees God in clouds, or hears him in the wind;

His soul proud science never taught to stray

Far as the solar walk, or Milky Way.

In other words, barbarians and simpletons are prey to nameless fears and not accessible for science-driven enlightenment.






I’m a don  [12]

Derived from Latin dominus (“lord”’), this is the usual word to refer to members of an Oxford or Cambridge college in teaching positions.






a series of musical raps or percussions at quite irregular intervals  [19]

This detail, also mentioned in chapter 5, is one of the “the stock conventions of the cosmic voyage”, according to Mark R. Hillegas in his essay “Out of the Silent Planet as Cosmic Voyage”, in Shadows of Imagination (1969). This convention actually had some basis in contemporary scientific speculation, as appears from a source which Lewis certainly knew: J. S. B. Haldane’s Possible Worlds (1927). In the chapter “On Scales”, Haldane wrote

…one would probably hear frequently (at least in the neighbourhood of a star) the sound made by a minute dust particle moving at enormous speed hitting one’s abode.






Danaë  [28] 

A figure in Greek mythology. Her father locked her up in a brass tower after an oracle had predicted that her son would kill him. Zeus then came to Danae in the guise of a rain of gold, and begat a son (Perseus) by her.


 sweet influence  [28] 

John Milton (1608-1674), Paradise Lost VII.373375: ...the grey / Dawn, and the Pleiades, before him danced, / Shedding sweet influence. Milton in his turn was referring to Job 38:31.


 happy climes that ly / Where day, etc.  [30]

John Milton, Comus (1634), Epilogue; the Attendant Spirit describes his heavenly abode.






Wellsian fantasies  [46]

The kind of extraterrestial creatures invented by H. G. Wells (1866-1946) in novels like The War of the Worlds (1898) and The First Men in the Moon (1901). See also Lewis’s “Note” at the beginning of the book.






caryatid  [64]

statue of a woman standing bolt upright, serving as a column in ancient Greek architecture, most famously in the Erechtheion (or Erechtheum) on the Acropolis of Athens.






how H. G. Wellss Cavor had met his end on the Moon  [73]

Cavor is a space traveller in Wells’s novel The First Men in the Moon (see note above). He tells the Moon-dwellers about human wars on Earth and is (probably) killed by them because they don’t want more humans to come to the Moon.






along the roots of the mountains  [88]

The phrase betrays Lewis’s indebtedness to William Morris, whose prose tale The Roots of the Mountains (1890) he read at age 16; he commented on it in a letter to Arthur Greeves of 25 May 1915 (Collected Letters I, p. 122). Lewis’s last reference to it in the Collected Letters is in the very letter where he first mentions Out of the Silent Planet (to Owen Barfield, 2 September 1937, CL II, p. 218). At the beginning of this letter there is an unmistakable suggestion – one among many in his letters – that Lewis considers William Morris to be an important “source” of his own thinking and writing.

           In the same year, J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit, where the phrase “roots of the mountain” appears in two places (chapter 5, par. 12 “Deep down here by the dark water...”; and near the end of chapter 12, par. beginning “From that the talk turned to...”).






Woolworthʼs  [138]

A large American supermarket chain with branches in Great Britain, specializing in cheapness.






It is enough for me that there is a Beyond  [149]

The end of Weston’s speech is, almost literally, the last line of G. B. Shaw’s play Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch (1921). Lilith speaking:

Of Life only there is no end; and though of its million starry mansions many are empty and many still unbuilt, and though its vast domain is as yet unbearably desert, my seed shall one day fill it and master its matter to its uttermost confines. And for what may be beyond, the eyesight of Lilith is too short. It is enough that there is a beyond.

In a letter of 1938 (Collected Letters III, 1535), Lewis pointed out the likeness between this Methuselah passage and one in J. B. S. Haldane’s essay “The Last Judgment” (in Possible Worlds, 1927):

It is possible that under the conditions of life in the outer planets the human brain may alter in such a way as to open up possibilities inconceivable to our own minds.

However, in a book published in 1932 Haldane appears to have a low opinion of Shaw as a thinker about humanity’s place in evolution (The Causes of Evolution, pp. 163–164):

...the hypothesis that mind has played very little part in evolution horrifies some people. Shaw’s preface to “Back to Methuselah” is a good example of a strong emotional reaction. He admits that Darwinism cannot be disproved, but goes on to state that no decent-minded person can believe in it. This is the attitude of mind of the persecutor rather than the discoverer. Shaw’s case is complicated by his admiration for Samuel Butler, who was undoubtedly a better stylist than Charles Darwin. But he had less respect for facts. 

    My reaction is entirely different. If evolution, guided by mind for a thousand million years, had only got as far as man, the outlook for the future would not be very bright. We could expect very slow progress at best. But if now for the first time the possibility has arisen of mind taking charge of the process, things are more hopeful. 






Ousiarches  [166]

(Greek) “Supreme being” or “source of existence”. The problem in Bernardus Silvestris actually emerged for Lewis in the course of his work as a literary historian, as described in Appendix I of The Allegory of Love (1936), his study of Medieval allegorical love poetry. The man who proposed to read ousiarches for oyarses was the Oxford philosopher and theologian C. C. J. Webb, of Oriel College; hence the initials “C. J.”


Aristotle  [167]

Greek philosopher (c. 384–322 b.c.). One important rule in his theory of literature (Poetica) concerns the “Unity of Action”.


Kipling  [167]

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), English writer and poet. The words “That is another story” come from his story “Three and – an Extra”, in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888).






Chaliapin  [168]

Feodor Chaliapin, Russian opera singer (1873-1938).


Chaucer  [171]

English poet (c. 1340–1400). The “airish beasts” are mentioned in The House of Fame in the account of a heavenly journey made on the back of an eagle. Chaucer may have been using some ancient, (Neo-)Platonic ideas as further developed by such 12th-century Platonists as Bernardus Silvestris (see note to chapter 22 above). Another possibility is that Chaucer was referring to the signs of the zodiac – “Lion”, “Capricorn” etc.


Ypres Salient [172]

This was a section of the Western Front during the First World War (near Ypres or Ieper, in the west of Belgium) where extremely much and heavy fighting took place. There are140 military cemeteries around Ypres.


You leave the world, as you entered it, with the “men of your own year”  [173]

cf. a passage in J. B. S. Haldane’s early futurological essay Daedalus (1923) –

The abolition of disease will make death a physiological event like sleep. A generation that has lived together will die together.

Haldane (see notes to chapters 3 and 20, above) presents this speculation as a ground for the further idea that, under such improved conditions, there would be no more longing for lost friends or relatives, and so, no more longing for an afterlife – the less so since no single life would end before completion.


the author whom I mentioned to you  [174]

Cicero, Roman writer, orator and statesman (106–43 b.c.); the quotation is from De officiis, III.2. “Africanus” is the Roman general Scipio Africanus; he was “never less alone than when alone” as he was happy in “the company of his own thoughts”.







8 Feb. 2011 – Added note on along the roots of the mountains in chapter 13