Other Influential Pre Space Age Writers

The romantic pre-space age speculations about Venus resembling a tropical, younger Earth and about Mars containing a more-established advanced civilization were enhanced by several fiction writers in the 1930s and 1940s—especially the U.S. author Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) and the Irish novelist, scholar, and Christian apologeticist Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis (1898-1963).

Burroughs is perhaps best known for his fictional stories involving Tarzan, the hero of the African jungle, but he also created interesting works in many genres. With respect to extraterrestrial life, his most famous series is the so-called Barsoom series, consisting of 10 science-fiction adventure books in which the hero, John Carter, plays a central role as a dashing swordsman from Earth who rescues and falls in love with Thuvia, the princess of Mars. This series was released from 1912 to 1964, with the last book (entitled John Carter of Mars) being published after Burroughs's death. Advances in space technology and science drained some of the adventure and excitement out of these science-fiction tales when NASA's Mariner 4 spacecraft sent back images (in 1964) that showed "Barsoom" (Burroughs's fictional name for Mars) to be a barren, desolate world, completely devoid of artificial canals, ancient cities, or intelligent inhabitants.

Burroughs also wrote fictional tales about creatures on the Moon. The Moon Maid and The Moon Men both appeared in 1926. Starting in 1934, with the publication of his Pirates of Venus, Burroughs entertained his readers with adventures on the cloud-enshrouded planet. The last book, The Wizards of Venus, in his five-book Venus series was published posthumously in 1970—several years after such spacecraft as NASA's Mariner 2 had collected data that showed that Venus was an uninhabitable inferno and not the romantic, tropical jungle world resembling a prehistoric Earth.

The Irish novelist C. S. Lewis is best known for his juvenile reader series The Chronicles of Narnia, but his science-fiction trilogy represents the first interesting literary attempt to address the issue of exotheology. Lewis cleverly used the genre of fantasy adventure that is set in outer space to discuss Christian morality. The first book in the trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, was released in 1938, and the story takes place mostly on Mars. In Perelandra (published in 1943), the story shifts to Venus, which is presented as an oceanic paradise. In Lewis's story, Venus serves as a new Garden of Eden with a new Adam and Eve. The fictional hero, Elwin Ransom, must prevent the diabolical physicist Professor Weston from tempting Eve and causing a reenactment of the biblical Fall of Man on Perelandra. The third book in this trilogy, That Hideous Strength, was released in 1945. Most of this fantasy adventure story takes place on Earth and involves a titanic clash between good and evil.

Lewis himself was more interested in writing an interesting fantasy-adventure story that packed his intended moral message; he did not pay especially rigorous attention to the technical details of planetary astronomy. For his purpose, Mars (called Malacandra) was an inhabited and older world, while Venus (called Perelandra) was an inhabited, younger world, resembling a tropical paradise. Within Lewis's fantasy lexicon for the solar system (called the field of Arbol), Earth is known as Thulcandra (meaning "the silent planet") and the Moon is called Sulva.

Several decades into the space age, it is quite difficult to assess properly the impact that the works of Burroughs and Lewis may have had on young minds in the 1940s and 1950s—the children who grew up and became the first generation of aerospace engineers, space scientists, and astronauts. But one impact is certain: For millions of young readers, the notion of intelligent life and alien creatures on other worlds became a possibility that was now a little less shocking and perhaps a bit more interesting.

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