Professor Weston (full name Edward Rolles Weston) is arguably one of C. S. Lewis' greatest satanic characters. An eminent physicist on earth, he first appears in Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet which is the first in Lewis’s Space Trilogy of science fiction books. He is beaten by the ‘hero’ of the book, Elwin Ransom, and the Oyarsa (which seems to mean something like ruling angel, or ruling power) of Mars (known to the inhabitants as Malacandra), but returns in the second book of the trilogy in an attempt to wreak havoc on Perelandra (Venus), the ‘new Eden’.
Gold-digging on Malacandra
In his first appearance, Weston is attempting to abduct a mentally impaired youngster to Malacandra (Mars) as, it later transpires, a human sacrifice. Or so he thinks. Upon meeting the accidental ‘hero’ of the book, the main character Elwin Ransom, he changes his mind and decides Ransom will do just as well and, releasing the boy, kidnaps Ransom instead.
On arrival on Malacandra, Weston reveals to Ransom that he (Ransom) has been brought as a human sacrifice of sorts, and begins, with his accomplice, Dick Devine (who later becomes Lord Feverstone, see That Hideous Strength), to drag Ransom to a towering distant figure making its way across the lake to meet them. However, as is the nature of life, an accident occurs, in the form of a dangerous fish-type animal in the water breaking Ransom’s captors’ concentration, and allowing him to flee. In the course of his adventures on Malacandra, Ransom learns that the Oyarsa, the being to whom he was to be ‘sacrificed’, wanted only to speak with one of his kind. That is, a human. Weston, however, is of such a paranoid bent, that he can not conceive of another creature not wishing to do him harm. It is eventually revealed that the (immediate) purpose of Weston’s and Devine’s journey to Malacandra is to mine gold, which the planet has in abundance (this is primarily Devine’s desire, who is obsessed with money). Weston’s plan is to usher in a new age of colonization in order to insure that man and his descendants will, in some form, continue to survive for all eternity. The seeming idealism of this plot is corrupted by Weston’s obviously callous and Machiavellian attitude towards all other forms of life (including intelligent ones).
Colonising Eden, in the name of the (un)Holy Spirit
Weston’s sudden appearance on Perelandra is a great surprise to Ransom, who is, once again, the accidental hero of the piece. However, Weston has undergone some changes since his last appearance. Perhaps the most notable, and certainly the most important, change is that he no longer wants to spread ‘the human race’, but to spread ‘spirituality’. In his understanding of Spirituality, Weston has come to the fatal misunderstanding that God and the Devil are one, and calls God and the Devil into him. The Devil, it would appear, can’t resist an open door into a soul, and from that moment on, Professor E.R. Weston effectively ceases to be.
Death of a great physicist (or his body, at least)
Weston’s animated corpse continues to make a considerable nuisance of itself, tempting the Lady of Perelandra (the new Eve) into corruption, while Ransom tries to undo the damage the Unman (Ransom’s name for Weston’s animated body) is making. Eventually Ransom realises that words simply aren’t enough, and takes the struggle to the physical level, and attacks the Unman outright.
During the ensuing struggle Weston re-surfaces occasionally, or appears to, but how much of that is really him and how much is the devil’s manufacturing is impossible to tell. Indeed, Ransom (and, presumably by extension, Lewis) comes to the conclusion that:
Weston’s body is eventually killed outright by Ransom in the tunnels beneath Perelandra’s rare fixed land (most of the planet being oceanic), and rolled into the lava just to be on the safe side.
Ransom, having carved a monument to the great physicist into the wall on the outside of the caverns, leaves the innards of Perelandra behind him, and makes his way up the Fixed Land, to meet the angels, and the rest of his adventure.
Possible InfluencesWeston may be a caricature of Cecil John Rhodes (1853-1902) an English South African businessman and politician. Like Rhodes, Weston is racist, amoral, anti-religious, hates God and religion, is a secular humanist, and is willing to do anything, even murder, to get what he wants. Cecil Rhodes is mentioned once in passing in a negative comment in the last book of The Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. In the comment it is said that Great Britain has produced both heroes and villains, that for every Arthur, there is a Mordred, for every Sydney, a Cecil Rhodes. Sydney refers to Sir Philip Sydney, a great English poet in the Middle Ages. Mordred was the traitor who overthrew King Arthur. So C. S. Lewis was saying that Great Britain has produced good people such Arthur and Sydney and evil people like Mordred and Cecil Rhodes. Interestingly, Weston likes Wynwood Reade’s The Martyrdom of Man and says so in the second book Perelandra. It is a book that espouses an ideology called secular humanism. Weston’s ideas are secular humanist. Rhodes was a secular humanist and admired Wynwood Reade and read his book and said that it “made me who I am”. So Reade may also have had an influence on Weston’s character.
There is a glancing reference to George Bernard Shaw: Weston's speech on Malacandra, like Back to Methuselah, ends with the words "It is enough for me that there is a Beyond", and Weston shares Shaw's (and Henri Bergson's) belief in the Life Force. Another possible influence is German secular humanist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche also believed in an amoral belief system run by survival of the fittest. Weston is also similar to the villain Saruman from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.
The choice of the name "Weston" might be more than accidental, considering that in his speech in Out of the Silent Planet he presents himself very much as the proponent of "Western Civilization" at its most expansionist and aggressive mode. (The names of the main villains in That Hideous Strength, "Wither" and "Frost", are clearly meant to reflect their characters.)
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