Ah, the story title. Is it merely a way to distinguish one from another, or can the title be considered an actual part of the artistic work itself? Ideally, it should be the latter. A great title sticks in your mind, creates whole images and feelings before you’ve even read the book, and once you have read the book, the great title evokes not just its content, but its beauty and themes. It should also be unique, a title that could not be applied to just any kind of story. It should be a phrase of beauty on is own merits, and gain depth of meaning when connected to its book.
My favorite in this regard is Out of the Silent Planet, the first of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
Close your eyes and say it aloud. Enunciate each word boldly. Let the poetry of the words suggest to you what they may. What do you see? Please, tell me. I think this phrase is wonderful. Out of the silent planet. It could be the beginning of poem, and what a poem it would be! “Out of the silent planet he comes…” or maybe “Out of the silent planet I fled…” or even “Out of the silent planet we hear…”
Lewis provokes so many questions with this title, and to the benefit of the reading public he answers them all, and in such a magnificent fashion!
We are used to thinking of planets, but not as things which may be heard. Lewis’ title steps immediately beyond that fascinating idea to tell us that this planet of which he tells us has had its sound cut off and stifled. What kind of a sound does a planet make, and for what purpose? Has this planet always been silent, or did something cause its sound to cease? And what entity or event could possibly be so powerful as to silence it, and why?
If the title was only The Silent Planet, it would be enough to single this book out from others on a bookshelf and engage my interest. But it is that “Out of” which really does it. Someone is leaving or has left the planet which makes no sound (as other planets presumably do). Have they fled? Are they exploring or in exile? Many science fiction books deal with people leaving a planet—that is no surprise to us. But this leaving is connected to the planet’s silence—the title implies this by mentioning the facts together. Is the person who has left the Silent Planet fleeing the Thing which made it so? Is that person bound to the silence of his planet? If there are aliens living on the other non-silent planets, how will they react to this human sojourner?
Perhaps most importantly of all, will the Silent Planet ever be heard again?
Honorable Mentions: The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle