Welcome to Tumnus’s Book Shelf where we review any and all books related to Narnia and CS Lewis! For this weeks review, we will be looking at CS Lewis’s Perelandra
Author: CS Lewis.
Publisher: Scribner (March 4, 2003)
Summary of the book:
Some Possible Spoilers. (Please Highlight to read)
The narrator (who is identified as CS Lewis himself) arrived at the cottage of Elwin Ransom. Ransom had sent him a telegram saying he had to see him. He had an urgent matter to discuss with him.
When Lewis arrived he found that Ransom was not home, and decided to make himself comfortable. Lewis looked around and saw a strange box. He continued around the cottage and saw a strange light and heard a voice. It frightened him and he was overcome by his emotions. Ransom arrived and spoke to the voice.
Ransom lit a candle and apologized to Lewis for his tardiness and told Lewis that he had seen Oyarsa. Ransom will be going to Perelandra, or Venus, as the Bent One is planning to attack and conquer it as he had Earth at the Dawn of Time.
Lewis had been summoned to help settle Ransom’s affairs before departing, and set up things for his hopeful return. The next day, he watched as Ransom got inside the box. The box instantly vanished.
A little more than a year later Oyarsa summoned Lewis to Ransom’s cottage . As agreed Lewis brought Doctor Humphrey with him. They found that Ransom had returned. He had a strange wound on his foot and his ship was filled with beautiful alien flowers. The doctor tended to Ransom’s wound and helped him get cleaned up. Later that evening as they sat down to dinner, Ransom told them of his adventure.
Ransom arrived on Perelandra. He discovered that the planet was a fresh, vibrant and lively paradise. After a beautiful and restful sleep like he had never had before, Ransom encountered a docile dragon who wished to be his friend.
The Dragon and some of the other creatures of Perelandra brought Ransom to a beautiful woman who was the Queen of Perelandra. To his surprise she appeared to resemble a human female. The lady was more beautiful than any he had ever seen on Earth and almost child-like in nature. She had no concept of such ideas as “peace”, “home” , “possessions”, “ dead”, “age”, “time”, “rubbish” or “alone”.
They spoke to each other about their respective worlds. Much like the Oyarsa of Malacandra, she wished to know what Melidil did on Earth and of the other worlds. He discovered unlike Malacandra, which was old and dying, Perelandra was new and alive. This woman is the mother of her race. The King, who she can’t find is the father.
As they were walking and talking together the next day, they passed a mountain called the fixed land where it is forbidden for her to go and stay. They can only be on the moving lands. They suddenly saw an object fall from the sky. Ransom discovered it was a space ship much like the one that took him to Perelandra, only smaller.
They watched as none other than Dr .Weston emerged from the ship. SPOILERS! Ransom realized why he had been sent: to stop Weston from conquering Perelandra. Ransom tried to send her off, but The Lady insisted that she go along to meet him as it was her world. Reluctantly, he allowed her to go with him.
Weston was surprised to see Ransom on Perelandra and believed he was beating him at the conquest of the planet. Ransom told him he was there to protect it and insisted Weston not harm the planet. By the Lady’s insistence he helped Weston to shore.
After sending the Lady away, Ransom conversed with Weston and he found out his enemy’s tactics. He wasn’t going to conquer Peralandra by force like on Malacandra, but by spirituality. He told Ransom it was intended for him to do by the “spirits” or “life-force” Ransom warned him that some spirits are evil and Weston should be careful.
Weston told him that according to his beliefs, good and evil, God and the devil, and angels and demons are merely faces of his beliefs. He was really in charge. Ransom knew now what Weston was intending. He was going to set himself up as the god of that planet.
As he spoke Weston’s face became distorted. Weston went into convulsions and fell to the ground. After Weston went unconscious, Ransom tended to him and removed his weapons.
Ransom left the unconscious Weston and went in search of the Lady. Ransom resolved the next day that he had to find Weston. If he recovered he would only cause trouble and that is what he had to prevent. END SPOILERS! He discovered that Weston was indeed awake and already trying to tempt the Lady into disobeying Melidil.
SPOILERS! Ransom discovered that Weston was possessed by servants of the Bent One. He appeared to be dead and had an unnatural “devilish” smile. It wasn’t Weston who was bent on conquering Perelandra and setting himself up as a god, but rather the Bent One working through Weston, using him as a vessel.
Weston continued to tempt the Lady by telling her of death and evil, Ransom interrupted and tried to dissuade her from listening to Weston. Weston, using very sound arguments, told her Ransom was “bad” and trying to keep her “young.” Ransom reminded her that she should wait for Melidil to teach her. Weston continued to try and deceive her, only to have the Lady respond by saying that she should not disobey Melidil’s will. END SPOILERS
Weston would not tire in his attempts. SPOILERS! He was embodied by the “Un-Man.” because of this supernatural being, Weston would not require the same things Ransom would need to keep fighting, such as food and sleep. Ransom knew this is the same creature that led Adam and Eve astray, and wondered how he can fight against a tireless being. Especially when this tireless being used clever arguments and appeared as a gentleman resorting to such tactics as telling her stories from Earth that make disobedience seem good, and convincing her to value herself over Melidil. END SPOILERS
All Ransom could do is watch over her. SPOILERS! Finally at one point, Ransom was so over come by doubts and fears that he left her side. He began to wonder how Meledil could seem to be absent when His enemy was on the move.
Ransom came to the realization that the tempter may not be able to be removed forcibly right away. The Lady had to be tested and proved. At least that is how it may be on Earth. Remembering the Lady’s words, Ransom realized that Perelandra is not a repeat or do over of Eden on Earth, but rather its own thing. If it fell it would be far worse than the fall of Earth, and Meledil would have to take even more drastic steps to save Perelandra.
It wasn’t Ransom who could help save Perelandra. Meledil must work through him as Un-man is working through Weston. Amidst his questions and doubts Meledil speaks to him. He reminded him that Ransom is not named as he is for nothing. Ransom is named for Meledil. He can and must fight The Un-man, even kill him.
Meledil told him that He has put all of Perelandra under a deep sleep, even the human form of Weston. Now was Ransom’s chance to act. As he approached Weston, the “Un-man” awakens and taunts Ransom giving him a parody of the truth. The two physically fight each other. Both are wounded, Ransom in the heal, Weston in the sides.
Weston broke free and ran. Ransom pursued him. All the creatures of Perelandra were awoken and joined him in the chase. The chase led to the sea where they battle on top of giant sea horses. They came to a shore, where Weston managed to regain his right mind. He knew there was a spirit world and knew he was under some one else’s control. He begged Ransom to help him before “The Un-man” took control again.
Ransom was too late. The “Un-man” regained control of Weston. He grabbed Ransom from the sea horse and dragged him down into the depths. Ransom broke free and made it to the surface. He followed Weston into a cave. He saw “the Un-Man” in his true form. Ransom commands “the Un-Man” return to where he came from in the name “of the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.” At that “the un-man is defeated. Weston himself had died. On a wall of the cave with a sharp stone, Weston etched a memorial to Weston in both English and Old Solar after properly burying the body.
Ransom continued on. He felt like he may have been dying, having lost a lot of blood. He found that nothing was forbidden, not even the fixed land. He was allowed to actually walk on it and ascend the mountain. On top of the mountain he found his coffin-like space ship. Suddenly he felt a strange feeling, one he felt before. He was in the presence of two Eldila.
They were the Oyarsas of Mars ( Malacandra) and Venus ( Perelandra). The people of Perelandra can now ascend the mountain on the fixed land as the tempter is defeated. The Eldila would also now be visible to the Lady and The Man as they were too young to see them.
The Lady and the Man arrived, followed by a great crowd of creatures. They had found each other. The Eldila and all of Perelandra celebrated. At long last the King & Queen arrived and even the Eldila knelt before them. Ransom looked at them in wonder and awe as he knelt before them. They were a real man and woman, not broken shadows of what they should be like humans on Earth.
The Elidila of Perelandra gave to them dominion and rule of the planet. They were now old enough to take care of it. The Man and Lady know of evil, not by giving into it like The Bent One wanted, but by resisting it. Ransom spoke with them about what was the beginning of days of Perelandra and the end of the siege of Earth.
The festivities ended with Ransom witnessing the great dance and heard Perelandra, Malacandra, and all creation praising Melidil. The Elidil vanish. The creatures left, allowing only Ransom to be alone with The King ( Tor) and the Queen (Tendril). They tended to his wound, which would bleed forever, but because he was on Perelandra for over a year and breathed of its air and ate of its food , it would not kill him, he would be immortal.
Before entering his ship, the King and Queen filled it with the flowers of Perelandra as a gift to him to help sustain him on his journey. As the lid closed he fell asleep. END SPOILERS Then the Elidila carried the ship back to Earth.
While no other planet in our solar system has dominated science fiction more than Mars, Venus has perhaps offered us with just as much mystery, making it a suitable planet for writers and dreamers to ponder over. From a retrograde ( backwards) orbit, to it’s luminosity lending it such nick-names as “Lucifer” and “The Morning Star”, to the dense cloud coverage in it’s atmosphere, Venus, named after the Roman goddess of Love and Beauty, calls to the imagination like an enchanting lover. It is on this planet that Lewis chose to set the second book in his sci-fi trilogy, and it is on this planet that we encounter evil as it wishes we see it.
Much like with any book series, Perelandra, the second volume in CS Lewis’s space trilogy takes his stories even further and expands upon what happened in it’s precursor. Gone is the cold world of Mars, and in it’s place is the planet Venus, an Edenic paradise. Due to the lack of knowledge about the planet until the 1960s, Lewis was not the first or only science fiction writer to depict the planet as being a tropical paradise. For example Ray Bradburry’s short story “All Summer In a Day” the children of the first human colonists on Venus live essentially in a tropical rain forest.
This also falls in line with a common theory that many have of the condition of Earth in it’s earliest days. According to these theories, at one point there was a large “canopy” covering the earth, shielding it from harmful UV rays, and making it an almost paradise, allowing for such creatures as the dinosaurs to exist. This canopy was then destroyed by either atmospheric pollution caused by the impact of a giant meteor, or by the flood of Noah, depending on where ones line of reasoning lies.
The inhabitants of the planet all appear as the mythical monsters of old, such as dragons and sea monsters except that as there is no evil on the planet, they are benign. Unlike Malacandra where the inhabitants appear “alien” the inhabitants of Perelandra appear “familiar” ranging either from these mythical beasts, to humans such as The Lady. Her character closely resembles Milton’s version of Eve in Paradise Lost in terms of her child-like innocence. She knows nothing of such things as “rubbish”, “death”, “sickness” or “war” as there world has yet to fall.
A good story always needs a good paring of heroes and villians. This story is no exception with the hero Ransom, and the villain Weston. They are similar in many respects to Raphael and Satan in John Milton’s
. Such a comparison is not surprising as Lewis wrote a Preface to Paradise Lost and studied the epic poem closely.
If Perelandra were to fall, it would be far worse than that of Earth. It is Ransom’s job in this story to prevent this. His trip to Venus is not by an abduction as it was to Mars, but by initiation of the Eldila who personally take him to the planet. Part of his role in this story is to make sure that Perelandra does not suffer the same fate as Earth. His role is somewhat similar to the angel Raphael in Milton’s Paradise Lost in that he tries to prevent the fall. Ransom also tries to persuade the Lady to be patient, modest and wait upon Melidil as Raphael tried to persuade Adam of the same things.
Unlike Satan, Weston’s motives are not out of revenge. Weston is also much less of the epic version of Satan as seen in Paradise Lost but more similar to Lewis’s own Screwtape from The Screwtape Letters. Weston, like Screwtape uses subtleties, and slight perversions of the truth, and acts more like a member of the British Parliament in a Parliamentary debate, allowing Ransom to make a point, and then coming back with an eloquent rebuttal, and comes across as a gentlemen. Ransom even thinks to himself how can he fight the prince of darkness when he acts like a gentlemen.
The other “Enemy” Ransom has to face is himself. This comes in the form of his own doubts, fears and uncertainties of how does he combat Weston. He ends up discovering that it isn’t him who has to fight Weston or “The Un-Man” but Melidil working through Ransom.
Lewis also shows in much greater depth in his belief that the human fall, and humans going further in the universe, would only lead to greater problems than the ones on Earth. Ransom has to stop Weston to prevent Perelandra from falling like Earth, but because if Perelandra were to fall it would be far worse then the fall of Earth, and the cost to redeem it would be far greater and drastic.
Some readers may be concerned about the “theological implications” of this story, namely a fall of an alien race and how they’d be redeemed. The best remedy for any such implications is this: it is a space fantasy. Being worried about how the fall of fictional aliens is about as relevant as being concerned about the fall of the elves in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion. They are imaginary creatures. The purpose of showing how they could fall, or avoid it, and to show how God grants free will to all “races”, not just humans. Giving all other “races” like the aliens in the Space Trilogy free will and shows how much God desires to have his creations choose to follow Him and not be forced into it. As Ransom points out to the Lady, “ You obey because of love.” That is why God gives the gift of choice.
Lewis again tells the story as it was “told to him”. He is as mesmerized by this tale as we are. Like us, he hasn’t seen such a “perfect world” and is trying to relate all it’s glory from one who has, to others who haven’t seen it.
In Perelandra, Lewis grapples with the existential and theological questions of free will, choice, obedience and the condition of humanity as well as temptation. Readers learn the very same point that Lewis himself made, “It is only one who is tempted who truly knows how powerful it can be.” We can also see the greater power it takes to rise above it. Aside from that we get an exciting adventure set in a strange new world that only begins.
Five out of five shields