Friday, February 29, 2008

Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

After leaving Narnia, our class has moved on to some of the adult fiction of C. S. Lewis. We read Perelandra (1943), which is actually book 2 in his Space Trilogy series. Out of the Silent Planet (1938) is the first book, and That Hideous Strength (1945) is the last book. Like the fiction Lewis wrote for children, Perelandra is full of symbolism, and certain spiritual themes run throughout the story -- "struggle between good and evil and the consequences of rebellion against God's laws." Ransom is a college professor who has traveled to Mars or Malacandra where he met creatures besides the Martians. There he met the eldila, which are spiritual beings much like what we think of when we think of angels. Now, the Oyarsa of Malacandra (the great eldil ruler) has come to Earth or Tellus to ask Ransom for help. It seems that Evil is planning an attack on Venus or Perelandra. The attack is to come in the form of temptation, not war. Perelandra is still a young planet and is only inhabited by a King and Queen who live in a perfect world where they know no sorrow or pain. It is much like the paradise of Adam and Eve before the Fall. That's what Ransom is charged with doing though he doesn't know it until he gets there. He must stop them from making the same mistake as the first people on Earth. Much of the story of Ransom on Venus is the description of the planet, which is a series of floating islands with a golden sky.

Ransom isn't the only person from Earth who makes the trip to Perelandra. He's followed there by Weston, who's also an academic. However, Weston is the antithesis to Ransom. He's a scientist and has no ethical qualms about using science in the name of progress no matter what the cost. Weston is primarily concerned with interplanetary conquest. He sees the inhabitants of these other worlds as savages. Weston's philosophy about good and evil is that they're one in the same. According to him, what Ransom calls God is what we are striving for and what Ransom calls the Devil is the energy or force that pushes us towards what we desire. (This is what Lewis was saying in the Narnia series when the Calormenes say that Tash and Aslan are the same thing just called by different names.) Weston is eventually taken over by Evil and begins trying to convince the Queen of Perelandra that Maleldil (God) wants her to disobey him. There is one commandment that He has given her and the King and that is that they may not spend the night on the fixed lands. He doesn't give them any reason for this taboo. He simply wants them to obey out of faith and love. Weston's arguments are difficult to rebut because they always contain just enough truth to make sense to the Queen. He takes what is good and perverts it to his own needs and desires. (Again this is directly out of the philosophy of Lewis who believes that evil doesn't exist in and of itself, but rather is a perversion of good.)

Perelandra is full of symbolism, but it's not simply Christian fiction. It's a story of good vs. evil in all its forms. The book is well-written and makes the reader stop and think about things in a new way. I highly recommend this one to everyone who likes a good story.


Anonymous said...

It's years since I read this trilogy and you've reminded me just how much I enjoyed it. I've definitely gone off the Narnia books over the years, so I'd be interested to go back and read these again and see what sort of reaction I"d have now.

Lisa said...

table talk, it's always interesting to read books again that you haven't read in years because I think our present situation has a great deal to do with how we perceive and/or receive books at any given time. I'd like to go back now and read the other two books in this trilogy.