Monday, March 31, 2014

"Perelandra" by CS Lewis: A Review

"And you think, little one," it answered, "that you can fight with me? You think He will help you, perhaps? Many thought that. I've known Him longer than you, little one. They all think He's going to help them - till they come to their senses screaming recantations too late in the middle of the fire, mouldering in concentration camps, writhing under saws, jibbering in mad-houses, or nailed on to crosses. Could He help Himself?" - and the creature suddenly threw back its head and cried in a voice so loud that it seemed the golden skyroof must break, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani."

And the moment it had done so, Ransom felt certain that the sounds it had made were perfect Aramaic of the First Century. The Un-man was not quoting; it was remembering. These were the very words spoken from the Cross, treasured through all those years in the burning memory of the outcast creature which had heard them, and now brought forward in hideous parody; the horror made him. momentarily sick. Before he had recovered the Un-man was upon him, howling like a gale, with eyes so wide opened that they seemed to have no lids, and with all its hair rising on its scalp. It had him caught tightly to its chest, with its arms about him, and its nails were ripping great strips off his back. His own arms were inside its embrace and, pummelling wildly, he could get no blow at it. He turned his head and bit deeply into the muscle of its right arm, at first without success, then deeper. It gave a howl, tried to hold on, and then suddenly he was free. Its defence was for an instant unready and he found himself raining punches about the region of its heart, faster and harder than he had supposed possible. He could hear through its open mouth the great gusts of breath that he was knocking out of it. Then its hands came up again, fingers arched like claws. It was not trying to box. It wanted to grapple. He knocked its right arm aside with a horrible shock of bone against bone and caught it a jab on the fleshy part of the chin: at the same moment its nails tore his right. He grabbed at its arms. More by luck than by skill he got it held by both wrists.

What if? Perhaps not other question pesters and haunts us more than that one. What if? Regarding Christian theology, the question of what if remains just as difficult. What if Eve had never been seduced by the crafty serpent? What if Adam had fulfilled his role as the king of God's Garden by crushing the head of the serpent? What if the Fall had never happened? What if the first couple created by God had never sunk their teeth into the forbidden fruit?

What if?

In many ways, this is the question CS Lewis raises in the second volume of his Ransom Trilogy Perelandra. In each book of the series, Lewis presents the reader with a different creation stories with three different endings. Temptation never enters Malacandra (Mars) and thus there is no Fall. Thulcandra (Earth) Falls and requires the incarnation and crucifixion of Maleldil (Jesus) to save it. Perelandra (Venus) overcomes temptation when Ransom, the trilogy's hero, crushes the Devil head with a stone suffering primarily from a bruised and bloody heel (a clear reference to Genesis 3:15).

The story begins with Ransom boarding a ship, resembling a casket, that leads him to Venus (or Perelandra). Though he is uncertain why he has been called to travel there, the reader is served with the paradise-like state of the planet. It is clear, especially to those familiar with the Biblical story, that sin and its affects has not corrupt this planet (unlike Thulcandra - the Earth).

There are two human-like inhabitants of the earth. One a king. The other a queen. The two have been separated for some time and the reader is not introduced to the king until the end. Both monarchs are prohibited from entering and sleeping on the "fixed lands." The parallels between Genesis and Perelandra are obvious.

Then enters the main villain of the first volume, Out of the Silent Planet, Weston. Weston first arrives assuring us he is a new man - a spiritual man. But certainly his new age ramblings, though prevalent in our day, is nonsense. Ultimately, however, Weston is inhabited the "Bent One" or, the Devil - the one that corrupted Thulcandra. The Devil loves and praises death. He is seen as a sadistic killer who tortures and kills an army of frog-like creatures prior to the temptation of the queen - the Green lady. Lewis describes him as follows:
Again and again [Ransom] felt that a suave and subtle Mephistopheles with red cloak and rapier and a feather in his cap, or even a sombre tragic Stan out of Paradise Lost, would have been a welcome release from the thing he was actually doomed to watch. It was not like dealing with a wicked politician at all: it was much more like being set to guard an imbecile or a monkey or a very nasty child. . . . It showed plenty of subtlety and intelligence when talking to the Lady; but Ransom soon perceived that it regarded intelligence simply and solely as a weapon. (110)
Lewis refers to the devil-inhabited Weston as "the un-man" and uses the pronoun "it" to describe him ("it said," "it argued," etc.). For the two inhabitants of Perelandra, knowlegde and wisdom is closely connected to age. Therefore, when the Green Lady learns something new that appears wise she remakes that she is getting older. During the suspenseful temptation scenes, Ransom repeatedly seeks to outwit the un-man while warning the Green Lady but becomes aware of his own physical and intellectual weaknesses. The un-man never sleeps and the Green Lady requires very little. Ransom eventually finds himself to the point of exhaustion. Lewis writes:
There were times when he thought "Thank God! We've won at last." But the enemy was never tired, and Ransom grew more weary all the time; and presently he thought he could see signs that the Lady was becoming tired too. (112)
It becomes clear to Ransom (through a divine voice), however, that he will never outsmart the un-man (What the Un-man said was always very nearly true. [114]), He can only kill him. This leads us to the main action of the book. The two set off in a cosmic battle that ultimately results in the murder of the un-man, inhabiting Weston, and the liberation of Perelandra. Ransom, admittedly not a boxer, comes to the conclusion to war against the un-man when he is reminded of his providential name ("It is not for nothing that you are named Ransom," said the Voice. [125]). He is to be Perelandra's ransom, or the means by which Perelandra is protected (the words liberated or saved would be misleading) from the same fate as Thulcandra.

There are a number of themes and details I found fascinating. First, Ransom, the Green Lady, and the King are nude during the entire story. Ransom is instructed to removed his earthly clothes prior to entering the "space ship." Those familiar with the biblical narrative will understand why. Lewis is clear that though Ransom observes the beautiful, yet uncovered body of Perelandra's queen, he has no fallen, sexual temptation toward her. It is a reminder of the connection between sin and shame.

Secondly, Lewis' discussion of the incarnation and redemption is well received. Regarding the former, Lewis writes  
Every minute it became clearer to [Ransom] that the parallel he had tried to draw between Eden and Perelandra was crude and imperfect. What had happened on Earth, when Maleldil [that is, Christ] was born a man at Bethlehem, had altered the universe for ever.  (123)
Regarding redemption we read:
So that was the real issue. If he now failed, this world also would hereafter be redeemed. If he were not the ransom, Another would be. Yet nothing was ever repeated. Not a second crucifixion perhaps - who knows - not even a second Incarnation ... some act of even more appalling love, some glory of yet deeper humility. For he had seen already how the pattern grows and how from each world it sprouts into the next through some other dimension. The small external evil which Satan had done in Malacandra was only as a line: the deeper evil he had done in Earth was as a square: if Venus fell, her evil would be a cube - her Redemption beyond conceiving. Yet redeemed she would be. (126)
Ultimately, by the end of the book I found myself more satisfied than after reading Out of the Silent Planet (you can read my review here) a feat I did not think the sequel would or could accomplish. Both books describes new worlds in ways only the pen and mind of Lewis could. Yet it is here that Lewis provides a myth that allows the reader to toy with that original question: What if our world remained unaffected by the Fall? What if a Ransom had been paid before man slept on the fixed islands? What if man had never been seduced?

For Lewis fans you will immensely enjoy this. For those familiar with the Narnia series (and who isn't nowadays?) will discover a new world from the same mind. And that alone is rewarding.


For more:
"Out of the Silent Planet" by CS Lewis: A Review 

"Out of the Silent Planet" Audio Book
"A Mixture of Fool and Knave": CS Lewis on Theological Liberalism
Theology As a Map: Lewis, Practical Theology, and the Trinity
"Screwtape Letters" by CS Lewis: A Review
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 1
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 2
The Most Unpopular of Christian Virtues: Lewis on Chasity - Part 3 
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 1
"Willing Slaves of the Welfare State": CS Lewis on Freedom, Science, and Society - Part 2
He is Not a Tame Lion: Aslan, Jesus, and the Limits of Postmodern Inclusivism  
To Be Undragoned: Aslan, Christ, and the Gift of Regeneration 
Lewis on Practical Theology  
Lewis on the Why of Democracy
From Uncle Screwtape:  Christianity and Politics      
Theologians I Have Been Influenced By - The Dead
"The Magician's Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism" Full Documentary
Beyond Narnia:  A Great Documentary 
"Surprised by Joy" by Lewis
"Jack:  A Life of CS Lewis"  
"The Great Divorce" by Lewis
"Finding God in the Land of Narnia"   
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