Monday, July 12, 2010

Thoughts on "Perelandra"...

This the second book in Lewis’ Space trilogy, it is basically a retelling of early “Genesis” and “Paradise Lost” with the science fiction twist that the events happen on Perelandra (Venus) in the present instead of in the Garden of Eden at the dawn of time.

C.S. Lewis, who says that Ransom told him about his experiences on Venus narrates the novel. I think Lewis switched to this form of narrator because he knew he could not explain what it felt like for Ransom to experience the trip across space or how wonderful Venus fruits tasted so it was easier to say, “Ransom said he couldn’t explain it to me,” than to have to say, “I can’t explain it to you,” which seems like more of a cop out.

The first part of the story is a sort of travelogue about the surface of Venus how the land is not fixed, there are these floating islands that are pushed here and there by Venus’ oceans. The islands are filled with all sorts of strange planet life and also friendly animals. And everything Ransom eats tastes fantastic. But I started to wonder if there was any intelligent life on the planet.

Finally Ransom meets “the Green Lady” a beautiful naked green woman, yet Ransom feels no sexual attraction to her due to the innocence of the planet or how innocent she instantly seemed or…basically just because that’s what the book said, I guess?

The Green Lady sits around with her friendly animals and waits for her King to come back, you see her man lives on some other island, but when they met again, they will start civilization on the planet.

The Green Lady and Ransom take a trip over the “the Fixed Land” a huge mountain that is the only Earth like land on the planet. The Green Lady who says she hears the voice of “Maleldil” says that see is permitted to visit the fixed land but never to sleep upon it. This is the one directive she has been given (This replaces eating the fruit of the tree of wisdom in this story).

Then a spaceship crash lands on the planet and it is none other than Weston’s ship. Weston is not actually Weston though, he has been possessed by some sort of demon, some servant of the “Bent One.” It is of course this creature’s mission to convince the Green Lady to sleep on the fixed land.

When the Green Lady is around, the demon is completely eloquent like a professor of history who never tires. However, when she sleeps or goes away, the demons turns into an almost mindless thing that speaks only in grunts and catches Venus’ frog like creatures so that he can slice them open and watch them die.

The fascinating thing about “Weston’s” attempts to convince the Green Lady to sin is that both him and Ransom are not allowed to lie. Ransom tries at some point and finds he can’t. So Weston tells the Green Lady story after story about strong willed women that went against the laws of the land and/or disobeyed their fathers for what they thought was right. He spoke about how sometimes these woman suffered severe consequences but it paved the way for a better life for their children and countrymen.

I found this aspect of the novel to be absolutely fascinating because we think of the devil as the “God of Lies” he tells you half-truths and tricks you into sinning. Here the devil is forced to use logic and truth to make his point and he continuously gives Ransom a run for his money in this battle of wits.

So I expected from Ransom to pull some sort of intellectual rabbit out of his hat at the end of the book. I mean, a warrior of God bears the armor of God, the belt of truth, etc. Ephesians 6:10-17. But instead Ransom is forced to resort to violence in order to defeat his foe. First Ransom beats the tar out of Weston’s body. Weston runs away and hops a ride on a fish. Ransom grabs another fish and follows him for hours and hours. When night falls they are in the middle of the ocean and neither of them know where they are.

The real Weston takes control of his body again and says that he has been to hell and that God has no authority there. He says the “Bent One” is the true God because the “Old One” only has authority over the living and life is only 70 years at the most while death is eternal and inescapable.

Then the demon gains control again and lunges at Ransom. They are both plunged into the ocean in the middle of the night. After flailing around in the darkness for some time Ransom finds that he has washed up on shore. It is still pitch black. The demon has washed up near him. In the darkness Ransom find the demon and repeatedly bashes his head against the rocks until he is positive he is dead. Ransom waits a very long time and the sun never comes up, eventually Ransom reasons that he is in some sort of subterranean (or is it subvenetean) cave. So Ransom spends the rest of the novel trying to find his way out of the cave. Along the way the Weston demon shows up once more. This time the body travels even though it is dead, so it’s like some kind of zombie. Ransom attacks it again and when it is subdued he pushes in into a fire pit and watches it burn.

In the last few pages of the novel Ransom find the Edils of Mars and Venus in the cave as well as the Green Lady and the King. They tell him that the fixed land had been forbidden because it needed generations to form, but that now it is ready for the Green Lady and the King to live on and it is on this land and in the caves that they will begin to form their civilization.

Basically from the moment when Ransom and Weston started chasing each other into the middle of the ocean on fishes’ backs, the novel started going downhill and never really recovered. I couldn’t understand why the novel didn’t just end. The endless journey of Ransom in the caves was a flashback to the boring travelogue around the surface of Venus at the start of the novel.

An interesting question raised in the novel is that Ransom continually says that God doesn’t repeat himself so he wonders how it is that the devil in the form of Weston seems to be inching closer and closer to victory as everyday he tells the “Green Lady” more and more stories. Whether or not God repeats himself isn’t the most interesting thing though, you see over the course of the two novels Ransom sees things on Mars and Venus that he believes inspired Earth mythology such as the Sorns are the inspiration for Cyclops. Late in this novel the Edil of Mars and Venus take human form and Ransom says that surely they inspired the mythical Venus and Mars themselves. This seems to be similar to the idea expressed at the end of "Childhood’s End" (Massive Spoilers ahead…) that the death of humanity was such a strong event it took a trip backwards in time down the human collective unconscious and made the image of the Overlords into the mythical image of the Devil. So all of that caused me to wonder whether Lewis was trying to say that the story of the Garden of Eden in Genesis never really happened and that the story on Perelandra took a trip back through time too. My evidence for this is that if God doesn’t repeat himself, why is the story in Genesis and this story on Venus so similar?

One plot thread that never got developed was that the Green Lady and the King weren’t the only intelligent animals on Venus there seemed to be a race of Mermen in the planet’s ocean. Ransom wonders about them but never gets to know them because he can’t breath underwater. To me, this changes the whole book, I mean surely those are God’s creatures too, why does god make such a big deal about the Green Lady and the King, when there is already some sort of civilization on Venus? Also, you never find out if the Green Lady’s ancestors and the Mermen will one day have to fight for supremacy. That might be an interesting book.

1 comment:

  1. I know I've read this, John, but it doesn't ring a bell. Still, the more I see of C.S. Lewis, the less I like him - in this case, the warning to strong-willed women not to use their own minds and follow their own conscience.

    Furthermore, when Ransom has no argument but violence,... what's that supposed to teach us? That if you can't win an argument through reason, just beat on your opponent?

    This just reminds me of my astonishment whenever religious leaders are automatically supposed to be our moral leaders. As an atheist, I'd take my morals over theirs any day.