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Perelandra

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The eye-catching illustration on the cover of this edition of Perelandra tells much of the creation story of the Bible. However, Perelandra uses a different venue and a fresh set of characters. These new elements include Mars and Venus, the Sun (or Son--of God?), the male and female parents of humanity in different worlds, and in a large image at the center of the artwork, The Apple, held in the fingertips of a red-nailed woman's hand. The book contains challenging discussions about good and evil--set against a background other than Earth.
C.S. Lewis created his fascinating Perelandra as the second installment of his Space Trilogy, in which the creation story occurs on three different planets, Mars, Earth, and Venus--with three different endings. Mars never suffers temptation and its peoples, or hnaus, never fall away from God (Maelidil). Earth humans fall, but the believers are ransomed by the Son of God. Venus is a different story altogether.

Perelandra: Overview

Perelandra stars C.S. Lewis in its first enchanting chapter. Delving into the mysteries of outer space and religion, Lewis begins with a scene more reminiscent of The Wolfman than the Bible. In the abandoned, fog-shrouded English countryside; he approaches the old manse of his friend, Ransom (a Cambridge University professor).

Lewis is intent upon dissecting the journey Ransom made to Mars and back in the first volume of his trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet. He is also keen to learn about the Martian light-beings, eldili. Such a different setting opens many possibilities for thought and imagination.

With increasing dread, Lewis hikes tentatively past abandoned factories and various indistinguishable objects as the foggy night falls. I might have expected him to happen upon Maria Ouspenskia counseling Larry Talbot about the full moon amid flapping bats. It is great fun--recalling the horror films of the period.

Trudging on in fog and darkness, Lewis thinks, "They call it a breakdown, at first... Wasn't there some mental disease in which quite ordinary objects looked to the patient unbelievably ominous?"
Imagining that Ransom must be in league with aliens and the devil, Lewis finally reaches the house.

He finds an entrance, but no lights. He begins lighting matches only to find Ransom absent and in his place, a casket, and the Martian eldil, Malacandra the archangel. Lewis writes that he was sure this being was "good." At that moment, he was not sure that he liked "goodness."

This is good use of humor--designed to release tension. Lewis throws in a number of other funny scenes and humorous dialog, so I found myself dropping the book to just laugh. Ransom returns to the house and tells Lewis that he is compelled by spiritual forces to journey to Perelandra in the casket. So, with more than a little skepticism, Lewis boxes him up in the coffin--equipped with teleportation--and sends him off. When he returns, Ransom looks ten years younger, and tells an interesting tale. Venus is very different from earth.

This time around in Creation, temptation harasses a green humanity in a far-off Eden called Perelandra--Venus in the Old Solar Language. This aspect will surely attract Star Trek fans of Vulcans and green dancing-girls. Added to this are several pages of intricate descriptions of the plantscape.

The Venus story involves obeying God by avoiding stays on "fixed land" overnight, rather than not eating the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil (gaining reason). Perelandra is full of vast oceans, floating islands, and golden skies, with some larger stationary islands called "fixed lands." Any fixed land is not to be inhabited overnight, by decree of Maelidil (God).
The devil is the Bent Eldil and is very crooked indeed.

The Perelandrian Adam and Eve are Tor and Tinidril, also called King and Queen or Father and Mother of the planet. The Venus-Eve is green-skinned and lovely, needing to wear no clothes, because the hnaus have not sinned and separated from God through willful disobedience as on earth (Thulcandra). They find everything good and commune daily with sentient animals. I like the description of learning used by Tinidril: when you learn, you are being made older. Maelidil speaks to her constantly, making her older. When Ransom arrives on Perelandra, dialogues with him make her older.

When the greedy physicist Weston arrives, the three-way conversations among Tinidril, Weston, and Ransom make her older still. She finally lies down exhausted and falls asleep while Ransom and Weston fight. Ransom defends Tinidril in the garden by fighting the devil-possessed Weston (Un-Man) for her sake when Tor is absent. On earth, Adam failed to save Eve from gaining reason at the hands of the devil and then took reason upon himself as well by eating its fruit.

Ransom’s willingness to stand against the Un-Man by decree of a spiritual Voice around him allows him to defend Tinidril, defeat the devil in the garden, save Paradise, and save God from having to come down in the form of a man to save humanity. The discussions among the major characters suggest various criticisms of faulty logic, false religions, and pseudo-sciences and are most interesting.

Weston is the serpent of reason in Perelandra but fails to seduce Tinidril.
Possessed by evil, he is a startling image. Ransom follows a trail of mutilated frogs to find Weston standing alone with vacant eyes, ripping frogs open down the back with his long fingernails and tossing them aside to writhe in agony. This image recalls those of serial killers today. In the end, Weston the Un-Man is all mocking repugnance, but Ransom perseveres and slays Weston, after crushing his head with a stone and suffering a bruised heel in the battle (directly from the Bible). At this point, another bit of humor occurs as Ransom readies to heave a stone, declaring, "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost – here goes! – I mean, Amen!"

After the battle, the Voice tells Ransom that his surname is no coincidence. He was chosen to defeat the Un-Man. Elwin Ransom ransomed the humanity of Perelandra, preventing their separation from God. Considering Genesis, Perelandra is quite an alternative that asks, “What if?” If we accept Genesis, we might ask, “What if this could have occurred on earth? How would our lives be better? What can we do to offset earth’s creation story and its consequences?” If we do not accept Genesis, then we might ask how the concept of good vs. evil and avoiding temptation into bad choices or unhealthy activities might change our personal stories.

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