“Perelandra” is the second book of the “Space Trilogy.” It is the best of the series.
This series was my re-discovery of C.S. Lewis. Like many, I was exposed to “Narnia” as a kid. 20 years later I was admittedly biased toward the negative, thinking that his more “adult” works would be laden down with religious references or burdened by a rickety old Judeo-Christian moral scaffold. I was wrong. The references are certainly there; but his trilogy (and “Perelandra” in particular) is anything but “laden” or “burdened.” The questions posed within are primal, fundamental, universal. What would a human be like, unaffected, uncorrupted by the darkness of a modern soul or psyche? What would her nascent world be like? How would she view it? How would she view herself?
The narrative orbits Lewis’ characterization of “Eve.” She is this book—at once naive and lordly, innocent and powerful, child-like and strong. She lives in the bliss of a present moment free of judgment or want. Written well before the popularization (or even complete introduction) of Eastern thought in the West, Lewis incorporates an almost Zen-like philosophy into his portrayal of Eve’s relationship with “self.”
There is of course a story here, too. Elwin Ransom, Lewis’ hero of the series (some say modeled after his close friend, “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien), is transported to the planet Venus (“Perelandra” to its sparse inhabitants) where he meets that planet’s version of “Eve” before her legendary Fall—an event that Ransom must prevent—by battling Lewis’ original incarnation of Satan. He, Lucifer, is corpse-like rigidity. He is judgment. He is a calculating mind without the counterweight of life or soul. His mind is “intelligent,” though his aims are simple, as lamentably fundamental and universal as Eve’s.
I thought one particular portrayal brilliant: After a day battling for Eve’s soul, Ransom and Satan are left tired and alone. Satan proceeds to torment Ransom as a nasty child would, repeating his name compulsively, incessantly until Ransom responds. Ransom realizes that this compulsive need for negativity, for even minor “torment” is what the thing is and the implications are startling. This same negative compulsion is present in all of us, manifesting as a whining inner child’s voice, or in acts of physical torture—the difference being not of type but merely of degree.
To a contemporary reader, the science behind “Perelandra” is almost laughable. 75 years after it was written, we obviously know now that Venus isn’t paradise—rivers of molten lead could flow on its baked and lifeless surface. Lewis’ creation, though, need not adhere to scientific realities—those of the planetary or even the anthropological kind. Statements artfully arranged into a compelling story about the universal possibilities that lie within each of us, though, should be allowed the credit of a momentary suspension of disbelief. I began the series a C.S. Lewis sceptic. I finished it appreciating the man’s intellectual (and spiritual) prowess, and his ability to transcend his own particular religious narratives in the creation of something real and profound.
Will Burcher is a former police officer and current author of “The GAIAD,” a story of ancient secrets not quite forgotten and the positive power of global perspective. He lives and works in Colorado, USA.
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