Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Review: Perelandra

First, I'd like to thank everyone who corrected me with details about the OotSP review, either in the newsgroup or in personal e-mail messages. You can find the final version at http://www.forum2.org/tal/books/cosmic1.html -- it's still subject to change, of course, especially if you find mistakes and suchlike.

Here's the second part -- the review of Perelandra, or rather, an initial draft of it.

Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

Sometimes published as "Voyage to Venus".

Perelandra begins with what could probably be called an elegant horror scene, with the author keenly describing his inner fears as he attempted to enter the house of his friend, Dr. Ransom. The scene reads as if it was taken from the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, especially when we consider that the author's seemingly insane, nightmarish fears turn out to be based on reality.

But it is no! t a horror novel. It is not a science fiction novel, either, despite what you might read on the cover. Much more than the other two volumes in the trilogy, Perelandra is best described as Religious Fiction. The book includes a brilliant, challenging discussion on the question of good and evil set in on a most original background, presented as a direct contest between the Beast and our hero, Dr. Ransom.

While the first volume of the trilogy took part on Melecandra, or Mars, the second volume takes place on Venus, called Perelandra in the old tongue of the solar system. Ransom is brought there by the powers he met on Mars, for a mission that was not explained to him but remains a mystery only for a short while. Once on Venus, Ransom finds himself in a re-telling of the story of the Garden of Eden. On Venus, man had not fallen yet, but here again the Beast (this time, not in the form of a snake but rather in the form of a physicist) tries to tempt Eve (the Gr! een Lady) into breaking the only taboo set by God. The taboo here is not avoiding a certain fruit but rather never staying after sundown on the only solid island on the planet.

Ransom slowly realizes the very special position he is in. He also realizes that he is the only part of the story that has no equivalent in the original Biblical story: there was no one else in the Garden to argue against the snake when it tempted Eve. And so, as the Beast tries to tempt the Green Lady to sin, Ransom does his best to tell her better.

The discussions in which the three characters engage form the lion's share of the book.  They are a rich philosophical debate about the question of /belief/. Why, asks the Beast, should the word of the Lord be followed even if there is nothing immoral about breaking his word? Why is there anything wrong with a deed that is obviously not evil, and that will apparently only help the doer, improve his position, and change his life for the better?

The physicist which presents the snake in this stor! y is Dr. Weston, familiar to the readers of /Out of the Silent Planet/. At first, it seems like it really is Weston; he finally understands that religious people were right, in a way -- he had built himself some sort of a new scientific religion. Through this character, Lewis seems to be warning us of trying to have scientific theories completely replace belief; he seems to be warning us of the fallacies of complete scientific understanding of the universe.

<-- (from the book) I don't know much about what people call the religious view of life,' said Ransom, wrinkling his brow. 'You see, I'm a Christian. And what we mean by the Holy Ghost is /not/ a blind, inarticulate purposiveness.'

'My dear Ransom,' said Weston, 'I understand you perfectly. I have no doubt that my phraseology will seem strange to you, and perhaps even shocking. [...] But [...] believe me, we are talking about exactly the same thing.'

'I'm not at all sure that we are.'

'Th! at, if you will permit me to say so, is one of the real weaknesses of organised religion -- that adherence to formulae, that failure to recognize one's own friends.' -->

But quickly enough, it becomes obvious that it is only Weston's body that is present; Weston is clearly no longer human, being totally possessed by the Evil One himself.

<-- (from the book) 'But this is very foolish,' said the Un-man. 'Do you not know who I am?'

'I know /what/ you are,' said Ransom. 'Which of them doesn't matter.'

'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 se! emed the golden sky-roof must break, '/Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani./'

And the moment it had done so, Ransom felt certain that the sounds it had made were perfect Aramic 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. -->

(In modern Hebrew, the words screamed by the Un-man are "/Elohai, Elohai, lama shechachtani/" -- literally, "My God, my God, why have you forgotten me".)

While the discussion was profound, I found myself very surprised in the seemingly non-Christian answer which Ransom found to the problem. such a solution. I later realized that, considering the scene, there was really nothing wrong with it; indeed, as Lewis claims, it was the only solution possible.

In a ! manner that is fitting more to a religious text than to a discussion about religion, Perelandra ends with what can only be considered a modern appendix to the Book of Psalms.

[SIDEBAR]

"THE COSMIC TRILOGY" AND "A WRINKLE IN TIME"

/A Wrinkle in Time/ is a cute, highly-recommended, juvenile science-fiction book by Madeleine L'Engle. It was published in 1962, years after The Cosmic Trilogy; I do not know if there is anything to it, but I found many amusing parallels between this book and Lewis's trilogy.

The first similarity is that in both books, people leave Earth to other planets only to realize that Earth is /different/. It is different because elsewhere in the universe, Good is the natural, understandable thing, while Earth itself is "shadowed" as L'Engle called it, a "silent planet" as Lewis did -- here on Earth, there are evil people, and goodness is not obvious at all.

In Perelandra, I found a! nother similarity -- here, planets (Venus and Mars) take the form of people, and they are viewed and talked to by our hero Dr. Ransom. In /A Wrinkle in Time/, some of the most intriguing and amusing characters turn out to be stars that took the shape of people in order to converse with humans.

In /Many Waters/, one of the many sequels to /A Wrinkle in Time/, Charles Wallace and his friends visit the Biblical story of Noah and the Ark -- while in Perelandra, Ransom visits a re-telling of another Biblical story.

Finally, in /That Hideous Strength/ -- just as in /A Wrinkle in Time/ -- we find out that the evil operation is masterminded by a huge, inhuman brain...

It should be noted that much like Lewis, L'Engle is a religious person, though her books form less of an obvious, serious religious discussion.

-- Regards,

 - Tal Cohen

-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==---------- http://www.dejanews.com/   &nbs p;   Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own    

17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

[snipped review]

Not bad at all!

Minor nit-pick:  "Malacandra" not "Melacandra."

An omission, maybe:  I think the dialogues between the Green Lady and Weston are not exactly about the nature of "belief," or not solely. Faith would be a closer word, but I think Lewis is also trying to get at the meaning of "innocence" and "obedience."

The way the Green Lady speaks and thinks is different in important ways from the popular portrayal of Adam and Eve.  She is naive and vulnerable to deception, and can be tempted into self-deception, but she and her mate have a great strength and unity with their world that, to Lewis, are the unfallen condition of humanity.  He also gives us a glimpse of the redeemed condition, at the end, where they have in a way lost their innocence but without losing their faith and wholeness.

Understanding what is meant by the fall of man -- how we are broken, and how we each repeat the same tragedy in our individual lives -- is central to Lewis's theology.  _Perelandra_ is partly an attempt to illustrate how "obedience" means more than obeying an arbitrary rule; in this story, breaking the rule and breaking your connection with truth and wholeness are part of the same process.

It's helpful to understand that Weston's "some sort of a new scientific religion" is not Lewis's creation; Weston borrows most of his arguments from actual scientists and philosophers of the time, whom Lewis attacks more directly in _The Abolition of Man_, and the part about the "life force" is a reference to George Bernard Shaw (I think).  Also, I think it's clear that Lewis doesn't consider Weston's point of view to be genuinely "scientific" or even very logical; I'd say he's warning us against dressing up our unconscious selfishness and desire for control in pseudo-rational trappings.

Interesting description.  I'm not sure if you're really saying it _isn't_ fitting; do you mean _Perelandra_ is really "a discussion about religion" and therefore should not include a praise song?

About _A Wrinkle in Time_ -- a few things:

1. "Cute"??  I guess there's cuteness in it, but also heights of joy and some very dark passages indeed.

2. I don't have any quotes from L'Engle about whether _AWiT_ was inspired by Lewis, but you can bet the farm on it.  Now or in 1962, you can't decide to write Christian fantasy for children without having CSL looming over you in all kinds of ways.  You got most of the obvious parallels; also, in general, the idea of control/conformity/absorption in _AWiT_ is similar to a number of Lewisian portrayals of evil, most vividly in _That Hideous Strength_ and _The Screwtape Letters_

Probably asking for trouble to use the word "serious" here.  As to "obvious," I believe she does make a specific analogy to Jesus in _AWiT_.

Carry on!

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

4:53 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comments appreciated:  I'm an avid C. S. Lewis fan and was interested to read comments at this site on M. L'Engle.  Thrilled with AWiT, I passed it on to a friend for her to read to her children.  She felt it had definite occult overtones and put the book "on hold."   I have perused several other books by L'Engle and I now have questions.  Anyone know anything about this author?

6:38 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In article <3687E14B.EE09D@tempest.com>,   Eli Bishop <ebis@tempest.com> wrote:

Thanks.

I've adapted most of your suggested corrections. In fact, the current text of the review -- http://www.forum2.org/tal/books/cosmic2.html -- includes a complete paragraph taken directly from your message.

I hope you do not object; I have included a "special thanks" note to you in the online review.

In my view, it is these "nit-picks", not minor at all, that lead to polished pages.

(This is the paragraph I copied verbatim.)

I'm not at all saying it isn't fitting. After all, Perelandra /is/ a book of fiction, and not an academic discussion text.

I've changed the wording. I've used the term "cute" because I have sweet childhood memories from that book (there are very few books I've read so many years ago, as a child, and still remember in such detail.)

Correct. But to conclude clearly that L'Engle borrowed from Lewis is too bold a move -- at least without actual evidence. This is why I've only presented the possibility.

Again, thanks. The review of THS is in the works.

-- Regards,

 - Tal Cohen

-----------== Posted via Deja News, The Discussion Network ==---------- http://www.dejanews.com/       Search, Read, Discuss, or Start Your Own    

7:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my, thanks!  I wasn't sure I was making sense at all.  I'm sure someone else on this ng could have said it better, but everyone seems to have fallen quiet recently.

True.  I just thought your sentence was ambiguous, but ambiguity isn't always a bad thing.

Yes.  The two sequels are very different, but made very strong impressions on me as well.

Understood.  Neither of us said "borrowed" -- but I do think you can conclude clearly that L'Engle had read Lewis, and was writing about many of the same things.

Very curious to see this, since Lewis fans tend to have such mixed reactions (to put it mildly) to that book.

You may be aware that THS is usually described as Lewis writing under the influence of a strong dose of Charles Williams.  This is a good or bad thing depending on who you ask, but the influence is undeniable.  If you haven't read Williams, I think the most relevant books are probably _All Hallows' Eve_ and _War in Heaven_.  Unfortunately they're pretty hard to find.  There's a Web site with a lot of good CW information at http://people.ne.mediaone.net/davisfamily/index.htm.

Apologies if you already knew all this.

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

7:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some brief thoughts:

I'd say, rather, a "re-exploration".  A retelling would be more true to the original (IMO, of course), where, as you note, Perelandra introduces some important twists (Ransom's presence, and the fact that they don't Fall).

This is somewhat confusing to someone who has not read the story, because "solid island" isn't defined.  I'd say, rather, "a specific island".   While on this note, you might want to mention the world that Lewis creates as the setting to his story.  Aside from the theology and plot elements, one of the things that really sticks with me is the picture of the floating islands--a steep hill one moment and a valley the next--also the bubble trees.

 At first, it

It's not just a change in the understanding of Weston, it is an actual change in his identity.  At first it is actually Weston, but soon after he arrives on Perelandra he invites the devil to possess him and loses all personality of his own (or at least the real Weston is completly buried--it is unclear in the scene where they are riding on fish if there is still some of Weston in there or if the voice is just a trick of the Un-man).

In Wrinkle there are some planets in the light, some in the shadow. Earth is one planet where people are fighting against the shadow.

I don't know about the word "serious".  I'd say, rather, that both Lewis and L'Engle write non-fiction works that are explicitly about their faith and fiction works that incorporate religious themes.

Bruce Hietbrink

9:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The message <3687E14B.EE09D@tempest.com>   from  Eli Bishop <ebis@tempest.com> contains these words:

I'm not sure this is true. Certainly Lewis is a very strong force in a certain genre, but there are quite a few children's fantasy writers (not necessarily Christian) who stand well outside any C S Lewis school. For example, Alan Garner ('The Wierdstone of Brisingamen' is his best known book, but I think 'The Owl Service' is probably his best written) only resembles Lewis, I think, where they draw from similar sources (Welsh and Arthurian lore, for example). My point is that two modern writers who have won literary awards comparable to Lewis's -- Ann Pilling and Pauline Davis -- are much more in Garner's tradition than Lewis's, yet both are writing Christian fantasy for children. I wouldn't call Roger Lancelyn Green's work particularly Lewisian either, and he was a friend of Lewis.

I don't think it's a similar situation to that of Schubert (or was it Brahms?) saying of Beethoven, 'You don't know what it's like having *his* shadow behind us.' I think it's more of a case that Lewis was and is seen in some Christian quarters as having defined the proper way to write Christian fantasy for children (pity they didn't read his & Tolkien's writing on the subject of fiction ...). For example, the embarrassingly Lewis-influenced 'Tower of Geburah' by John White seems to me to be an example not of a book reflecting a dominant influence but of an act of explicit homage to a master.

In the 1970s and 1980s Christian publishers on both sides of the Atlantic were deluged with Tolkien imitations (oddly, there were many fewer Lewis imitations). For a while it was a seller's market, as most Christian publishers wanted a Christian fantasy children's novel of that kind on their list. Today there is a big slump in Christian fiction generally, so those glory days are over. But even in these difficult days, and certainly in 1962 and thereafter, I am sure that competent Christian writers of children's fantasy had no need to feel Lewis 'looming over them'. Apart from anything else, non-Christian writers were exerting tremendous creative influence and generating real critical excitement -- T H White is the most striking in the Lewis context -- and came from traditions quite outside Lewis. Lewis was a master craftsman in his genre, but I should be interested to see a list of a dozen writers of children's fantasy who are acknowledged by a cross-section of the reading public to be major writers, who are substantially influenced by Lewis. I can think of very few.

-- Best wishes,

David. david.por@zetnet.co.uk + + + + + + + + + + + + + O flute that throbs with the thanksgiving breath Of convalescents on the shores of death. O bless the freedom that you never chose ... O wear your tribulation like a rose. (W. H. Auden, 'Anthem for St Cecilia's Day')

10:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On 01 Jan 1999 11:22:59 PST, ebis@tempest.com (Eli Bishop) wrote:

Information about the CW list can also be found at the above http. The Charles Williams novels can be readily obtained from William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan.  There is a toll free number:  1-800-253-7521.  I believe they still offer a complete set of Charles Williams novels.  

All the best, Ann

12:53 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I some ways these twists are commentary on the twists that Milton added to his retelling of the Fall, In some ways _Perelandra_ is _Paradise_Never_Lost_.

Carrington Dixon

1:23 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, Eerdmans was the last one to publish them, but I'm not sure they're currently available.  Last time I checked, about 6 months ago, only _War In Heaven_ and _All Hallows' Eve_ were still in print.  I may be completely wrong so it's worth a try.

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

6:38 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In article <bnh-0101991937340@ppc-cam.chem.ucla.edu>, b@chem.ucla.edu



I think Weston has invited the devil to possess him long before reaching Venus.  The remnants of his identity come and go several times.  The dialogue while riding on fish, where he's describing the experience of damnation, is one of the most disturbing things I've ever read, ranking up there with the disintegration of Wentworth in Charles Williams' _Descent Into Hell_.

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

12:38 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In article <1999010201365272@zetnet.co.uk>, David R L Porter

I was unclear, I guess.  I didn't mean to say that all writers of children's religious fantasy are in the "C.S. Lewis school" -- just that his work in that area is so well known that it's safe to say that striking parallels between Lewis and another writer, like L'Engle, are more likely to be influence/homage than coincidence.

Thanks for the information about Garner and others, whom I hadn't heard of.

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

12:53 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

___________ M.L'Engle is a superb writer of children's fiction. She bifurcates the world dramatically between the good guys and the bad guys. Your friend's hesitation over _Wrinkle_ probably stems from the presence of good witches. Would Glinda and the Wicked witches of the East/West in _The Wonderful Wizard of Oz_ disqualify it as having "occult overtones", too? Your friend's sensibilities are too sensitive to any connection with something popularly associated with "the occult."

M. L'Engle's faith was nurtured in the Roman Catholic communion, I believe.

bw

1:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the better Web sites about her (although it's pretty slow) is here:     http://hometown.aol.com/kfbofpql/LEngl.html

-- Eli Bishop / www.concentric.net/~Elib "I been tryin' to put a chicken in the window, to chase away the wolf from the door" - John Prine

3:23 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In article <ebishop-0301992235410@ts014d04.hil-ny.concentric.net>,

Another good web page is at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Acropolis/8838/

As to Bill's statement that she is Roman Catholic, I believe she actually was raised as an Episcopalion.  She crosses all kinds of denominational lines, though, feeling as comfortable staying with a group of nuns as she does speaking to a crowd of Presbyterians.

Bruce Hietbrink

4:38 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In article <bnh-0301992252360@ppc-cam.chem.ucla.edu>, b@chem.ucla.edu ______ Bruce, thank you for the correction.

I have a copy of her book, Ladder of Angels, which is Bible stories retold for children with illustrations by children from around the world. I'm afraid my own child was distinctly not interested in this book, while, on the other hand, found it fascinating.

I was raised on the well-know children's bible story book, The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes. This is most definately NOT like that. L'Engle interprets the stories in whimsical ways that ought to let our minds and hearts soar (toward god). But then, what do I know as an agnostic?

So I guess, Bruce, that her work speaks to all kinds of people.

bw

7:54 AM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In the case of L'Engle, they may reflect influences that both writers shared, such as George MacDonald.  I read somewhere that L'Engle describes MacDonald as a major influence on her writing.

I think L'Engle may be too old to be influenced *directly* by C.S. Lewis; she had already published several novels before the Narnia series began to come out.

-- Katie Schwarz "There's no need to look for a Chimera, or a cat with three legs."                          -- Jorge Luis Borges, "Death and the Compass"

12:08 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppost this kind of question is impossible to settle since the author is unavailabe for consulting.  But look at the passage...

 << (weston says) "I call that force into me completely...      Then horrible things began happening. A spasm like      that preceeding a deadly vomit twisted Weston's face      out of recognition.  As it passed, for one second      something like the  old Weston reappeared - the old      Weston, staring with eyes of horror and howling      "Ransom, Ransom!  For Christ's sake don't let them --"      and instantly his whole body spun around as if it      had been hit by a revolver-bullet and he fell to the      earth and was rolling at Ransom's feet... >>

While Weston may have been of the Bent One's party all along, it certainly seems like this is the actual moment he was possessed. (And it happened because Weston, like Rishda Taarkan, called on gods he did not really believe in, and they came.)

12:38 PM

 

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