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Perelandra

by Chris Gambrell  
7/30/2014 / Book Reviews


Perelandra by C.S. Lewis is the second book of Lewis' Space Trilogy. After Ransom's journey to Malacandra, the planet we call Mars, Perelandra is fitting second book.

In this story, Ransom battles the Dark Force on a new planet, facing the strongest, most vicious power known to man, temptation. Ransom is given a task by the Oyarsa, the angelic leader of Malacandra. He is taken to Perelandra, which we call Venus, by the eldili in a coffin made of crystal, or ice.

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 the physicist Dr. Weston, from Out of the Silent Planet) tries to tempt Eve (the Green Lady) into doing the only forbidden thing set by God. The forbidden here is not staying away from a certain fruit but rather never staying after sundown on the only solid island on the planet.

Ransom gradually realizes the situation he is in. He also realizes that he is the only part of the story that has no counterpart in the original Biblical story: there was no one else in the Garden to argue against the snake when it tempted Eve. Therefore, as Dr. Weston tries to tempt the Green Lady to sin, Ransom does his best to tell her better.

The discussions in which the three characters hold form the majority of the book. They are a rich truth-seeking debate about the question of faith and obedience. Why, asks Dr. Weston, should the word of the Lord be followed even if there is nothing morally wrong about breaking his word? Why is there something wrong with a deed that is clearly not evil, and that will apparently only help the achiever, better their position, and better their life?

Understanding what is meant by the fall of man -- how we are broken, and how we each repeat the same tragedy in our lives -- is central to Lewis's theology. Perelandra is partially an effort to exemplify how "obedience" means more than obeying a random rule; in this story, breaking the rule and breaking your connection with truth and fullness are part of the same process.

The snake in this story is Dr. Weston, at first, it seems like it really is Weston; he at last 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 caution us of trying to have scientific theories completely replace belief; he seems to be warning us of the pseudo-religious approaches to science, or pseudo-scientific approaches to religion, that became popular in various theories -- especially during the 19th century. In fact, most of the arguments used by Weston in favor of this view were used by actual scientists and philosophers of the time.

Perelandra is an entertaining book that is a worthy sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, although a bit slow to start, once we get to the planet you won't be able to put it down. A reader who does not agree with Lewis's religious beliefs may not like Perelandra, but I truly recommend it.

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