Friday, 31 August 2001

C.S. Lewis: Perelandra (1943)

Original title: Voyage to Venus (Buy from Amazon)
Edition: Pan, 1960
Review number: 930

Medieval theologians argued about the question of the multiplicity of worlds, whether there could exist other environments which were home to living creatures. A major issue in these arguments was the way in which the fall and redemption of mankind would have affected such communities - were the sin of Adam and Eve, the incarnation and crucifixion events that happened only on earth but affecting the rest of the Universe, or were there parallels to them elsewhere, or were there even communities where the fall hadn't taken place at all?

Since science fiction writers began approaching the issue of extraterrestrial life from another point of view, this has become of interest once again. There are at least two novels of note which take these theological questions as their starting point - this one, the second of Lewis' Ransome novels, and James Blish's A Case of Conscience. Perelandra - the original title was insisted on by the publishers and never pleased Lewis - is a truly magical tale, completely unique in the science fiction genre.

Ransome is commissioned to go to Perelandra (Venus) by the eldila (the angelic supernatural agents encountered in Out of the Silent Planet); he is propelled there in a coffin-like box. Perelandra turns out to be a newly living planet, the description of which owes much to that of Tormance in David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus, a novel which the publisher's title for this one seems designed to evoke.

After some time just enjoying the way that everything on Perelandra is full of life, Ransome meets a human native, a glamorous and beautiful woman who is the equivalent of Eve, and the purpose for which he was brought to the planet becomes clear when Weston, the physicist of Out of the Silent Planet, turns up. Weston has now been completely posessed by the spiritually evil power who rules the earth, and he aims to bring about the Fall again on Perelandra. Ransome is there to argue against him.

These arguments take up quite a lot of space in the novel, and make it among the most theologically explicit pieces of Christian apologetics in Lewis' fictional output. This may put off many readers. However, the dramatic interest of the idea of the argument and the descriptions of the pre-Fall planet make Perelandra still one of my favourite science fiction novels.

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