Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thoughts of Perelandra...

The Old Whig has pondered a number of subjects, including his running socks, his finisher’s shirt and medal and then tagged me for my thoughts on C.S. Lewis and the “Perelandra” trilogy.

I have already dipped my toe into the waters of “That Hideous Strength” following Al’s all too brief summary of his thoughts on the lack of any siezable utopia. It is important though to consider the trilogy as a whole rather than as individual stories. As I said in a comment to him, I don’t think that any utopia was intended; far more likely he was presenting the conflict against a terrestrial distopia.

My first thought is that “science fiction” is a misnomer, a miscategorisation, of the trilogy. Now that judgement is purely subjective (as will be most of my thoughts and impressions in this article) and very much subject to debate. I believe that the foundation of that lies not in the presence or absence of “science”, or the presence of religious reference. A good parallel might be found in Tolkein’s “Ring” trilogy which lies very happily in the category of fantasy. That I think is a far more comfortable description of Lewis’ trilogy. Whether political fantasy or religious is not needed – too fine is the line to make that judgement.

As a whole, the three books present an interesting triangle of religious and civilisation status –

Malacandra (Mars) as the aging and wise.
Perelandra (Venus) as the new-born and innocent.
Thulcandra (Earth) as the dark source of evil.

There are perhaps (at a “religious” level) broad parallels between Malacandra and the Ancient Greek mythologies, Hindu and Bhuddism. Perelandra has the most Christian emphasis with the “temptation of Eve” as its foundation. Much has been made (including by Lewis himself) of the sacrifical parallel between the character of Ransom and Christ. That Lewis has crafted that parallel very carefully gives a good part of the religious them in the third book.

I passed the comment that “That Hideous Strength” presented Lewis’ view of the relationship between science and religion, and I would add to that a good mix of his political outlook as well. Certainly N.I.C.E. is as effective presentation of government oppression of fundamental freedoms and religious activity as anything Rand wrote at ten times the length.

Overall, I am quite fond of the Perelandra trilogy. I still occasionally read the three slim volumes (paperback) that my father very kindly gave me as “compulsory reading” when I was 13. Good grief that makes them 47 years old or more! They are still enjoyable reading; though I say that whilst thinking that “Out of the Silent Planet” is the most enjoyable, “Voyage to Venus” is very contrived and pompous in its religiosity, and “That Hideous Strength” still makes me feel ill if only because I can see the real events that parallel its central ideas. Picture the activities of Mengele and his ilk in Germany if I need to point it out with a hammer; the denigrations and methods of the Soviet oppression of religions under the desire to replace god worship with state worship.

Perhaps Al, you missed your utopia. Perelandra as the world where “the first” did not fall to evil should have grabbed you.

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