Perelandra and the Beginning

Recently, I finished the second book of C.S. Lewis’s The Space Trilogy entitled Perelandra. A few weeks ago, I posted some thoughts as I had reached about the half-way point, but I wanted to share some final words now after completing the book. And, if you are interested, I also shared my thoughts on the first book of the series, Out of the Silent Planet.

This is my first time to read through this particular series. I did not grow up a Christian, so I would not have read books like The Space Trilogy nor others such as The Chronicles of Narnia. Therefore, in one sense, I am playing a little catch up on some of the classics of Christian fiction.

Perelandra, being the second book of the trilogy, is all about Ransom’s (the main character) visit to the planet Perelandra, which is known as Venus in our language. The first book, Out of the Silent Planet, is about Ransom’s visit to Malacandra (or Mars). Earth is known as Thulcandra in this series.

I wish I could think of such interesting names for a deeply-mythological fiction series.

Soon after Ransom’s arrival to the planet of Perelandra, the reader begins to realise that he is in a world that has not yet experienced sin. Or, in the traditional evangelical language, Perelandra exists in a ‘pre-Fall’ state. Yet Ransom’s old nemesis, Weston, soon arrives as a kind of serpent-like tempter. His main role is to bring down the Eve-like figure of Perelandra, she being known as the Green Lady.

Interestingly enough, Weston develops into quite the extraordinary evil character, and from then on he is referred to as the Un-man. Ransom sees himself as a provision to the Green Lady to assist her in not succumbing to the temptation of evil incarnate. As I mentioned in my previous article on this book, whereas on Earth the temptation was to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, here on Perelandra the temptation is to get the Green Lady to live upon the Fixed Land rather than the islands that float upon the water.

[Note: spoiler coming forth for the ending.]

In the end, Ransom is able to defeat Weston, the Un-man, and the first temptation of Perelandra is averted and, thus, disobedience and sin are kept at bay. With such a conquering victory, the book ends with a coronation ceremony of the man and woman of Perelandra becoming King and Queen.

All of the celestial beings – from the eldila (angelic beings) to the Oyéresu (plural of Oyarsa, which are presiding angels) – and the animals of Perelandra join in for this festive celebration. These words describe what has happened:

‘The world is born to-day,’ said [the Oyarsa of] Malacandra. ‘To-day for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil [Christ] that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra [Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.’

Now, don’t get the wrong idea. Lewis is not suggesting with the phrase, ‘the greater thing happened’, that it was good that sin entered our world. But he is recognising that redemption through Jesus Christ is quite a fantastic thing, even somehow a ‘greater’ thing. It was avoidable through resistance of the temptation. But, with sin and death entering in to our world through the disobedience of the first Adam, such an awesome thing as redemption has now taken place.

Oh, to imagine what it would have been like if sin and death had never entered our world. Oh, to ponder the possibility. Well, we are headed towards a day when it shall be as if sin had never taken place. All of creation will be redeemed, for it still cries out for such a day!

But here is what caught my attention the most from Perelandra.

As the book nears its conclusion, a conversation takes place between Ransom and the King, Tor. It goes something like this:

‘And that,’ said Ransom, ‘will be the end?’

Tor the King stared at him.

‘The end?’ he said. ‘Who spoke of an end?’

‘The end of your world, I mean,’ said Ransom.

‘Splendour of heaven!’ said Tor. ‘Your thoughts are unlike ours. About that time we shall be not far from the beginning of all things. But there will be one matter to settle before the beginning rightly begins.’

Tor goes on to explain that there will be a siege upon Thulcandra [Earth], led by Maleldil himself, to defeat the Dark Lord, the Black Oyarsa.

Tor goes on to exclaim:

‘I do not call it the beginning,’ said Tor the King. ‘It is but the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin. As when a man lies down to sleep, if he finds a twisted root under his shoulder he will change his place – and after that his real sleep begins. Or as a man setting foot on an island, may make a false step. He steadies himself and after that his journey begins. You would not call that steadying of himself a last thing?’

One of the Oyarsa present at the coronation goes on to explain that this beginning will be entering into the Great Dance that has been going on for all eternity.

‘The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!’

This sounds a bit similar to some thoughts that come out of perichoresis theology, which looks at the inter-relational nature of the Trinity, specifically calling all of creation to join in the dance of the Father, Son and Spirit.

But, more than anything, to recognise that ‘the end’ is not really the end but the real beginning seems a much better approach with regards to our eschatology. For it is not about this earth being done away with, nor our physical bodies being completely put away so that we can be free ‘spiritual beings’. Rather this is all about the renewal and restoring of the created order. We taste of the new creation now. Jesus is even now making all things new. But one day all things will be completely and finally renewed, restored, made right. We will be part of a cosmos in which we were always intended to be a part of.

I think that is a healthy view of ‘last things’, or eschatology. Heaven and earth will collide and become one, bringing about a real and new physical earth in which righteousness will dwell forever. That brings hope, that stirs vision, that encourages patient endurance until that day is initiated at the return of Bridegroom.

Perelandra and Genesis

I’ve recently been reading the second book in the Space Triology of C.S. Lewis, Perelandra. The primary gist of the book is that Ransom, the main character, has travelled to the planet Venus (or Perelandra). And his old ‘nemesis’, Weston, has also found his way to the planet.

Perelandra is in a ‘pre-Fall’ state, meaning that sin, and all its consequences, have not yet hit this planet. Weston’s role is that of the tempter, specifically trying to allure the only lady of Perelandra into disobeying Maledil (God). Whereas the first temptation of Adam and Eve was centred around not eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the first couple of Perelandra have been commanded not to live on the Fixed Island, but rather stay on the islands that float along on the sea.

As, with the temptation of Adam and Eve, there is no ‘reason’ given for why the Perelandrians cannot live on the Fixed Island. Rather, this is simply an unexplained command of Maledil.

Now, for the Christian who reads the first few chapters of Genesis, we can wonder about such a command given by God to not eat of that specific tree. Why was it given? We are never really told why. Some conjecture might be formed around the words of God found in Genesis 3:22, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.’ God did not desire for humans to be like Him, trying to attain to divine status that alone belonged to Him. William Dumbrell puts it this way:

‘By eating of the fruit man was intruding into an area reserved for God alone, and the violation of the command is tantamount to an assertion of equality with God, a snatching at deity.’ (Covenant and Creation, p38)

But, still, the question can arise: Why did God command such in the beginning and never explain the reasoning for such a command? And this is where I find Ransom’s words to the lady of Perelandra very helpful:

‘I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?’

Where can we taste the joy in obedience to our Father if we do not obey simply because He asked us? I know our inquisitive minds always want to know. It reminds me of the parent-child scenario where the parent says something cannot be done and the child asks, ‘But why?’ And the parent lovingly responds with the statement, ‘Because I said so.’

No specific explanation is given, but the loving parent is there to protect, guard and raise the child in things that are right. The desire of the child might not be specifically evil in and of itself, but the parent senses that the object of desire for the child should be withheld for the moment (or forever). Of course, we can think of abuses from parents in this situation. But I’m not taking time to address that here because I know our Father is loving and has our best in mind. I can’t explain it all, but I rest securely in that fact.

One theologian described the command to not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in this way:

‘Now the point of testing reduces itself to man’s willingness to choose obedience for the sake of obedience alone.  The raw word of God in itself must become the basis of man’s action.’ (The Christ of the Covenants, p84)

I like this as well. But I’m more drawn into the words of C.S. Lewis about tasting the joy of obeying our Father simply because our Father asked us, since He does know what is best for us. I thought that, whereas that early command to not eat of the fruit of that one specific tree (as they could eat from any other tree) can baffle us at times, Lewis’ words captured the heart of the early command of Genesis.

Beautiful words.

Even if I don’t always understand what God is asking of me, I want to get on and obey as a loving son. I see a smiling Father in the midst of such a response.