Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Perelandra by C. S. Lewis

It looked at Ransom in silence and at last began to smile... It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation. Ransom perceived that he had never before seen anything but half-hearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was whole-hearted. The extremity of its evil had passed beyond all struggle into some state which bore a horrible similarity to innocence.

is the second book in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy. The trilogy begins with Out of the Silent Planet, which both Carlton and I read, and ends with That Hideous Strength.

Peralandra is ostensibly a direct sequel to Out of the Silent Planet, but, although there are several references to the first book, it could easily stand alone. It follows Ransom, the protagonist of Planet on his voyage to Peralandra--or, in English, Venus. He is drawn there by Maledil, the trilogy's version of God, although he isn't so much a version as a perception--that is, Maledil and the Christian God are one and the same. Anyway, he arrives on the planet, which is mostly made up of water and floating islands, and meets a woman, the only one who lives there. She is in search of the King, who, Ransom eventually divines, is her male counterpart. She is without any sort of avarice or rebellion at all. She has so little conception of sin or wrongdoing that when Weston, Ransom's enemy in Planet, arrives--possessed by an evil spirit and ready to do psychological battle--Ransom cannot even communicate to her the danger. As she starts spending time with Weston, the main plot kicks in, and Lewis plays out his version of the Garden on Eden.

Initially, I wasn't sure what I thought of the book. It started off very slowly, especially for Lewis, but around the 1/3 mark (which, honestly, this book is not too long anyway) it really picked up. Once Weston arrives, the book turns into a philosophical thriller of sorts--there are fistfights and chases nestled alongside long arguments on the nature of good, what it means to be wise or obedient, and lots of other religious topics that some people might find dull but I loved.

The strangest part of Perelandra to me was how intense parts of it were. In the final third of the book, Ransom finds himself trapped in a pitch dark cave, unable to see or keep his mind from imagining that the veritable zombie Weston may be coming for him. It's nail-bitingly good, although my description doesn't do it any sort of justice:

Slowly, shakily, with unnatural and inhuman movements a human form, scarlet in the firelight, crawled out on to the floor of the cave. It was the Un-man, of course: dragging its broken leg and with its lower jaw sagging open like that of a corpse, it raised itself to a standing position. And then, close behind it, something else came up out of the hole. First came what looked like branches of trees, and then seven or eight spots of light, irregularly grouped like a constellation. Then a tubular mass which reflected the red glow as if it were polished. His heart gave a great leap as the branches suddenly resolved themselves into long wiry feelers and the dotted lights became the many eyes of a shell-helmeted head and the mass that followed it was revealed as a large roughly cylindrical body. Horrible things followed - angular, many jointed legs, and presently, when he thought the whole body was in sight, a second body came following it and after that a third.

It hard to know just what to say about Perelandra from a recommendation standpoint. Even for as big a Lewis fan as I am, I found it rough going at first. However, it was ultimately as rewarding as anything of his I've read. I'd recommend it with the asterisks that maybe it should be the first book of his you pick up. And that'll do it for this review.


Christopher said...

The Un-man!

Nihil Novum said...

And check out that awesome cover art.

Josh said...

My brother loved all three books in the trilogy and keeps trying to convince me to read them.

Heidi Joy said...

Out of the three books that make up Lewis' Space Trilogy, this is most definitely my favorite!