Sunday, January 20, 2008

perelandra

Wow, it's been a while! I'm back on the East Coast, ready for school to start a week from tomorrow. Presumably once I'm back in school I'll have a little more to write about. We'll see if I also have time to write...

A couple weeks ago I re-read C.S. Lewis's science fiction book "Perelandra." I read this trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength) in middle school and hadn't read them since then, so it was interesting reading it with adult eyes with some theological training. No longer was it just a fun story, but it was an interesting look into Lewis's theology and world view.

The story is basically about this guy (Ransom) who goes to Venus (Perelandra). Venus is, in Lewis's early 20th century lack of knowledge, habitable, and it is in a similar stage to how the Earth mythologically was in Edenic times, before the Fall. There are two people (although slightly different from humans) and the entire world is perfect: warm, covered with clouds so the sun can't burn the skin or hurt the eyes, friendly animals, satiating fruit, etc.

Enter the Devil, who cannot get into this idyllic place without an invitation. Another person from Earth, a mad scientist if you will, comes to Venus and invites the Devil to take him over, so he becomes demon possessed and starts talking to the Eve character, trying to convince her to break God's one command of something they're not supposed to do.

The story is interesting in that it ponders the question of whether it was possible for humans not to sin, what temptation might have looked like, how far temptation goes before sin actually occurs, and the role of God when someone is being tempted.

A couple of Lewis's ideas were particularly interesting to think about, although not necessarily accurate. He suggested that things that are the stuff of our myths may all exist in other places. There were dragons and other mythological creatures on Perelandra. When angels appear they appear in the form of Greek gods. His angels are interesting, too. He imagines them as beings who live in a different dimension from the ones we can normally sense. They are very powerful and intelligent so humans generally think of them as gods, although they only serve God. But God puts the planets under their care, as we think of with the names of our planets. These angels, or "eldila" as they're called, can communicate with us without our knowing it, putting thoughts in our minds, or they can cause us to become aware of them. What we think of as "demons" are actually evil elidla who have become twisted and no longer follow God. Earth has been under siege by these evil eldila since the dawn of our histories. Sometimes good eldila come to Earth as well, and that's where we get ideas of angels. This is an interesting idea, although of course all conjecture.

Lewis apparently believes that humans could have chosen not to sin, and in that case, we would have continued in wisdom and understanding without the actual necessity of doing evil. To Lewis, because we chose evil God used it for good and sent Jesus, which was the central point of all history on all planets and would never be repeated, and was a redemptive act for all creation, not just for our planet. I don't agree with his entire theology on this point--it's hard to explain here, but he believed in predestination in a harsher sense than I do and that came across in his writing.

Another thing that I don't remember from reading this book when I was 13 was how sexist it is. The Devil comes to the woman, tempts the woman because, presumably, she is the weaker one and there is more of a chance of her failing. Every time he comes to her, if she thinks he's perhaps made a good point, she says, "I must talk to the King about this," meaning the man. She can't make a decision for herself, she has to ask him because he's "older" (wiser) than her. If she had to go talk to the King about it because they make all decisions together, that would be one thing--that would be a positive way of living in community, in a healthy relationship, where important decisions are made together. But that wasn't what she was indicating. Also, she is the one who is tempted for several weeks on end, while the King is off doing some random stuff with God, and yet when the celebration happens at the end because she withstood the test, it is the King who is given dominion over the planet and given the privilege of naming everything. He wasn't even tempted!

So, although I would recommend this book because it has some interesting ideas and makes you think about various aspects of Creation & Fall mythology, take it with a grain of salt!

5 comments:

Ashiq Chris said...

Lewis is very good at one thing, and that is reminding us how to read old texts. The angelology of the Perelandra series is close to the way that folks in old-timey-times saw it. For example, the reason that Earth was at the 'center' of the universe is that it was considered the most 'base', furthest from the 'spirit', and therefore God. This was a result of the Fall.

Knowing such things, of course, allows one to read older texts closer to the manner in which a contemporary would, which is important, especially, when reading religious or mythical texts. Revelation, for example, needs to be read in the broader context of Judaic apocalyptic literature. You can't really understand the tropes, symbols, metaphors and allegories otherwise.

On the other hand, Lewis is a definite product of his time and culture, and his strongly traditionalist attitudes are well-reflected in both his sexism and racism (as apparent in his Narnian The Horse and His Boy), and so needs to be read, equally, with a grain of salt: he has his own axe to grind.

Never-the-less, as far as spiritual literature goes, his works are still some of the most fascinating and thought-provoking.

cherice said...

Thanks for the comment. I agree--Lewis' spiritual literature is fascinating and thought-provoking, and some of the best stuff out there in many ways. He has his flaws, but so do we all...and we're all products of our own time/place. Thanks for the thoughts on his angelology, etc. helping us see such people/events/myths in light of how the contemporaries of the stories would have seen/heard them. That's helpful to remember, and Lewis makes a great contribution to our understanding of biblical literature by showing us historical interpretations through fiction (which is more engaging).

Mal4 said...

Cherice:

good to see you back in your space here, again. I hope that you and your family are settling in again to life in the East. I will look forward to seeing you again, and hope to stay connected to your thoughts here at Quaker Oats.

Of the three books in Lewis' space trilogy, That Hideous Strength is my favorite. Regardless of the obvious grains of salt to be taken in reading Lewis, the story is gripping for me. I enjoy reading about academic culture and how it can become twisted. I also enjoy the tension between head and heart that is portrayed within.

Keep up the good work, and blessings to you all.

Lovin' Life Liz said...

Welcome back!! I have seen pics on your husband's site and Espen is sooo adorable!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Cherice you obviously are not Christian or else you would know that the book is not sexist in any way. Perhaps you forget that Lewis is a Christian author(for the most part). The Green Lady insist on asking the King for advice because this is the Biblical thing to do. If you read and studied the book of Genesis from the Bible you would know that it is a model for how a marriage is supposed to operate. The man(in this case the king) is to be the spiritual leader of the house. Women in a marriage aren't supposed to make decisions that affect the entire house without the consent of the man. This does not mean that the woman has 100% no say on the house's actions but she doesn't "wear the pants" or at least she is not supposed to. my other Christ following Christians see nothing wrong with this behavior(in case you assume that i am sexist as well)