Perelandra continues the interplanetary adventures of Elwin Ransom, our hero from Out of the Silent Planet, as he is sent to Perelandra (Venus) on missions unknown.

I’ll be honest. I’ve struggled with this book somewhat, despite the relatively interesting content. Mostly this is because of Lewis’ rather dated writing style, which is as stated in relation to Silent Planet is ponderous and slightly pompous. Despite this, I persevered because Lewis once again displays a impressive imagination.

Venus as Lewis describes it is a colossal water world complete with floating islands and fantastic landscapes, a paradise of semi-mythical animals and golden sky. And on this world there is apparently only one person, the Queen, the primogenitor of Venus’ yet-to-be-born population.

You can see where we’re going with this. Except Ransom isn’t the Adam figure in this particular exposition of myth. Instead, the King and Queen have become separated, and Ransom’s role is to help the Queen against the unwholesome influence of another human who lands on Perelandra, one possessed by evil.

What Lewis does is expand on the story of Eve’s temptation by telling a story of seduction through reason. In this case the one commandment is that she cannot sleep on solid ground, only on the floating islands. Eve is not tempted to break this commandment because of weakness or foolishness, but because it appears to be the most reasonable course of action. Moreover, the temptation is written to take days and weeks, and is not an impulse or whimsy undertaken lightly.

In Silent Planet Lewis leaned heavily on Northern European mythology to provide the framework for his alien landscape, but here the structure is completely Biblical. When Ransom realises that he cannot prevent the fall of ‘Eve’ using reason he resorts to violence, and becomes Cain, attacking the evil representative of humanity and pursuing it to its eventual death.

It was an ending I wasn’t completely comfortable with, but which may have been the product of the year in which the book was published (1943). Perhaps Lewis lost part of his faith in humanity during the drafting? Who knows. So while he continues the themes of ‘humanity should never leave Earth, which is its natural home’, and ‘reason should be the prime marker of humanity’, his faith seems to waver, pushing Ransom into the dark bowels of Venus itself, and from where is barely able to extract himself.

So, take up Perelandra if you’re feeling comfortable with your ability to read what is something of an extended philosophical treatise on reason, with a fall of humanity itself to conclude it.

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