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Perelandra Chap. 2

An archived study of the second book of Lewis' theological science fiction Space Trilogy.

Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby Kanakaberaka » 25 Oct 2004, 03:15

Synopsis - This chapter covers a huge area : The begining and the Terrestrial conclusion of Ransom's voyage to the planet Venus, or Perelandra as it is known by others in the Field of Arbol.
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Why, you may ask, does C.S. Lewis include the successful conclusion to Ransom's journey to Perelandra in the second chapter of the book? In most action adventure stories the author wants to keep his readers in suspense as the whether or not the hero makes it through his ordeal. We are informed in this chapter that Ransom returns with only one bad gash on his heel. Of course this is NOT your average space opera. And the reason for Ransom's return to Thulcandra being discribed in this chapter is that it would have been an anti-climax if Lewis had saved it for the end of the book. But of course that will have to wait till later.
Lewis makes it clear that he has written himself into his own novel as a close friend of Elwin Ransom. This has me wondering why Lewis does not appear as a character in "That Hideous Strength". But once again, I'm getting ahead of myself. There are so many interesting details in this chapter.
The first detail is the manner of Ransom's transit to Perelandra. He's propelled through outer space in an "icey" coffin with the help of the Oyarsa of Malacandra. This sounds quite allegorical to me, our hope of travel to a better world beyond the grave. But of course Lewis has stated that this is not an allegory. I have the feeling that the cosmic coffin idea is simply a way to sidestep the need for a spacecraft for Ransom. I can't see the philologist hammering an anti-gravity drive together in his garden, even if he did it with the guidance of an eldil.
Next there is the matter of our Old Solar language or Hlab-Eribol-ef-Cordi as Ransom calls it. Ransom contradicts his observation in OOTSP that all three hnau (races) on Malacandra spoke their own language but used the language of the hrossa when they met because it was the best to convey ideas. In this book Ransom claims that the languages of the seroni and pfifltriggi are recent inventions (if you can call our Cambrian Period recent). In Marvel Comics readers are given "no prizes" for comming up with reasons for discrepencies such as this one. But it appears that Lewis simply wanted to move the story in a different direction.
Ransom mentions Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli's theory that one side of Venus always faces the Sun. Interestingly, it was Schiaparelli who observed channels or "canali" as they are called in Italian on the surface of Mars. English speakers misinterpreted canali as canals, suggesting an intellegent design to their construction. So Lewis has borrowed at least two ideas of Schiaparelli for his space trilogy. But Lewis goes back to Jacques Cassini for advice on the length of the Venusian day. Cassini, who lived from 1677 to 1756, estimated a daily rotation period of 23 hours 15 minutes for Venus. In reality the true rotation period for Venus was only discoverd in 1962, well after the publication of Perelandra, by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory USA. They used radar to determine that Venus has a Rotation period of 243.0 days. But it only takes 224.7 days for Venus to orbit the Sun! This makes one Venusian day equal to 116 Terrestrial days.
so it goes...
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby Guest » 25 Oct 2004, 13:32

Hey K: Back again, huh? Your book studies are so well-run that I know I'll be in good hands.

FROM K:
>>Lewis makes it clear that he has written himself into his own novel as a close friend of Elwin Ransom.

And don't you like him in the book? The way Ransom implicitly trusts Lewis to get past the evil opposition getting to the cottage, and to hear the call from the Oyarsa to return to the cottage and pick him up -- well, any friend of Ransom's is a friend of mine.

>>The first detail is the manner of Ransom's transit to Perelandra. He's propelled through outer space in an "icey" coffin with the help of the Oyarsa of Malacandra.

Ugh. And what a dreary and depressing mode of travel. I much prefer the quick little tugs that get one into Narnia. I'm with Lewis here, ready to throw up at the end of it all. But in typical Lewis style, one is soon transported out of the awful scene of the pale, thin, weary Ransom going to his likely death in a flying coffin, to the healthy, robust, cheerful Ransom returning from the grave. It's not unlike the scene in "The Silver Chair" when Eustace watches Caspian become young again. Or the scene in "Till We Have Faces" where Orual goes from the paths of the dead to the glory of Psyche. Just when things get so bad you can't stand them, you don't have to stand them any longer.

>>In Marvel Comics readers are given "no prizes" for comming up with reasons for discrepencies such as this one. But it appears that Lewis simply wanted to move the story in a different direction.

Hee hee. Very good, K. :-)

Thanks for the history and astronomy facts you included, too. All new information for me.

One thing I found interesting in this chapter was Ransom's nostalgia for Malacandra. He yearns for the water and the flowers on a planet that was mostly uninhabitable and often cold. I was thinking to myself: Ransom, you thought you'd missed Malacandra? Wait until you get to Perelandra. " And, of course, Ransom never really did get over his longing for it
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something bothersome about 2

Postby Guest » 25 Oct 2004, 13:39

One thing that bothered me about chapter two: Lewis, in his wonderful, orthodox Chrstian way, tells Ransom that fighting principalities and powers is done through virtue. Our fight with evil is a moral fight. Ransom responds to Lewis, sounding frighteningly like a modern cult prophet, that times are a -changing and that perhaps the new fight is a different kind of fight -- maybe even a physical fight?

The Bible's truths are delivered once for all, unchanging. This section makes me squirm a little. I wonder if there is any way to reconcile it with Scripture.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby Stanley Anderson » 25 Oct 2004, 17:20

[from K]:
>This has me wondering why Lewis does not appear as a character
>in "That Hideous Strength".

Well, he does -- or at least writes in the first person at several points, and has a whole section where he writes about his own "experience" in the third section of the first chapter where he wanders about Bragdon Wood. This is, to me, a pivotal and "central" part of the entire book, divorced as it seems from the rest of the plot. But more on that when we actually get to a study of that book I guess:-)

>I have the feeling that the cosmic coffin idea is simply a way to sidestep
>the need for a spacecraft for Ransom. I can't see the philologist
>hammering an anti-gravity drive together in his garden, even if he did it
>with the guidance of an eldil.

Well, Lewis did of course say that he decided after OSP to dispense with the technological fuss and simply have an angel take Ransom to Perelandra. But I find it very interesting how he sets it up -- it isn't as though he simply discards the technological talk -- there is plenty of it in Ransom and Lewis' discussion (and even in footnotes) about the rotation of Venus, the potential technical difficulties of the trip, the manner of speech and even worrying about the details of a potential murder mystery. It is almost as though it is to ease the reader into a more mystical mode of travel, having considered all these other things in thier time. And it reminds me a bit of how Lewis the author gradually converts the reader's thoughts in chapter one, via Lewis the walker's thoughts, from "objective" observation and "logical" contemplation by the walker to sheer terror and confusion. Perhaps I am overworking it by now, but this very much fits into the theme of conversion from modern man to medieval man that I hammered away at in the OSP study. (and by the way, remember that Weston still arrives on Perelandra in another example of the old "mechanical" ship).

>Ransom contradicts his observation in OOTSP that all three hnau (races)
>on Malacandra spoke their own language but used the language of the
>hrossa when they met because it was the best to convey ideas.

I don't know that I see any kind of contradiction or discrepancy at all here. Sorry, but it really is more of a clarification that Ransom himself discovers about the language, and fits right in with what he experienced on Malacandra -- particularly as we see the Oyarsa speaking it there (though of course one could say it might have been simply convenience).

Well, I'll put more of my own observations about the chapter in another post later

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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby Guest » 25 Oct 2004, 18:19

[from K]:
>This has me wondering why Lewis does not appear as a character
>in "That Hideous Strength".

Well, he does -- or at least writes in the first person at several points, and has a whole section where he writes about his own "experience" in the third section of the first chapter where he wanders about Bragdon Wood. This is, to me, a pivotal and "central" part of the entire book, divorced as it seems from the rest of the plot. But more on that when we actually get to a study of that book I guess:-)


I think the part about Lewis walking in Bragdon wood (did he come up with the name when he heard a colleague brag?) is a good setup that makes the things that happen around Merlin's Well and that piece of land all the more surprising by the time "That Hideous Strength" is over. When authors insert things like that you don't expect it always to be destroyed.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby loeee » 25 Oct 2004, 18:56

Kanakaberaka wrote:Why, you may ask, does C.S. Lewis include the successful conclusion to Ransom's journey to Perelandra in the second chapter of the book?


I love that he does it this way, so we essentially get Ransom's own narration for the remainder of the book. It is like we are sitting there before the fire with Lewis and Humphrey listening to Ransom's incredible story. I also love the sensory description in this chapter. Feeling with Lewis his distress and horror at "coffining" his friend and seeing him disappear, perhaps forever. Then going inside and being sick.

The first detail is the manner of Ransom's transit to Perelandra. … I have the feeling that the cosmic coffin idea is simply a way to sidestep the need for a spacecraft for Ransom.


For some reason, this book made me want to re-read The Discarded Image. I think transporting Ransom via "eldil mobil" is a mechanism for intensifying the experience of the medieval model of the cosmos. No more "outer space" now we are in the Field of Arbol.
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby Stanley Anderson » 25 Oct 2004, 20:27

Here are some of my own notes on the chapter.

I notice that the description of the coffin transport device appears to be made of the same material as the caves that Ransom emerges from near the end of Perelandra. These caves also serve as a sort of "coffin" that transports Ransom from the dark "underworld" to the glories of Perelandra's surface, as does the "ship" that transports him from the silent planet to Perelandra in the first place. I wonder if we can think of it almost as a kind of mythical "birthing" chamber -- perhaps akin to Scriptural references of dying to self and rising again, and seeds dying in the ground to grow into trees and certainly the "born again" image that Nicodemus is told of. I also can’t help but wonder about any kind of possible vampire imagery (in a “redeemed” sort of way, if that makes any sense) lending a bit of horror to the setting.

When Lewis asks Ransom what he is to do and Ransom replies that he does not know, and noting, "there are jobs, you know, where it is essential that one should not know too much beforehand...things that one might have to say which one couldn't say effectively if one had prepared them", I can't help but think the Scripture that talks about not worrying what to say -- that the Holy Spirit will guide one's words at the hour they are needed. There is also the extremely practical slant on this same idea in that Ransom already knows the language and will not have to learn or "take thought of what he needs to say" in the language of potential native Perelandrans (Lewis neatly gets around the bane of many a man-meets-alien science fiction story where the aliens just "happen" to speak English:-)

I got a quick smile when reading about the 23 hour day of Perelandra and wondered (jokingly of course) if part of Ransom's troubles with countering the Un-man's arguments were a weariness cause by the disruption of his natural circadian rhythm cycle, being a native earth creature.

I was intrigued by Lewis having Ransom going into depth about the image and ramifications of a perpetual day and night on Perelandra when that possibility didn’t actually occur in the story when he got there. It makes me think the image satisfied some sort of medieval theological purpose – a sort of diversion Lewis describes as a common device in medieval literature. But I can’t make a whole lot out of it (aside from obvious theological parallels of the “gap” between Heaven and Hell that the story of Lazarus and the rich man speak of and such like).

I have the same feeling of symbolic or theological import in the act of wrapping a bandage around Ransom’s eyes to protect them on the journey. Everything else – air, motive force, etc – are somehow taken care of, but he is still susceptible to solar radiation. And presumably of a sort that simply eyelids are not sufficient to protect his eyes from (I can almost hear Oyarsa saying something like “he is not as the Vulcans are with their inner eyelids that will protect them from blindness:-). The bandage is certainly a set-up to “allow” for the piebald burning of Ransom’s body which itself is somehow symbolic to the story (but more on that when we get there), but I feel like the covering of the eyes is significant in itself too – just not sure of the exact imagery.

I will also give my two cents worth about the “flashback” nature of the book where we see the “ending” at the end of chapter two. First a couple of minor points. The jumping around says a lot, I think about Lewis’ method of story telling here and what it might say about the preference of the originally published order of the Narnian books as opposed to the Chronological order. Also, this is jumping ahead to the end, but the way the story “cuts off” at the actual end of the book reminds me a lot, in feeling, of the way the Beatles record album (not the CD that doesn’t have “sides”) of Abbey Road “cuts off” on both sides with “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)”, and “Her Majesty” leaving the listener suddenly kind of “haning in mid-air”, even though in the book, we know what comes next from having read chapter two first.

But the main thing I want to say about this structure of having the “ending” in chapter two, is that I think Lewis did this primarily to set the book up, not as a “plot-oriented” story, but to put the “concern” about Ransom’s fate behind us in chapter two, so that the reader can focus more on the atmospheric setting and the theological/intellectual debate that is going to occur throughout most of the rest of the book. We already know he gets back safely (nay, in better and more glorious shape, except for the foot wound, than he left), so the book can be more of what Lewis liked in medieval literature and books in general.

Lewis the character in the book makes much of (or at least mentions it a couple time) the creature that does not wait but just “is”. I wonder if this reflects some of the nature of God (even though Oyarsa is certainly not God) as revealed in his self-proclaimed name of “I am”.

One final curious note – “Ransom showed me the clasps of the lid and how it was to be fastened on,” What an odd thing to mention – this fantastic coffin-like “anti-technological” transport, and it has some kind of “clasps” to be fiddled with. What could they look like? One might imagine that with such a mysterious thing the edges might just “seal up” (not unlike how the edges “unseal” magically in the west gate of Moria in LotR when Gandalf speaks "friend" and enters) when the lid was placed on, but no – it has clasps. I wonder if those handy-dandy clasps would work to seal in the freshness of potato chips after the bag has been opened?:-)

--Stanley
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Re: Perelandra Chap. 2

Postby loeee » 25 Oct 2004, 20:47

Ah, the creature that does not wait. I loved that description, can't really say why; it just evoked the "otherness" of Oyarsa.

Rather like what he does later with Weston – he says things like, "Weston's body" did this or that, "Weston's mouth" said something. It really conveys the creepiness of the un-man.
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A Cult Classic

Postby Kanakaberaka » 26 Oct 2004, 05:11

Monica wrote: Ransom responds to Lewis, sounding frighteningly like a modern cult prophet, ...

There is even more of this sort of cult leader attitude on the part of Ransom in the next book. It reminds me a bit of Heinlein's Stranger In A Strange Land. I wonder if many new age "prophets" were inspirered by science fiction in the first place? Come to think of it, Sci-Fi writer L. Ron Hubbard started Scientology as a sort of prank. And then he went off the deep end and took himself and his made-up faith seriously.
I don't worry much about ideas expressed by Lewis because I know that his ideas are based in orthodox Chistianity. Maybe he could not forsee the abuse future religious leaders might inflict on their followers.
so it goes...
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Re: A Cult Classic

Postby a_hnau » 28 Oct 2004, 19:50

Hi, K. It's interesting that you mention Heinlein; I've often had the feeling that Heinlein (of whom I am a massive fan) is so 'opposite' to Lewis that he actually comes round in a circle and meets Lewis coming the other way. The uncanny thing is that some of the things Heinlein says sound quite like Lewis, even though their premises are so vastly different. I really mean to dig into it seriously one day as I've got most of what Heinlein wrote, to do a real comparison.
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Re: A Cult Classic

Postby a_hnau » 28 Oct 2004, 20:19

Here are some of my thoughts on ch. 2;

- "barrage" - very WWII, of course (Perelandra was published 1943)
- the longing Ransom has for Malacandra, and later Perelandra, is much like Lewis's concept of Sehnsucht and echoes the longing described by Lewis himself for the 'garden in a biscuit tin' he made as a child
- I love the totally 'free' way Ransom speaks - whenever he has to challenge Lewis's thinking in Perelandra (and later Jane's in THS) he doesn't accuse or condemn, he just says 'now this is what you're thinking, isn't it, just consider for a while and you'll see you really don't think it's so'
- "beer and tea" - this never quite works for me, usually my tea goes cold while I'm drinking the beer...
- the idea of a planet that has a perpetual night side - I'm sure I've come across this in other modern sci-fi, don't suppose anyone knows where?
- "What will the summons be" - seeing as Lewis doesn't speak the language, I'm intrigued what form the encounter between him and Oyarsa took when it was time for Ransom to return
- the idea of the successor to Lewis in waiting for Ransom echoes the succession of the Pendragon in THS - I assume Ransom is so certain of his return that he doesn't have to hand over that office at this point
- "It's just conceivable there might be a murder trial" - have I missed something, what is Ransom anticipating here? I know that in THS the accusation of murder is made, but that's after the fact.
- "the extent and intimacy of his charities" - this is exactly the position Lewis was in in real life, mentioned by his biographers
- "darkness and cruel habitations" - anyone know where this is from? Sounds like Lord of the Rings but could be any English writing from the late 19th century or so, I guess
- "a journey in haste" - for some reason this reminds me of T.S. Eliot - "A cold coming we had of it, worst time of year for a journey"
- "I don't feel like bacon or eggs" - of course the diet on Perelandra is vegetarian if not almost fruitarian
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Re: something bothersome about 2

Postby a_hnau » 28 Oct 2004, 20:22

Monica wrote:One thing that bothered me about chapter two: Lewis, in his wonderful, orthodox Chrstian way, tells Ransom that fighting principalities and powers is done through virtue. Our fight with evil is a moral fight. Ransom responds to Lewis, sounding frighteningly like a modern cult prophet, that times are a -changing and that perhaps the new fight is a different kind of fight -- maybe even a physical fight?

The Bible's truths are delivered once for all, unchanging. This section makes me squirm a little. I wonder if there is any way to reconcile it with Scripture.


I don't think it needs to be reconciled with Scripture - the Universe in which this takes place (like Heinlein's, oddly enough) is not quite our Universe. The nature of God, and of human nature, and of the Fall, is 'orthodox', but we needn't expect everything to work quite the same way as in our 'reality'...?
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Re: A Cult Classic

Postby loeee » 28 Oct 2004, 20:27

a_hnau wrote:- "What will the summons be" - seeing as Lewis doesn't speak the language, I'm intrigued what form the encounter between him and Oyarsa took when it was time for Ransom to return
- the idea of the successor to Lewis in waiting for Ransom echoes the succession of the Pendragon in THS - I assume Ransom is so certain of his return that he doesn't have to hand over that office at this point
- "It's just conceivable there might be a murder trial" - have I missed something, what is Ransom anticipating here? I know that in THS the accusation of murder is made, but that's after the fact.


Do we have any reason to think that Oyarsa does not / cannot speak English (or Greek or Latin)? In any case, I would think just Oyarsa making his presence known would be sufficient summons.

I don't think that Ransom yet held the office of Pendragon at this point, and I don't think he is at all certain of his return.

The murder trial he is predicting is a trial of unknown person or persons for the murder of Elwin Ransom. He doesn't want Lewis to be a suspect, so he leaves him out of his will (so as not to profit from Ransom's death).
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Re: A Cult Classic

Postby Stanley Anderson » 28 Oct 2004, 22:21

[from a hnau]:
>Here are some of my thoughts on ch. 2;

>- the idea of a planet that has a perpetual night side - I'm sure I've
>come across this in other modern sci-fi, don't suppose anyone knows
>where?

Not sure of SF, but Hodgson's The Night Land is a fantasy that takes place in this sort of setting.

>- the idea of the successor to Lewis in waiting for Ransom echoes the
>succession of the Pendragon in THS - I assume Ransom is so certain of
>his return that he doesn't have to hand over that office at this point

As Loee suggests, he only discovers and takes on the role of Pendragon after his return (mentioned in THS), so at this point there is nothing for him to be concerned about a Pendragon succession that he is aware of.

>- "It's just conceivable there might be a murder trial" - have I missed
>something, what is Ransom anticipating here? I know that in THS the
>accusation of murder is made, but that's after the fact.

Again, as Loeee mentions, it is not Weston's death (is that what you were thinking?) that Ransom is worried about at this point (since it hasn't even occurred or even any idea that it could happen in Ransom's mind), but Ransom's own disappearance that may be construed as murder. He want's to avoid any such suspicion falling onto Lewis if Lewis was a beneficiary in Ransom's will.

>- "the extent and intimacy of his charities" - this is exactly the position
>Lewis was in in real life, mentioned by his biographers

I thought the same thing. Imagine how much that would mean if Lewis the character was surprized at Ransom's generosity!:-)

>- "darkness and cruel habitations" - anyone know where this is from?
>Sounds like Lord of the Rings but could be any English writing from the
>late 19th century or so, I guess

A little before that actually:-) It is from the Bible. Psalm 74:20, "Have respect unto the covenant: for the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." Of course the phrase you quote may have been used by others referring to that Psalm too, so it may be from something in the late 19th century. Not sure.

>- "a journey in haste" - for some reason this reminds me of T.S. Eliot -
> "A cold coming we had of it, worst time of year for a journey"

I like this. It also is somewhat reminiscent of Bilbo rushing off without a hankerchief, eh?:-)

>- "I don't feel like bacon or eggs" - of course the diet on Perelandra is
>vegetarian if not almost fruitarian

This is part of the influence of the "unfallen" state that Ransom has soaked up (to whatever degree) on Perelandra. It also is a sort of pre-cursor to his "blessed" or "elevated" state at St. Annes as Pendragon where he only eats and drinks bread and wine -- a sort of continual Communion (this is perhaps another indication of Lewis' very Sacramental view of Communion)
---------------------------------

I very much like this sort of listing of observations (even of, or perhaps especially of, the "minor" points) that you make about the chapters. It is exactly the sort of thing I intend to do, but then I get caught up in long side tracks and before I know it, my posts are way too long. Please keep it up. They are the sort of thing that makes a study like this very interesting for me, and I look forward to them.

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Re: A Cult Classic

Postby Steve » 31 Oct 2004, 11:40

- the idea of a planet that has a perpetual night side - I'm sure I've come across this in other modern sci-fi, don't suppose anyone knows where?


For a long time, astronomers believed that Mercury always kept the same face to the sun, and there have been science fiction stories about exploring Mercury.

And then in recent years a different period of rotation for Mercury was discovered.
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