If the Space Trilogy is often forgotten, C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra may be the least known of the three stories. It can be difficult to slog through a book that’s essentially one long conversation, and the last time I read the Space Trilogy I just breezed through it. This time, however, I took it more slowly, and got a lot more out of it. Perelandra is a unique book that tackles deep theological questions about redemption: the story may take second place to the philosophy, but it’s worth the effort nonetheless.
Elwin Ransom has been sent to Perelandra by the eldila to protect it against the evil Archon of Earth (Satan). There, he meets the Queen of the planet, named Tinidril: she is the only inhabitant of the planet, along with the King (who we do not meet until the end of the book). Perelandra is made entirely of floating rafts covered in trees and vegetation, that bend and flow with the ocean waves. This watery Paradise is the Queen’s to enjoy: she must only avoid the Fixed Land, and never spend the night there.
Ransom and Tinidril find themselves in a Perelandran paradise: naked and unafraid, free from sin and lust, and reveling in the One who created the beauty of Venus, the Morning Star. But soon they are confronted by a tempter: the remnants of Professor Weston (now inhabited by a demonic spirit) arrives on Perelandra as well. His goal is to convince the Green Lady to break the Creator’s mandate and spend the night on the Fixed Land. Ransom tries to convince her of the opposite position: most of Perelandra is the clash between Ransom and Weston, man and un-man, good and evil.
Perelandra has a totally different feel from Lewis’ first book, Out of the Silent Planet. While the first book is much more about the exploration and discovery of Malacandra, Perelandra has an almost claustrophobic feel. Though there’s a little bit of exploration and discovery — Perelandra has a beautiful, oceanic surface capped by floating islands — the book as a whole centers much more around its three main characters and their conversation. Though Perelandra doesn’t come across as preachy, Lewis does use the vehicle of a new planet to explore deep philosophical questions about our own world.
At its simplest, Perelandra asks the hypothetical question, “What if the fall never happened?” But to see the story of Perelandra as merely a photocopy of Earth’s own Edenic fall is a mistake. Ransom, for instance, reflects on how the fall of Perelandra would not mirror Earth’s, but end in even great evil, requiring an even greater and more preposterous redemption. In Perelandra, Lewis takes us to the birth of a new world, one different than both Malacandra and Thulcandra. Perelandra is the next, bigger manifestation of God’s own plan in the cosmos.
Lewis has composed a fascinating story, despite the heavy subject matter. Ransom’s struggles are intensely relatable and human, and the discovery of Perelandra is exciting to read and follow. There’s a bit of a lonesome feel to the empty, new planet that tempers the feel of the entire book. Once again, Lewis puts the Creator God on a high pedestal, and the full thrust of the book points to his glory and sovereignty. Particularly in the latter half of the book, Lewis weaves an actual tapestry of God’s will and purpose, revealed to Ransom for a short time only. Lewis’ examination of a world that avoids a fall and remains in the will of the Creator has implications on our own fallen world as well.
I’d recommend this book only to older readers: I read it as a teenager and got very little out of it. While Out of the Silent Planet was very accessible, Perelandra is deeper and needs more chewing to fully digest the message inside. I’d tentatively recommend the book based on the story alone, but this book shines when you dig into the philosophy underneath. Lewis’ questions about creation, fall, redemption, and human nature are always relevant and useful, and Perelandra is a deep dive into the plan and sovereignty of God.
Published on 17 March, 2016. Last updated on