WIR #17: Perelandra

PerelandraLewis, C. S. Perelandra. New York: Collier Books. Copyright © 1944 C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis web sites:
Into the Wardrobe

I have just finished reading Out of the Silent Planet and now move on to read Perelandra, the second volume in this series. Nonetheless, in the background I will be reading Out of the Silent Planet a second time, to finish up my outlining of it.

As with Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis includes in this a small preface in which he writes:

This story can be read by itself but is also a sequel to Out of the Silent Planet in which some account was given of Ransom's adventures in Mars — or, as its inhabitants call it, Malacandra. All the human characters in this book are purely fictitious and none of them is allegorical.

I find this interesting for a few reasons.

First, Lewis has created a trilogy in the fashion that I think trilogies ought to be created, each volume a standalone book yet connected.

Second, he writes "none of them is allegorical," which is very much correct yet many today would write "none of them are allegorical." None means "not one" and so takes the third person singular form of the verb (I am = 1st pers; you are = 2nd pers; he/she/it/one is = 3rd pers).

Third, Lewis was a contemporary of J. R. R. Tolkien — both were members of a group called The Inklings, in fact — and here Lewis makes note that this book is not allegorical (many Christians are wont to turn anything written by a Christian into allegory; a hideous practice, if you ask me). Lewis was not entirely averse to allegory. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, the first volume in his Chronicles of Narnia contains a little allegory, but there is very little in the whole series of seven books that is allegorical. In fact, as I recall, Lewis said (wrote) himself that the history of Narnia was written not as allegory, but as he imagined it would be if that world had actually existed. Many Christians (and non-Christians, as well) of my acquaintance are also wont to turn Tolkien's Lord of the Rings into allegory, which is highly insulting given what Tolkien himself wrote in the introduction to Lord of the Rings. To wit:

As for any inner meaning or 'message', it has in the intention of the author none. It is neither allegorical nor topical. [GDT's NOTE: Tolkien's language on this matter becomes even stronger later on.] As the story grew it put down roots (into the past) and threw out unexpected branches; but its main theme was settled from the outset by the inevitable choice of the Ring as the link between it and The Hobbit. The crucial chapter, 'The Shadow of the Past', is one of the oldest parts of the tale. It was written long before the foreshadow of 1939 had yet become a threat of inevitable disaster [GDT's NOTE: he refers here to the assumption that parts of LOTR are allegorical to WWII], and from that point the story would have developed along essentially the same lines, if that disaster had been averted. Its sources are things long before in mind, or in some cases already written, and little or nothing in it was modified by the war that began in 1939 or its sequels.

The real war does not resemble the legendary war in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dûr would not have been destroyed but occupied. (...)

Other arrangements could be devised according to the tastes or views of those who like allegory or topical reference. But I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. [GDT's NOTE: all emphasis here has been added] I much prefer history, true or feigned, with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse 'applicability' with 'allegory'; but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

The upshot of this is that Tolkien had to have disliked Lewis's use of allegory in the Chronicles of Narnia, despite Lewis's obvious restraint. In fact, there was much that Tolkien did dislike about the Chronicles and because of that we very nearly did not have them to enjoy them. Thank goodness, Lewis didn't listen to Tolkien! I don't dislike allegory quite as much as Tolkien, but neither am I an ardent fan of it.

That said, I give you the blurb to the non-allegorical sequel to Out of the Silent Planet:

This second book in the Space Trilogy, which begins with Out of the Silent Planet and ends with That Hideous Strength, is a sharp sophisticated fantasy that deals with an old problem — temptation — in a new world — Perelandra. The great Dr. Ransom takes on a battle with evil after Perelandra is invaded by the Devil's agent. The outcome of this titantic struggle will determine whether those on the planet face the ascension to perfection or will follow an older world to corruption.

Probably I should mention why I wanted to go on at such length about allegory, and especially about Lewis's note at the beginning of this book. Simply put, it is all too easy to equate the story of Perelandra with the creation story in the book of Genesis in the Bible, even despite Lewis's claim to the contrary. The important difference, of course, is the outcome of the story in Genesis and the outcome of the story in Lewis's Perelandra. Nevertheless, many are content to deceive themselves and fall prey to the temptation that is central to Perelandra's theme.

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