This review will contain spoilers!
In many sentences:
This is the second time I've read Perelandra, but it has been about 10 years since that first reading experience. Surprisingly (or perhaps not considering how much I enjoyed it at the time) I remembered all the major plot elements, and even some very specific details about this book. Unfortunately, that did mean that this read through didn't have quite the fresh, magical experience of the first, but I was able to still enjoy it immensely. To use the language of the book, I think I was able to appreciate the good of a second read through, without attempting to recreate the good of the first reading.
While reading this, I was also listening to a series of lectures on C.S. Lewis that are available through the Great Courses service. This was extremely informative, and as a result, I would like to detail some of the elements of the book that stood out as good representations of Lewis's personal beliefs (as they are revealed through all of his publications, not just this one).
"My fear was now of another kind. I felt sure that the creature was what we call "good", but I wasn't sure whether I liked "goodness" so much as I had supposed" (19). Here the narrator Lewis discusses his encounter with the Oyarsa of Malacandra. I was reminded here of Lewis's own first encounter with God, in which he relates that he was stricken with fear.
"'On the contrary, it is words that are vague. The reason why the thing can't be expressed is that it's too definite for language'"(33). This is an excellent example of a very common theme for Lewis - the Platonic that reality is in heaven, with God, and that our earthly experience (through language, emotion, etc) is a weaker, less clear version of that reality. As we can see here, it is not that the ideas or the experiences that Ransom had while traveling to Perelandra that were vague, but the language we use to express them. Another good example of this is at the end of the novel when, faced with the two Oyarsa, Ransom realizes that the concept s of feminine and masculine truly exist, but our own earthly understanding of them, such as through gender, is just a poor reflection of that reality.
(Weston speaking): "The world leaps forward through great men and greatness always transcends moralism. When the leap has been made our 'diabolism' as you would call it becomes the morality of the next stage; but while we are making it, we are called criminals, heretics, blasphemers..." (95). Here we have a perfect representation, from the side of one who has succumb to it, of the reductio ad absurdum argument against moral relativism that Lewis gives in The Abolition of Man. That is, if we take moral relativism to its logical conclusion, we will have a world in which "great men" do terrible things to "leap ahead", only to then have their terrible deeds transformed into great works. A disturbing idea, and one that Lewis fought to bring to light frequently, this just being one such example.
My favorite aspect of Perelandra was the intellectual battle between Weston, Ransom, and the Green Lady. What makes this so compelling is how nearly correct Weston's temptations are. For the most part they aren't blatantly wrong (that is, he's not telling the Queen to murder her husband). Instead, he is distorting something good (the freedom that God grants to his creation) into something evil. This is critical because if Lewis can't sell us on temptation, then there's nothing compelling about the book. If we don't believe that the Green Lady might give in (and if we aren't able to relate to her dilemma) then Ransom's decision to physically remove the temptation becomes unreasonable.
Another aspect that I really enjoyed was the concept of appreciating the good as it came to you, instead of attempting to hoard the goods you have experienced previously. We see this when Ransom refused to eat more than one of the gourds after his thirst and hunger were appeased. Too often, in life, we attempt to recreate past pleasures, instead of taking joy in those things that are currently surrounding us. "This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards . . . was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself - perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defence against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film" (48).
Finally, choice is extremely important in this novel. Ultimately, Ransom must come to terms with the fact that yes, the decision he makes here on Perelandra really will determine if this planet falls just as Earth did. The consequences of his choices are real, and they literally have a universal impact. "Thus, and not otherwise, the world was made. Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it? A stone may determine the course of a river. He was that stone at this horrible moment which had become the centre of the whole universe. The eldila of all worlds, the sinless organisms of everlasting light, were silent in Deep Heaven to see what Elwin Ransom of Cambridge would do" (142).
Clearly I really enjoyed this book. I think anyone who is interested in a unique introduction into theological and religious discourse would really enjoy this. It's not for everyone (some science fiction fans may find the Christian themes heavy-handed) and those interested in the ideas he presents may find the science fiction aspects unsettling. For those who enjoy this type of philosophical reimagining of our universe, however, it doesn't get any better than Perelandra.
"As I left the railway station at Worchester and set out on the three-mile walk to Ransom's cottage, I reflected that no one on that platform could possibly guess the truth about the man I was going to visit."C.S. Lewis the First Line of Perelandra
C.S. Lewis the Last Line of in Perelandra