Green woman from C.S. Lewis's book Perelandra
image_pdfimage_print

Dr. Michael Gleghorn explores the spiritual dimensions of Dr. Elwin Ransom in C.S. Lewis’s space novel Perelandra.

In C. S. Lewis’s novel, Perelandra, the second book in what some have called the “Cosmic Trilogy,” Dr. Elwin Ransom is sent by God to the planet Venus on a mission of great importance.{1} Although Ransom has learned that dark spiritual powers on earth are plotting “some sort of attack on Perelandra” (or Venus), he doesn’t know precisely what he’s to do about it once he arrives, nor why he’s been chosen for such a venture.{2} But God knows, and he’s specially prepared Ransom for this mission (though this doesn’t mean it will be easy).{3}
download-podcast
In a prior article, I observed how God had providentially orchestrated Ransom’s earlier adventures on the planet Mars in order to help him develop some of the “martial” virtues—traits like grit, courage, and perseverance.{4} As this second story on the planet Venus (or Perelandra) unfolds, the reader gradually comes to see how important this preparation was.{5} Indeed, before his mission can be completed, Ransom will need all these virtues (along with the grace and help of  God) if he’s to successfully realize the purpose for which he’s been sent.

In the first two chapters of the novel, Lewis foreshadows key themes that will surface later in the story. These include demonic opposition to the plans and purposes of God, the importance of dying to one’s self-will and yielding that will to God, and the possibility of Ransom’s physical combat and injury.

The most important of these is probably that of dying to one’s self-will by continually surrendering that will to God. As Lewis makes clear elsewhere, such surrender might be harder or easier depending on the spiritual condition of the one who needs to do the surrendering.{6} For an unfallen creature, such surrender could be experienced as a kind of pleasure. For a fallen and sinful creature, however, it involves a kind of death. This is foreshadowed in the novel by the fact that Ransom is transported to Perelandra in “a large coffin-shaped casket.”{7} The very means by which he’s taken to Perelandra symbolizes the fact that God is taking Ransom on a journey that will require him to die to his own will by surrendering to the Divine will.{8}

In the remainder of this article, we’ll consider some of the key issues that Lewis explores in this novel, particularly as these concern the martial spirit in Ransom, who functions as God’s representative in Perelandra.

Beauty and the Beast

In C. S. Lewis’s “Cosmic Trilogy,” each planet in our solar system is governed by a powerful spiritual intelligence that combines aspects of a Christian archangel with the characteristics of a Roman god or goddess.{9} Hence, in Lewis’s first novel of the trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, we learn that the planet Mars is governed by a powerful angelic ruler with qualities like the Roman god Mars (though void of all the negative characteristics attributed to Mars in Greco-Roman mythology). In a similar way, in Lewis’s second novel, Perelandra, we learn that Perelandra (or Venus) is governed by an angelic ruler with characteristics like those of the Roman goddess Venus, the goddess of love and beauty.{10}

After initially being deposited in the ocean of Perelandra, and then making his way to one of the many “floating islands” of that world, Ransom soon discovers that the planet is replete with beauty and pleasure. The colors, the fragrances, the taste of the fruits—everything about the planet exudes beauty, wonder, joy, and pleasure.{11}

Eventually, Ransom meets Tinidril, the unfallen first mother of Perelandra, also known as “the Green Lady” (due to the color of her skin).{12} She has been separated from Tor, the first father and king of Perelandra, in part because of the floating islands. At this stage in the history of Perelandra, Tor and Tinidril occupy a position much like that of Adam and Eve before the fall.

One day, while Ransom is conversing with the Green Lady, they see something “like a shooting star” race “across the sky” and fall into the ocean.{13} They later discover that Weston, the physicist who originally kidnapped Ransom and took him to Mars, has come to Perelandra on a spaceship.

Given his history with Weston, Ransom is naturally worried about why he should have come to Perelandra. Talking with Weston only increases his concerns, for Weston’s previously naturalistic philosophy now has a decidedly religious bent. He claims to have been “guided” to Perelandra by a spiritual force and the more Ransom hears, the more he thinks this force may well be diabolical. When Weston arrogantly calls “that Force” into himself, he is suddenly possessed by a demonic spirit.{14} He is the “bridge” by which this evil spirit has entered Perelandra.{15} Ransom now understands that he has been sent to Perelandra to protect the Green Lady from Weston.

Temptation

Perelandra (or Venus) exists in a state much like that of Earth prior to the fall of Adam and Eve. It is an unfallen paradise.

But there’s a problem. Weston, a proud and arrogant scientist, has come to Perelandra at the behest of an evil spirit. Shortly after landing on the planet, he is completely possessed by this spirit. Ransom, the hero of the story, now realizes that God has sent him to Perelandra in-order to prevent the planet’s first couple from falling into the same disobedience as our first parents.

Weston (now referred to as the “Un-man”) soon begins tempting Tinidril (the Perelandrian “Eve”) to disobey God, trying to get her to sleep on the fixed land. You see, Perelandra consists of both floating islands and fixed land, and God has forbidden the first couple to sleep on the fixed land, just as Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.{16}

Initially, Ransom tries to counter the Un-man’s arguments to disobey God with arguments of his own. After many days, however, he realizes that he cannot allow this to continue. Tinidril has been faithfully resisting the Un-man’s temptations, but she seems to be growing weaker and Ransom sees that something more definitive must be done.{17}

While thinking about this issue, Ransom realizes that God is calling him to confront and physically fight the Un-man.{18} This is where Ransom’s prior experience on Mars and his development of the martial spirit become particularly important. God has prepared Ransom for this and now calls upon him to destroy the corrupt demonic evil that has invaded His good world.

Ransom initially resists this idea, fearing that he may well be killed in such a violent encounter. But God impresses upon Ransom that he’s His representative in Perelandra—and if he fails, there will be very real consequences. Perelandra really can fall into the hands of the enemy, just as Earth did. Ransom is forced to confront the agonizing reality that his choices are significant and make a real difference. If he chooses to do nothing, then evil will win, and Perelandra will be ruined. He thus decides that he must yield his will to God’s will, fight the Un-man, and attempt to rid this beautiful world of its evil invader.{19}

Holy War

Above we saw how Dr. Ransom, the hero of the story, comes to realize that God is calling him to fight and destroy the Un-man. The Un-man is a demon-possessed physicist whose humanity has been obliterated by the demonic spirit inhabiting his body. He wants to persuade Tinidril (the Perelandrian “Eve”) to disobey God, thus introducing sin and evil into this unfallen paradise.

Although some might find it startling that God would call Ransom to fight and destroy the Un-man, we must not forget that at this point the Un-man is mostly just a demon-possessed corpse, an enemy of both God and the innocent persons on Perelandra. Moreover, Lewis carefully contextualizes this battle within the larger mythological world of his story. As Ransom realizes while contemplating this issue, “Whatever happened here would be of such a nature that earth-men would call it mythological.”{20}

The bottom line is that evil has invaded and is attempting to destroy God’s good world of Perelandra—and God is utterly serious about eliminating it. As a just and holy being, God cannot allow evil to go unjudged and unpunished, for evil (by its very nature) deserves punishment. Moreover, since evil will always seek to corrupt and destroy all that is good, it must either be set right (through repentance and submission to God’s will) or else be completely eliminated from God’s good creation. There is no other alternative if God wants to restore His world to perfect goodness, peace, and rest.

The battle begins the next morning and Ransom gets an initial victory. The Un-Man flees, Ransom pursues, and they eventually end up in a large, dark, underground cavern. Although it’s too dark to see, Ransom finally believes that he has killed the Un-Man and he sets off to find his way out of the darkness. Unfortunately, however, the demonic spirit reanimates Weston’s corpse and pursues him. As the Un-Man comes up out of a tunnel, Ransom confronts him, crushes his head with a large stone, and pushes the corpse over a ledge into a “sea of fire” below.{21} Here Lewis probably intends an allusion to the biblical “lake of fire,” into which the devil and his “offspring” are ultimately cast (Revelation 20:10-15). Ransom, imbued with the martial spirit, has been victorious, and the evil which had invaded Perelandra has been defeated.

Ransom as a Christ-Figure

In the previous section we covered how Dr. Ransom, the hero of the novel, killed the demonically possessed “Un-man” by crushing his head with a large stone. After the battle, Ransom, completely exhausted, falls into a deep sleep (possibly symbolic of death). After waking, he eventually emerges (with the aid of Divine providence), from the deep, dark, tomb-like cavern (in which the final battle had taken place) into the light and air of Perelandra (which is possibly symbolic of resurrection).{22}

Given the extent of Ransom’s injuries, it takes some time for him to recover. During “this long Sabbath,” Ransom lay by a stream, eating, drinking, and sleeping.{23} Only when he is “nearly well” does he discover “his most serious injury.” “It was a wound in his heel,” inflicted by the Unman in one of their many violent encounters. The wound is still bleeding when Ransom first notices it, and “nothing he could do would stop it.”{24}

Here we see Ransom emerge from his martial victory over the Un-man as a type of Christ. Those familiar with the Bible will recall Genesis 3:15, in which the Lord tells the serpent, who led Adam and Eve into disobedience, that He will put “enmity” between the serpent and his offspring and the woman and her offspring. “He shall bruise your head,” God tells the serpent, “and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).

Lewis is clearly portraying Ransom as a Christ-figure, who has acted as God’s representative in Perelandra. In a small and limited way, Ransom did something similar to what Jesus had already perfectly accomplished on earth. In the mythological world of the story, he crushed the head of the serpent’s offspring and, in turn, received a wound in his heel. This might remind us of the Apostle Paul’s concluding words to the church in Rome: “The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet” (Romans 16:20). Insofar as we belong to Christ, we act as His representatives in the world. What is true of Christ is also, in some sense, true of his people.

Having thus secured martial victory in Perelandra, Ransom returns to Earth with the wound in his heel as a continual reminder of his battle against the forces of evil. And it is in this condition that we will meet him for the last time in the concluding novel of this series, That Hideous Strength.

Notes
1. C. S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York, NY: Macmillan, 1965). “Cosmic Trilogy” is the terminology used by Michael Ward in “Voyage to Venus: Lewis’s Imaginative Path to Perelandra,” in C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos. ed. Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 2013), 28.
2. Lewis, Perelandra, 23.
3. The idea for investigating Ransom and the “martial spirit” in Perelandra is indebted to the work of Christiana Hale, Deeper Heaven: A Reader’s Guide to C. S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (Moscow, ID: Roman Roads Press, 2020), particularly pp. 70-76.
4. See Michael Gleghorn, “Smuggling Theology into Out of the Silent Planet,” Probe Ministries, 29 October
2023 probe.org/smuggling-theology-into-out-of-the-silent-planet/).
5. See Hale, Deeper Heaven, 76.
6. See C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: NY: Macmillan, 1962), 90-92.
7. Lewis, Perelandra, 21.
8. I borrow this insight from Tami Van Optal’s insightful essay, “Perelandran Diction: A Study in Meaning,” in C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos, 112.
9. See Gleghorn, “Smuggling Theology.”
10. See the brief discussion of these planets in C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image (Cambridge University Press, 1964), 106-07.
11. Lewis, Perelandra, 37.
12. Ibid., 55.
13. Ibid., 76.
14. Ibid., 96.
15. Ibid., 111-12.
16. Ibid., 74.
17. Ibid., 131-34.
18. Ibid., 143-47.
19. Ibid., 146-50.
20. Ibid., 144.
21. Ibid., 182. Note: the content mentioned in this brief paragraph is covered in the novel on pp. 151-82.
22. Ibid., 182-85. See also the discussion in Bruce R. Johnson’s essay, “Frightful Freedom: Perelandra as Imaginative
Theodicy,” in C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos, 140.
23. Ibid., 185.
24. Ibid., 187.

©2024 Probe Ministries

Dr. Michael Gleghorn is both a research associate with Probe Ministries and an instructor in Christian Worldview at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University, a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies (also from Dallas Theological Seminary). Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children: Arianna and Josiah. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

What is Probe?

Probe Ministries is a non-profit ministry whose mission is to assist the church in renewing the minds of believers with a Christian worldview and to equip the church to engage the world for Christ. Probe fulfills this mission through our Mind Games conferences for youth and adults, our 3-minute daily radio program, and our extensive Web site at www.probe.org.

Further information about Probe's materials and ministry may be obtained by contacting us at:

Probe Ministries
2001 W. Plano Parkway, Suite 2000
Plano TX 75075
(972) 941-4565
[email protected]
www.probe.org

Copyright/Reproduction Limitations

This document is the sole property of Probe Ministries. It may not be altered or edited in any way. Permission is granted to use in digital or printed form so long as it is circulated without charge, and in its entirety. This document may not be repackaged in any form for sale or resale. All reproductions of this document must contain the copyright notice (i.e., Copyright 2024 Probe Ministries) and this Copyright/Limitations notice.

0 Comments

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

©2024 Probe Ministries | Designed and Managed by Adquest Creative

CONTACT US

We're not around right now. But you can send us an email and we'll get back to you, asap.

Sending

Discover more from Probe Ministries

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?