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Having reviewed over 1200 books on this blog, I have now written two myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. The Kids of God is a thriller set in a dystopia ruled by fascist paramilitaries. Both are available as paperbacks and on Kindle through Amazon. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Sunday, 19 August 2018

"Perelandra" by C S Lewis

Before the Narnia books, Lewis wrote the "Cosmic Trilogy", a set of three sci-fi books in which the hero, Ransom fights for God against the Devil. Perelandra, which is set on Venus,  follows on from Out of the Silent Planet which is set on Mars. The third book in the trilogy, more dystopian than scifi and set on Earth, is That Hideous Strength.

Ransom is recruited by the Eleldil, the 'angels' who look after the solar system, to travel to Venus which is in a Garden of Eden situation. His mission is to persuade the Queen not to listen to the blandishments of his old adversary, Professor Weston, and therefore to avoid the Fall. This book is heavily allegorical and involves a great deal of theological argument, However, Lewis is a great writer and the passages of description (the surface of Venus is mostly Ocean covered with floating islands in which the mountains and valleys swap according to how they are positioned on the giant waves; this makes walking harder than gaining your sea legs on a boat but “like learning to walk on water itself” (p 44) are memorable. He can even make theology interesting and there are a lot of fascinating theological points which he makes.

In the first chapter 'Lewis' walks to Ransom's cottage to send Ransom off on his journey. This makes the main drama a story within a story (a frame narrative) and pays an obvious homage to The Time Machine by H G Wells. It is a great start as it describes Lewis as walking through darkness, assailed by fears and doubts, repeatedly wanting to turn back, and is itself a delightful allegory.

  • "I was afraid ... I might get 'drawn in' ... I suppose that everyone knows this fear ... the sense that a door has just slammed and left him on the inside." (p 3)
  • "This is a long, dreary road." (p 4)
  • "My opinion about sanity changed. Had it ever been more than a convention - a comfortable set of blinkers, an agreed mode of wishful thinking, which excluded from our view the full strangeness and malevolence of the universe we are compelled to inhabit?" (p 9)

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this book. It was written in 1943 and is therefore imbued with the life and death struggle against Nazism in which so many young men sacrificed their lives. The only part of the book in which I lost interest was the last two chapters which follow the main drama and act as a sort of long-winded ceremony.

He is particularly good at spotting the paradoxes in our everyday lives:

  • "I felt sure that the creature was what we call 'good', but I wasn't sure whether I liked 'goodness' as much as I had supposed." (p 15)
  • "One can believe in anaesthetics and yet feel in a panic when they actually put the mask over your face. I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it's good practice." (p 25)
  • He stood ... wondering how often in his life on Earth he had reiterated pleasures not through desire, but in the teeth of desire and in obedience to a spurious rationalism.” (p 47)
  • He saw reality, and thought it was a dream.” (p 49)
There is a great description of men from the feminists point of view:
  • One felt them [men] there as a huge, dim multitude of creatures pitifully childish and complacently arrogant; timid, meticulous, unoriginating; sluggish and ox-like, rooted to the earth almost in their indolence, prepared to try nothing, to risk nothing, to make no exertion, and capable of being raised into full life only by the unthanked and rebellious virtue of their females.” (p 154) 

There is some useful advice for living:

  • Either something or nothing must depend on individual choices. And if something, who could set bounds to it?” (p 175)
  • The words ‘would have happened’ were meaningless - mere invitations to wander in what the Lady would have called an ‘alongside world’ which had no reality.” (p 180)
  • He was screwing his resolution to go and see a certain man in London and make to him an excessively embarrassing confession which Justice demanded. ... There had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the knowledge ... The thing was neither more nor less dreadful than it had been before. The only difference was that he knew ... ... there was going to arrive a moment at which he would have done it.” (p 184)
There are some great descriptions:
  • "Blood and lungs and the warm, moist cavity of the mouth are somehow indicated in every voice." (p 12)
  • “A tall, white, shivering, scarecrow of a man.” (p 28)
  • He saw the golden roof of that world quivering with a rapid variation of paler lights as a ceiling quivers at the reflected sunlight from the bath-water when you step into your bath on a summer morning.” (p 37) 
  • Why ... are you making little hills and valleys in your forehead?” (p 82)
  • The body did not reach its squatting position by the normal movements of a man: it was more as if some external force maneuvered it into the right position and then let it drop.” (p 150)
  • All beautiful on the surface, but down inside - darkness, heat, horror, and stink.” (p 224)
  • “Beyond that were great halls still dimly illuminated and full of unknown mineral wealth that sparkled and danced in the light and mocked his eyes as if he were exploring a hall of mirrors by the help of a pocket torch.” (p 231)
  • A sailor’s look ... eyes that are impregnated with distance.” (p 254)
Other great lines:
  • Words are slow.” (p 39)
  • This was a calm which no storm had ever preceded.” (p 64)
  • A night is always a night whatever you do in it, as from this tree to that is always so many paces whether you take them quickly or slowly. and I suppose that is true in a way. But the waves do not always come at equal distances.” (p 69)
  • He was a man obsessed with the idea ... that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God’s quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome.” (p 97)
  • The face which he raised ... had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it.” (p 134)
  • We have all spoken of a devilish smile ... the smile was not bitter, nor raging, nor, in an ordinary sense, sinister; it was not even mocking. It seemed to summon Ransom, with a horrible naivete of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world.” (p 134)
  • Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward.” (p 72)
  • It [the devil] regarded intelligence simply and solely as a weapon, which it had no more wish to employ in it off-duty hours than a soldier has to do bayonet practice when he is on leave.” (p 158)
  • Could it be possible, in the long run, to wear clothes without learning modesty, and through modesty lasciviousness?” (p 167)
  • Inner silence is for our race a difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places.” (p 173)
  • That's why it's so important to live as long as you can ... Every man who is waiting to be hanged knows it. You say ‘what difference does a short reprieve make?’ What difference!” (p 210)
  • Our mythology is based on a solider reality then we dream ... gleams of celestial strength and beauty falling on a jungle of filth and imbecility.” (p 255) 
OK, so the story is massively allegorical and really only buyable by those ascribing to a quite narrow interpretation of the story of the Garden of Eden. On the other hand Lewis is able to make some interesting theological points. And the whole thing becomes readable (except for the last two chapters, in my opinion) because he is a great writer who can both spin a yarn and develop it with powerful description. 

The Narnia books are lovable because of the simple adventure narratives and the cute and cuddly talking animals. They are appropriately written for children. These science fiction books are not bad for adult allegories.

August 2018; 282 pages

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