CRITIC’S CORNER COLUMNIST
C.S. Lewis’ science fiction work “Perelandra,” book two of his space trilogy, has sparked conversation ever since it was published in 1943. I had been hearing about it quite a bit lately from acquaintances and friends and finally decided to find out for myself what he had to say.
Essentially, the book explores the concept of the Fall by using the planet Perelandra (Venus), being much younger than Earth in the story and still in its Garden of Eden stage. Naturally, there are many geographical and specific differences.
Yet Ransom, sent there from Earth for a mission he has yet to discover, soon realizes the planet to be as of yet without sin. When the devil uses a human body to speak lies to the planet’s Eve, Ransom sees it as his role to keep the Lady, and the planet, from succumbing to the same Fall that Earth did.
The most powerful, and also most disturbing, element of the book is Lewis’ understanding of the devil’s devices, as anyone who has read “The Screwtape Letters” can understand. Speaking through the man whom he has possessed, the devil uses partial truths to make himself seem wiser and “older” to the Lady than Ransom, who makes a case for the good side.
Because the Lady knows that many of the things the tempter says are true, she believes the rest of it. The Lady begins to listen to the tempter because the new information she hears from him, she believes, makes her wiser.
The greatest challenge the tempter presents is when he tells the Lady that greater good came upon the humans on Earth on account of sin because this led to the Incarnation, which has brought even greater grace. A “fortunate fall.”
Ransom cannot deny this statement, and yet he somehow knows that it is wrong for the completely and uniquely innocent life he sees on Perelandra to be corrupted. He has finally seen Paradise as it should have been before Adam and Eve’s sin, and he cannot bear for it to be corrupted by the evil in front of him.
Thus he agrees that good can come out of anything, yet it was not the good God had prepared for his people. “What (Adam and Eve) lost we have not seen,” he laments. And he makes the case that there are some to whom good never came, which the tempter cannot deny since he is one of them.
The genius of the book is that it truly makes the reader consider not only what he or she would say to combat the lies of the devil, but it also makes us reconsider the phrase in our liturgy, “o happy fault.”
This is not to say that the Incarnation and Passion of Jesus Christ should be considered of any less value than they are. We can never revere the mystery of the God-man enough. Yes, God gave us grace upon grace through His saving work.
However, this work reminds us of the true horror and tragedy that is sin in the world. Ransom can hardly stand to see the tempter in Perelandra because the world is pure and beautiful like nothing he has ever seen.
Yes, the fault of our first parents has brought us into closer union with God. Yet the suffering throughout the world should cause us to stop and think what the evils of sin and disobedience can cause in our lives and those around us.
The more we remember the true evil of sin, the more we will be inclined to serve the Lord with obedience. While the tempter speaks of obedience as a weakness and limit to man’s power, Ransom defends it by using love.
“In all these other matters what you call obeying Him is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obeying unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the only reason?” according to Ransom in “Perelandra.”
Lewis presents Love is the solution to disobedience. As it was Love that covered all our sins though a Cross, so it is Love that we should return to counter the disobedience rank within the world.
Ultimately, the planet Perelandra does not fall as Earth did. It is a powerful story of how obedience and Love win out, and the first parents walk in unity with God in a way that we shall never experience. We have something different. Something beautiful. Yet something tinged with sorrow.
Truly, it would have been better that we did not lose our connection with God from the start. Our story began as a tragedy. But God, the ultimate creator, created something more incredible than anyone could have foreseen. Our human nature was raised up to an even greater good because of God’s infinitely good plan.
“O Happy Fault, that merited such and so great a Redeemer!”