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Literature / Perelandra

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The second volume of The Space Trilogy by C. S. Lewis.

In Perelandra, also known as Voyage to Venus, it is revealed that the eldila have kept in contact with Ransom since his trip to the Heavens, and now Ransom has been given a Mission From Maleldil to visit Perelandra (i.e. Venus). He finds the planet to be covered in oceans and floating islands, and its inhabitants living a literally Edenic existence.

Ransom makes the acquaintance of the planet's Queen, and discovers that she and the King (who has been missing for the past few days) are the only intelligent inhabitants. The peace is shattered by the arrival of another space-ship, bearing Weston—and with him, an eldil of Thulcandra, bent on corrupting this young world.

Ransom realizes that he was sent to Perelandra to prevent this from happening—by words, and if necessary, by force.

As a side-note, this was Lewis' personal favorite of everything he wrote.

This book provides examples of:

  • Adam and Eve Plot: Perelandra tells of the first Woman of Venus who has yet to meet either Man or evil. The whole conflict comes when Ransom is sent from Earth to make sure she doesn't follow Eve and Fall before she can rejoin her husband and they can take their rightful place on Perelandra and spread unfallen anthropomorphic life across Venus as Maleldil intended.
  • Alien Landmass: Most of Perelandra is set on the shifting, moving islands of the titular planet. Ransom initially assumes they're part of the ocean he splashes into since the land rises and falls with the waves, at least until he meets the Queen.
  • Alien Sky: The skies over Perelandra are opaque, leading to pitch black nights and golden days compared to medieval paintings.
  • Ambiguously Human: The Un-man may be an ancient creature from the depths of space, but when it appears in Perelandra, it has the appearance of a human body. The problem is, its body is always a little un-lifelike, as if its a corpse operated by a puppeteer (a good visualization is the primary villain in Men in Black). After all, the Un-man is the very human Weston possessed by a being of pure mind.
  • Ancient Evil: The Un-man uses his nigh-eternal existence to make the young Queen of Venus believe he has wisdom outside of his knowledge (shared with his fellow Earthlings) on how to kill, corrupt, tempt, violate, and haunt innocents who have yet to hate the universe as much as he does.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The hero has to prevent The Corrupter from tempting alien Adam and Eve. He first tries to do this through debate, but the Un-Man relentlessly keeps "winning" the arguments through cunning lies, half-truths, obfuscation and diversion. By direct command from God, the hero then settles matters more physically.
  • Author Avatar: C.S. Lewis appears as the close friend and ghost-writer of the trilogy's hero, Ransom. In the second book, he resists a whispering demon and helps Ransom prepare for his journey to Venus.
  • Awesome Moment of Crowning: The King and Queen of Perelandra are given authority over the world in a multi-dimensional ceremony involving the assembly of all animals, the physical manifestation of the Oyerésu of Malacandra and Perelandra, and a glimpse into the Great Dance of pure joy that awaits all with faith in Maleldil. It takes a year and is so ecstatic that those present don't notice the time pass.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: One of the ways the Un-man passes time is by ripping small animals apart.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Ransom briefly encounters giant flies and beetles in the caverns under the dry land. Subverted, however. Once the Un-man's presence is removed, and the fear it generated is gone, Ransom also ceases to fear the creepy-crawlies, and speculates that they may, in fact, be sentient beings.
  • Bizarre Alien Psychology: Perelandra's Queen is intelligent and totally innocent in a strange way. She sleeps like it's an active power of hers while remaining totally unable to recognize that the corpse-like Un-man is evil, because evil is so foreign to her that she has no vocabulary for it. Part of the oddness of her thinking is due to the psychic link she has with Maleldil the Young, who answers her every question as soon as she starts wondering about it.
  • Boldly Coming: So, a man gets sent in the nude to spend weeks alone with a naked Green-Skinned Space Babe with no one else on their side of the planet. Weston (before he is possessed) cynically presumes their relationship is sexual and Ransom vainly tries to explain that the alien's Edenic innocence makes it difficult to even look at her perversely.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: When Ransom tries on Perelandra, it is physically painful for him because — although he doesn't know it yet — he'll be acting as Maleldil's representative in the upcoming confrontation; who for one thing will have none of it on principle, and for another needs him to always tell the truth. It's a plot point that his adversary Weston (or rather, the thing that used to be Weston) by contrast lies nearly all the time.
  • The Corrupter: The Un-man again, whose explicit mission is to replicate the Fall of Man with the Perelandrans. It is implied that their fall would be many times worse than Earthmen's fall
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Tor and the gods list a host of planets and lands the reader knows among the creations Maleldil alone takes joy in, but at the end of their praise they slip in a reference to "Neruval." Outside of having an "iron-plain," nothing is revealed about Neruval and if it corresponds to any of the planets the people of Earth know about.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: The inhabitants of the underground of Perelandra (Venus) appear briefly. They are probably sentient and not evil, but not necessarily friendly to humans.
  • Demonic Possession:
    • C.S. Lewis is psychically assaulted by a multi-dimensional Energy Being (known as an "eldil" in Old Solar) on the way to the hero's house. He keeps total control of his body, yet Lewis' mind is flooded with unfamiliar doubts about his old friend and superstitions that make every tree into a monster on the prowl. Just thinking is like fighting against the wind so long as the eldil has some foothold in his mind. Strictly speaking this instance is actually a subversion, as Lewis is not so much “possessed” as “oppressed”. Christian theologians and Exorcists will recognize the segment as an example of demonic oppression—a sort of halfway point between temptations and demonic possession.
    • The Un-man has the body of a living man, but whatever's left of the possessed's mind seems to be trapped beneath the will of a bent eldil. Under the eldil's influence, the Un-man looks like he's being moved by strings rather than his own power and his face has the peculiar look of a corpse.
  • Detonation Moon: The King of Perelandra prophesies that he, Malacandra (Mars' Oyarsa), Perelandra (Venus' Oyarsa), and Christ will all begin the War of Earth by destroying the Moon, the shield and first victim of the Black Oyarsa. All its Transhuman Aliens will be justly slain and the remains will rain down upon the Earth, beginning the biblical Apocalypse.
  • The Devil Is a Loser: Or at least a disgusting child. As in his earlier novel The Screwtape Letters, Lewis was pretty intent on deconstructing the idea of Satan as a suave Magnificent Bastard and tried portraying him in Perelandra the way he thought a truly pure evil being would be like. Ransom comes to the realization that for demons, intelligence is a trait that they can put on or remove at will — it's like clothes they wear rather than an innate characteristic. And based on the Un-Man's petty behavior whenever he isn't "working", it's clear he would rather be as unintelligent as possible. At one point, Ransom even specifically thinks that he would much rather face a suave Mephistopheles-type of demon than the thing he has to put up with. Lewis also wanted to make the point that, having renounced the source of all good, Satan has to renounce all good things, intelligence being one of them. His philosophical/ontological position is inherently insane, like a man sawing off a tree limb he's sitting on, but his rhetoric is clever enough to muddy the issue.
  • Did We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?:
    • The eldila are invisible, multi-dimensional aliens who have ruled the Solar System from the darkness of space and the edges of time, in keeping with the will of God and their love for the universe. They're allied with the heroes of the books, and quite frequently interact.
    • Partway through the book, Ransom has a mental chat with none other than God Himself. It's heavily implied that the psychic link through which this takes place has been as open as the Green Lady's psychic link with God for all the time Ransom has been on Perelandra — only Ransom, and by proxy the reader, doesn't realise it's there and he could use it just as easily as she can.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Ransom has to take out evil incarnate with no other weapons than his fists. And he's a middle-aged professor without much fighting experience. However, it happens that evil is currently incarnate in the body of another middle-aged professor, so it's a fairer fight than Ransom feared. And Ransom is a former boxer who's been taking care of himself, while the other professor hasn't been sleeping, eating, or otherwise engaging in any of the sorts of activities human bodies need to stay healthy.
  • Distracted by My Own Sexy: The Un-Man twice fails to make the Green Lady put her own beauty before her love for Maleldil: he dresses her up in a feather-cloak and lets her see herself in a small convex mirror, but the experience just doesn't interest her. Protagonist Elwin Ransom remarks to himself, "Thank God, he's only trying to teach her Vanity," invoking this trope as a might-have-been. He later realizes that for the Un-Man, vanity about her body is only a stepping stone to preoccupation with her own Great Soul.
  • Due to the Dead: After killing Weston's body until it sticks, then incinerating the corpse so the dark eldil within it can't escape, Ransom, despite never even liking the man, carves him a grand tombstone in the cliffs of Venus, in tribute to his genuine genius.
  • Eldritch Starship: The second book begins with Ransom entering a silver coffin powered by a god which envelops him and flies to Venus. The experience is so strange that it affects his views on sex, food, and the Resurrection of the Dead just based on the indescribable colors he sees. He's almost relieved when the coffin melts off him and he's dropped into something as concrete as the land-oceans of Perelandra.
  • Evil Is Petty: The Un-man is capable of making very eloquent-sounding arguments to tempt his subject towards evil, but when he's unable to do anything more profoundly evil, he amuses himself with torturing small animals and annoying Ransom. His most frequent pastime is standing by Ransom as he tries to sleep and repeating his name ad infinitum until Ransom responds. Then he replies, "Nothing," and starts again.
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Weston learns this lesson in the hardest way possible. In-between books, he consorts with demons while convincing himself that there is no difference between God and Satan, and they are merely two sides of the same all-encompassing spiritual Force. In his usual pompous fashion, he deliberately calls the Force into himself, at which point his will is immediately subsumed by the devils. His last comprehensible words as himself are utterly terrified.
  • Exposed Extraterrestrials: The King and Queen of Venus are so attuned to the weather of the planet that they never need clothing.
  • Face-Revealing Turn: Invoked. "Perhaps I should see a figure which looked like Ransom standing with its back toward me and when I spoke it would turn round to reveal a face that was not human at all...."
  • Fish People: The open oceans of Venus are inhabited by a species of unintelligent (maybe...), bio-luminescent humanoids with gills and fins.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Averted, but in an interesting way. In this 'verse, every planet's sapient inhabitants are given a single rule that is not to be broken. Earth's rule was the Trope Namer. Perelandra's denizens are not allowed to sleep on solid ground, and must return to one of the floating islands in the ocean, but this rule doesn't tempt them to sleep on the fixed land. Indeed, the idea isn't even enticing, since life on the floating islands is so pleasant; without the Un-man's intervention, there'd be no temptation to give in to.
  • Forced Sleep: Maleldil does this to both Tinidril and the Un-Man to enable an undisturbed chat with Ransom.
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: In the ending, the two major eldila appear in human form, but it takes them some practice; an earlier attempt winds up in Eldritch Abomination territory. (When they're not making an effort to change their form, they're perceived more as Energy Beings.) See Our Angels Are Different below.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: Ransom knows upon seeing the Un-man's smile that there can be a face so hideous that merely seeing it would prevent one from every feeling joy again.
    "As there is one Face above all worlds which merely to see is irrevocable joy, so at the bottom of all worlds that face is waiting whose sight alone is the misery from which none who beholds it can recover."
  • The Gods Must Be Lazy: Ransom wonders why he wasn't receiving divine help in light of the direct demonic intervention from the other side. Then he works out the answer — he himself is the divine help — Adam and Eve didn't have the benefit of advice from an older race that had failed the Forbidden Fruit test. Plus, Satan is in a physical body of a human being, which can be killed...
  • Green-Skinned Space Babe: The Queen of Perelandra is known as the Green Lady for, well, her green skin. Apart from that, she looks exactly like a human woman in the nude. Implied that, this being Venus, her race's blood is oxygenated by copper rather than iron, and it's outright stated they look like humans since it'd be weird for them not to look like that after God became man that time.
  • Hell: Perelandra climaxes in the underworld of Venus, a realm of endless darkness, hidden monsters, and a lake of fire. It is no coincidence that Ransom is dragged there by a demon and that it is here he has his greatest doubts about whether the scale of the universe proves God's indifference to man.
  • Hero of Another Story: Invoked, oddly enough, in regard to setting. When Ransom finds himself in Venus' cave systems, he comes to the conclusion that the caves were certainly designed for some purpose... but that whatever purpose that may be, it has nothing to do with him and he has no place there.
  • Human Aliens: Green skin aside, the King and Queen of Perelandra are identical to humans. There is a reason for this: since Maleldil the Young (AKA Jesus) took on a human body, all sapient life younger than the human race is made in the image of the Earthly Maleldil.
  • Insignificant Little Blue Planet: The Un-man calls life the "rind" of the universe, a thin cover that hides the truth of emptiness and death that defines space, the underground, and the oceans. Ransom argues that size does not define the value of the thing and comes to realize even the darkness of these places has a certain beauty to it. He even comes to realize a hundred-eyed spider monster he finds underground is an expression of God's love, beautiful in a way familiar to the All-Knowing and alien to man.
  • Invulnerable Knuckles: Ransom's first punch nearly breaks his hand, not because he's punching an Eldritch Abomination, but because he's punching someone with a naked fist, period. After the fight finally ends, his knuckles (not to mention the rest of his body) are in a pretty sorry shape and he needs to recuperate in a special little valley before meeting everyone.
  • I'm a Man; I Can't Help It: Invoked by Weston. He sees Ransom naked with the (also naked, as it's an Eden-ish paradise) queen of Perelandra and assumes Ransom was making a move on her. Ransom tries to explain that he was not, and that the whole planet is full of such innocence that he didn't even feel any lust and interacted as normally as he would have with anyone clothed on earth, but Weston just assumes that Ransom is lying since as a naked man standing with a naked woman, he naturally must have been trying to make love to her. Also qualifies as Evil Cannot Comprehend Good.
  • It Sucks to Be the Chosen One: Ransom's thoughts about the upcoming physical fight with the Un-Man, pretty much — which he perceives as a Suicide Mission. Maleldil comforts him about it while telling him what he has to do by telling him he's got his back and that they are aren't so different ("my name is also Ransom") — though considering who He is and how literal this name is there, it borders on Assurance Backfire.
  • Kung-Fu Jesus: Tor announces that at the end of the age, the armies of Mars, Venus, and the righteous dead will be led into war against Earth by Jesus himself. With his glorified body, he will destroy the Moon, wipe out all memory of evil, and allow the universe to begin the Great Dance.
  • Lava Pit: Inside a volcanic mountain. Ransom disposes of Weston's dead body by dropping it into the lava, and at one point he's in a kind of a natural water slide, and is a little worried the slide will empty into a lava pit while he's rushing down it (it doesn't).
  • Love Goddess: The Oyarsa of Perelandra is an incorporeal being that causes all those in her "presence" to feel true love for those around them, whether its sexual, fraternal, or paternal. She is the truth behind the myth of Venus and guards the planet named after her and the couple that will be mother and father to every child of the planet of love.
  • Monster from Beyond the Veil: Played with: Weston didn't actually die until Ransom killed him and pushed the hopefully dead body into lava to be absolutely sure, since the Un-man had played dead on him — twice, but during a brief reprieve from his Demonic Possession, he spoke as if he'd been dead the whole time, and while that didn't make him hostile to Ransom, it made him unnervingly insane, unreasonable, and pitiable. It's implied that the things that happen to the damned really did happen to him during that time.
  • Mundane Solution: How do you stop the Devil's envoy from corrupting a planet of innocence? By bashing his brains out with a rock.
  • Negatives as a Positive: Ransom realizes that it's all right for him to use The Power of Hate.
  • Necessarily Evil: Ransom killing the Un-Man is seen as justified evil to save Perelandra from a far greater, corrupting evil.
  • Neologism: Ransom's apprehension of the interplanetary coffin operated by extraterrestrial angels that is a color beyond colors inspires Lewis to coin the terms "trans-sexual" and "trans-gastronomic." Specifically, Ransom's experience with the trans-colored coffin leads him to believe that at the Last Judgement, the sexual members and digestive systems of humanity will somehow be made to take on dimensions beyond what could be imagined now.
  • No Holds Barred Beat Down: The duel between Ransom and Weston is horrendously violent, even more so when Ransom gets the upper hand. For a moment you think you're reading a Matt Stover novel.
  • Not Quite Dead: Ransom delivers a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to the Un-man and finally seems to kill him in a cave, sitting on him for at least twelve hours just to make sure that he's dead. He then climbs for some time up to a series of caves to find a way out, only to find that the Un-man has somehow followed him, despite dragging a broken leg the whole way.
  • Our Mermaids Are Different: Ransom sees mer-people in the Perelandran ocean, and wonders if the green-skinned humanoid inhabitants of the planet might have have evolved from them.
  • The Power of Hate: An interesting example, in that it's justifiably used by the hero. There's a moment when Ransom is physically battling the evil Dr. Weston who just happens to be possessed by the Devil discovers not just a moment of Perfect Hate, but also just what to do with that hate, which allows him to actually overcome a far stronger enemy. Or to put it another way: knowingly, Yes He Did Just Punch Out Cthulhu. This is given a theological justification as to why Ransom can do this and morally remain a good guy: Weston is possessed by The Devil, and thus is pure evil, and pure evil is the only thing that righteously deserves to be hated. Note that hate is classically defined as desire for a thing not to exist.
  • Purple Prose: The final chapters get downright rhapsodical. Tropes Are Not Bad, however, and some critics say that these passages of prose qualify as C. S. Lewis's best poetry.
  • Retcon: Perelandra turns one of the Martian languages from the first book into the language of every (non-terrestrial) planet, Old Solar. The problem with that is that the first book established that Mars has plenty of languages besides "Old Solar," so unless the Curse of Babel selectively hit Mars, there's no reason for those languages to exist. The Author Avatar notices this discrepancy and finds it best to ignore it; Ransom for his part speculates that while the other languages of Mars are the products of engineers, scientists, and physical artisans, Old Solar is the language of poets, and has to stay the same or risk works being Lost in Translation. (Which isn't quite how it works, but hey, Lewis wasn't a linguist himself, just friends with one.)
  • Rubbery World: Perelandra has grasslands and forests that float on the surface of the ocean. A hill one moment is a valley another. Amusingly, the weeds and float-bladders beneath them are apparently quite rubbery.
  • Slasher Smile: The demonic Un-man flashes a smile that isn't sinister, mocking, or mad, but that is whole-heartedly evil in the same way a child is innocently good. There's a whole paragraph dedicated to describing it and Ransom falls over and faints shortly after the sight of it.
  • Starfish Aliens: Ransom mistakes the weird insect-like creatures in the Underworld for demons, only to realize that the creatures below the ground are just as much a part of God's creation as those on the surface. Still odd and inhuman, but all the evil he saw in them was his own fear.
  • Straw Nihilist: In Perelandra, The Un-man makes it plain that the bent eldila kill, torture, and tempt because they are too disfigured to see any value in anything. Why not destroy life if below the surface all things are just "darkness, worms, heat, pressure, salt, suffocation?"
    "The only point in anything is that there isn't any point. Why do ghosts want to frighten? Because they are ghosts. What else is there to do?"
  • Torment by Annoyance: Perelandra features this, overlapping with Evil Is Petty. When Ransom finds himself stuck on a small island with a demon, the demon resorts to annoying Ransom. He calls Ransom's name, then when Ransom asks what he wants, he answers, "Nothing." He repeats this for hours. Ransom eventually concludes that if he is to hear his own name or the word "Nothing" for hour upon hour, he would prefer his own name and stops responding.
  • Trippy Finale Syndrome: The Great Dance vision at the end of Perelandra.
  • Venus Is Wet: Perelandra is an ocean world where the only piece of dry land is a mountain emerging from the depths and all the inhabitants live on enormous rafts of matted plant life.
  • Violence is the Only Option: Ransom is forced to physically fight with the Un-Man after weeks of debating and arguing have failed to settle the issue. Ransom is initially appalled by the idea and uses it only as a last resort. He also knows there is a very good chance he won't survive the attempt.
  • The Watson: Lewis gets little to say outside of questions about what happened in the first book and what the eldila want the protagonist to do for the rest of the current novel although he is present for the question-and-answer after Ransom returns that occurs earlier in the novel, a la The Time Machine.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Cute?: The Underground creatures terrify Ransom at first, because they're just that insect-like and strange. He feels better about them once the real source of his fear, the Un-man, is dealt with.
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Asked by none other than Maleldil, no less. As Ransom agonizes over how to deal with the Un-Man on Perelandra, this is what he eventually realizes he must do; he can never completely defeat the Un-Man in argument, since the Un-Man will never give up but will always simply switch to yet another tactic (even returning to previously failed strategies and all the while planting subtle seeds of self-absorption in the mind of the Queen with his endless narration of sleazy romance fiction) but he can kill him physically. Unfortunately, even this is trickier than it seems, as there are no weapons or even sharp objects in the area where the first half of the story takes place, and Ransom has already thrown into the sea the gun that Weston (of course) brought with him precisely in order to prevent what is about to take place. Ransom is left with his fists and the Un-Man with his very long very very sharp fingernails. Ransom's efforts to dispatch the physical body of the Un-Man (originally Weston's body) make up a large part of the drama of the latter half of the novel.
  • Wound That Will Not Heal: As confirmed in the next book, Ransom's wounded heel will never stop bleeding. This is rather obviously a biblical reference.
    I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: Ransom witnesses the Great Dance that binds the universe together and finds that the brief euphoria had "taken up" a whole year. The likeliest explanation for the time gap seems to be that witnessing the Great Dance requires leaving Time and entering eternity.
  • Zen Slap: Done mentally by none other than Maleldil of all people, to Ransom, for lying to Tinidril. The act itself of telling a lie becomes physically rather painful and extremely nauseating to Ransom — the narration compares it to a vomit tearing all through him — which quite emphatically conveys the disgust and disappointment. Maleldil tells him off for it through their psychic link, too.
    That being said: considering the later plot events following from even that one essentially non-malicious lie, and that he needs Ransom explicitly to counteract the influence of The Corrupter to prevent the end of Perelandra, Maleldil has very good reason to enforce Cannot Tell a Lie on Ransom towards Tinidril. When Ransom tries to lie to Maleldil directly half a book later, the latter much less drastically just gives him a very disappointed Look until Ransom stops it — and even gets the snark on:
    You know you're just wasting time.