It was a slog, but I finally finished reading book two of C.S. Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy, Perelandra.
Before I dive into thoughts on the book, I just wanted to capture two passages that I dog-eared the pages of while reading.
“One joy was expected and another was given.”
“But when you gave into the thing, gave yourself up to it, there was no burden to be borne. It became not a load, but a medium, a sort of splendour as of eatable, drinkable, breathable gold, which fed you and carried you and not only poured into you but out from you as well.”
Lewis spends a great deal of time on this idea of the joy that was expected versus the joy that was given, and how clinging to the expected, versus accepting what was given, is part of the root of evil.
In fact, basically the whole book is one long diatribe about morality and the nature of good and evil, as the main character, Ransom, attempts to prevent another Biblical Fall in the Edenic paradise of the planet Venus.
I liked the first book, Out of the Silent Planet, quite a bit more than I liked Perelandra. There are some cool bits, don’t get me wrong. But overall, the ponderousness of the whole thing makes for a slow and boring read. And the last chapter is kind of the epitome of the whole thing. What I liked more in the first book, OotSP, is that there’s more emphasis on exploring the world, and the encounters with all the cool creatures and stuff that live there. There’s some of that in P as well, to be sure, but it’s overshadowed by Lewis’ heavy-handed thoughts on “God and stuff.”
I would say that probably the main reason to read these books, for me (and I think I will skip the final book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength – though I read it decades ago), is that you can clearly see Lewis’ imagination rehearsing a lot of elements of what will become Narnia. And for that, it is probably worth the price of admission for die-hard fans. Luckily, I think Lewis toned down all the god-stuff quite a bit in the Narnia books, or else focused it in a way that’s rather more palatable amidst all the other adventures. In either case, it’s still interesting at times to see the man’s struggles with and testament to Faith, etc. But I care a lot less about those topics in the forms that he chooses to describe them than I perhaps once did. A lot of the questions he’s grappling with here are, I guess, simply resolved for me, so intricately unwrapping them is a bit blah in the end. Plus it seems very old-fashioned to me to cling to these things only within the narrow frame of Christianity, when we have so much more global cultural legacy to examine and inherit. But that’s just me.