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The Best Sci-Fi Series You’ve Probably Never Read: Perelandra

"Perelandra's island" by Hodrygo on

­­ In part one of The Best Sci-Fi Series You’ve Probably Never Read, we covered Out of the Silent Planet, the first book in the criminally overlooked Space Trilogy from C.S. Lewis. In it, we are introduced to Dr. Elwin Ransom, a philologist on a walking tour of the countryside who finds himself kidnapped by the physicist Dr. Weston and transported to the planet Malacandra, which turns out to be Mars. He escapes Weston and comes to learn that his own planet, Earth, is called Thulcandra – The Silent Planet – by the Malacandrians.

Ultimately, Weston is foiled by the ruling spirit (Oyarsa) of Mars, and he and Ransom are sent back to Earth. The genius bit of Out of the Silent Planet is at the end, when Lewis reveals to the reader that he has changed the names of the people involved in this story but that the knowing reader will still be able to recognize who the story is about. In short, he puts the events of Out of the Silent Planet squarely in the here and now.

­­ Perelandra: Plot Summary ­­Perelandra2

Perelandra picks up the story some time after the events of Out of the Silent Planet with Lewis en route to Ransom’s home on ‘business.’ He arrives to find that Ransom is preparing to leave, at the Oyarsa’srequest, for Perelandra (Venus). He is whisked away shortly and arrives to find himself floating in Perelandra’s apparently planet­-spanning ocean, which is peppered with floating mats of vegetation that resemble islands.

After pulling himself up onto one of the islands, Ransom meets the Queen of Perelandra. Her name is later revealed to be Tinidril, so I’ll use that from now on. She tells him that she and the King (named Tor) have only been given one rule from Maleldil (the Creator) – don’t sleep overnight on the Fixed Lands, the only non­floating land that Ransom has seen on Perelandra.

Ransom and Tinidril visit the Fixed Lands to look for the King, and it is there that the true story begins. While there, Ransom sees a familiar round object fall from the sky and land in the ocean near the Fixed Lands. He investigates, only to find exactly what he had feared: Weston has arrived in his spaceship. Ransom confronts Weston, and Tinidril heads back to the floating islands to avoid breaking Maleldil’s stricture about sleeping on the Fixed Lands. During the night Weston undergoes a terrifying transformation that Ransom eventually understands is Weston being possessed by the Devil himself.

What follows is a longish period of rhetorical battle between Ransom and the Un­Man, as Ransom comes to call him. The Un­Man is trying to convince Tinidril to break Maleldil’s rule against sleeping on the Fixed Lands, and Ransom is trying to urge her to obey. It’s a slow back­and­forth, and Ransom slowly realizes that he will ultimately lose this contest.

Fan art of Tendril by liseychan
Fan art of Tenidril by liseychan

Then, in a night of something in between anguish and epiphany, Ransom realizes the horrible truth; if he was sent to Perelandra to fight the Devil with the soul of that world’s Eve in the balance, why shouldn’t that fight be a physical one? He gets a good night’s sleep and begins the next morning. The fight is a vicious one. Ransom and Weston’s body beat each other half senseless before the Un­Man flees with Ransom giving chase. They end up in a subterranean cavern where Ransom gets the best of the Un­Man, beating and strangling Weston’s body.

Ransom then tries to make his way out of the cavern, only to find that the Un­Man is still following him.He finds a cavern with a massive fissure leading down into the fiery interior of the planet and has his final showdown with Weston’s possessed body. After smashing the Un­Man’s face in with a rock, he pushes the body into the fissure, destroying it for good.

All that is left for Ransom to do on Perelandra is to meet that world’s Oyarsa, or ruling spirit. Perelandra’s Oyarsa explains to Ransom that because the first humans on earth fell, Maleldil had to do something even greater there. But on Perelandra, the King and Queen passed the test, and would become what humankind was originally meant to be ­masters of their world in every sense of the word. King Tor and Queen Tinidril arrive and are essentially “given the keys” to the whole planet. After some conversation, Ransom is transported back to earth to tell his story to Lewis, who has been waiting for word from the Oyarsa of Mars that Ransom would be returning.

­­ Why It’s Awesome ­­

I’ll be honest with you: unless you’re a Christian and have a lively interest in theology, you might think Perelandra is the weak link in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. The story isn’t as expansive and sweeping as Out of the Silent Planet, or (as we’ll see in part three of this series) as intricate and nuanced as That Hideous Strength.

But if you’re like me (a Christian and a huge nerd), there’s a lot to chew on in this book. Lewis employs copious amounts of symbolism, myths retold, and allegory throughout Perelandra. Like, so much so that people have written post­graduate dissertations about it. I have several friends who attended Bible colleges and had at least one class where the professor chose Perelandra as a textbook.51ZE6SQQZNL

Plus, as a bonus bit of nerd knowledge – the names of the King and Queen, Tor and Tinidril, were intentionally adapted by Lewis from the names Tuor and Idril, who are characters in The Silmarillion, written by Lewis’ great friend J.R.R. Tolkien.

But maybe the best part of Perelandra, in my opinion, is the continuation of the Ransom vs. Weston storyline, how it is expanded in this story, and how that sets up some important set pieces for the third installation of C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength.  In true epic sci-­fi series fashion, there are some threads that Lewis has been weaving throughout the first two books in the series that come to light and are tied up in the end.

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