By Laura Van Dyke, PhD, Instructor of English
The second book of Lewis’s Space Trilogy, Perelandra, is utterly unlike any of the other space travel novels that became popular in the twentieth century. While Lewis acknowledged his debt to writers like H.G. Wells and David Lindsay, Perelandra is as much theological exploration as space adventure, making it a unique blend of genres: not quite science fiction, and not quite religious allegory, it might be best described as a hybrid of speculative fiction and metaphysical thriller. The plot is organized around the same temptation motif that structures the Garden of Eden narrative in the book of Gensis: here, though, the unfallen “Eve,” or Green Lady, is tempted by a “Satan” who is a combination both of a literal Satan and a villainous physicist from Earth named Dr. Weston. Taken over by demonic forces, Weston, or the “Un-man” that uses Weston’s body, is well-poised to use what he learned long ago with his successful temptation of Adam and Eve to corrupt the new, younger father and mother of the Perelandran planet.
Sent to combat the Un-man’s temptation of Perelandra’s Green Lady is the novel’s protagonist, Elwin Ransom. With the exception of Orual from Till We Have Faces, Ransom is the most complex and compelling character in Lewis’s fiction; readers who enjoy the work of the other Inklings will quickly sense the similarities between Ransom and not just Lewis himself, but J.R.R. Tolkien and Charles Williams." 1 In many ways, Ransom is a composite of all three men, though the parallels with Tolkien are more pronounced in the first novel in the trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), and the similarities with Williams emerge in That Hideous Strength (1945), the final novel of the trilogy. In this second novel of the trilogy, the action takes place almost entirely on the planet Venus, or “Perelandra” in the language of Old Solar. Ransom, a Cambridge philologist by profession, learned Old Solar on his first voyage to Deep Space, when he travelled to the much older world of Mars (“Malacandra”)2 in Out of the Silent Planet.
Perelandra was published in 1943, before Lewis had written any of the Narnia books for which he is now most well known. Like The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), though, the novel takes place against the backdrop of the Second World War. Ransom makes frequent reference to the battle occurring on Earth alongside his own battle against the nefarious Un-man, which begins as an intellectual debate but eventually escalates to a brutal physical fight. Lewis’s “Satan” here is not, the novel’s narrator declares, a “sombre tragic Satan out of Paradise Lost”; rather, evil personified is simply “an imbecile or a monkey or a very nasty child.”3 Because evil is not romanticized in Lewis’s fictionalized re-envisioning of the Eden narrative, Ransom comes to realize that he and the Un-man—two middle-aged academics—must fight in an embodied and almost absurdly visceral, concrete way. Ultimately, Ransom succeeds in “ransoming” the planet, though he will forever bear a wound that does not heal.4
In the novel’s evocation of setting, Lewis’s prose is at its best. Venus, as one might expect, is a watery planet made up of moving islands: what a twenty-first century reader might not expect, though, is that on these islands, in an abundant profusion of life and colour, are vividly described animals and fruit-bearing plants. Scents have a life-giving richness to them, so that just inhaling air gives Ransom joy; drinking the fresh water that abounds around him gives him nourishment that restores his body to a kind of pre-lapsarian vision of the human, and eating the fruit of the Perelandran trees affords so much pleasure that, eating one golden yellow fruit, he thinks “for one draught of this on earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed.”5 Everything about the planet is paradise. In Lewis’s sensory imagery of the tastes, sights, sounds, feels and smells of Perelandra the reader is able to envision what our own pre-fallen world might have been like. On our earth today, when we cannot trust the water, when the air is so often toxic, and when food must be purchased for ever-rising costs it can be difficult to share our first ancestors’ sense of the world as gift; reading Perelandra enhances the reader’s imaginative ability to step outside of our own world—even, of our own planet.
The literary landscape today is dominated by dystopic narratives. Fiction, like television, film, and videogames, seems drawn towards stories of nightmare—stories about the world we fear, while stories about the world we dream about, or the world we long for, remain rare. Perelandra offers an uncommon utopic vision, where Lewis actually succeeds in imagining paradise, and in representing innocence, goodness, and true beauty. Even eighty years later, there is nothing quite like it.
To listen to a discussion with TWU’s Monika Hilder on Perelandra, click on the podcast link below: Interview on C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra with National Review: Hillsdale College, Michigan: The Great Books, Host John J. Miller, April 12, 2022:
 Lewis doesn’t leave Owen Barfield out: chapter three opens with Lewis/the narrator recalling a debate between Ransom and “B.,” who “is an Anthroposophist” (Perelandra 29).
 In the cosmology of the trilogy, Mercury is “Viritrilbia,” Venus is “Perelandra,” Earth is “Thulcandra” (the “silent planet,” fallen long ago to the Bent One), Mars is “Malacandra,” Jupiter is “Glundandra,” Saturn is “Lurga” and likely “Neruval” is Uranus. The books take as a given that Jesus, or Maleldil, died on Thulcandra and, in rising again, changed things on all other planets as well; this premise makes the Space Trilogy a distinctly Christian work of science fiction.
 C.S. Lewis, Perelandra, Scribner, 2003.110
 Underscoring the parallels between Christ and Ransom, this wound is on Ransom’s heel; earlier, a “Voice” tells him “My name also is Ransom” (Perelandra 126).
 Perelandra, 37.
Trinity Western University's Langley campus is located on the traditional, ancestral, unceded territory of the Stó:lō people. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work, and learn on this land.