Sunday, 4 May 2014

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis, I'm disappointed in you. And that's the first time that has happened. I don't share your religion, but it's never kept me from enjoying one of your books before. I have been in love with the Narnia books since first I read them. I enjoyed the first book in this series. I even enjoyed the start of the theological discussions in these books. And then I hated where they went.

What happened?

Perelandra started out so well. It grabbed me from the start, and, in the world he created on Venus, totally enchanted me. It was so utterly unlike anything I'd seen in science fiction before, so delightful, so lush, so evocative. I was utterly in love with this book for about the first hundred pages. I am amazed that I can find in these decades and decades old science fiction genuinely new ideas, ideas that haven't been plundered a thousand times over.

I was even fine with the modified Snake-in-the-Garden scenario, as the "Unman," dressed in the body of Ransom's foe from the previous novel tried to tempt the Lady of Perelandra to disobedience. A good metaphor's a good metaphor. The theological discussions were fascinating. I don't have to share them to find them interesting.

But then two things happened. Lewis started leaning harder and harder on fixed notions of gender that started to get under my skin.

Annoying as that was, it paled in comparison to my main problem. When Ransom was having difficulty persuading the lady to his side by act or deed, Maleldil (God/Jesus) informed him that what he had to do was remove the temptation entirely, by killing the Unman. Or at least his human host

Excuse me? Did I miss something somewhere? I know "Thou shalt not kill" is kind of contradicted, over and over, by the Old Testament, but you're supposed to be a New Testament kind of devotee, Lewis. Turning the other cheek, taking on the sacrifice of yourself in order to save others. Not "this guy is a pain in the ass, and I can't outargue him, or show the worth of my side by word or deed" (like, for instance, revealing the Unman's torturing of small animals to the Lady, which certainly would have put him out of the running in seconds.) In that case, the answer, divinely sanctioned, is obviously killing.

Perelandra lost me right there. I mean, right there. Why not throw out most of the major tenets of forgiveness, kindness, compassion, and love, when you can take the easier path of killing?

I don't mind some religion in my science fiction. I do mind this.

I expected better of you, C.S. Lewis. I'm disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. Huh. As with most of Lewis' work, we need to remember the context of his life - which included trying to justify the war against the Nazis within his new Christian framework. I see Ransom's fight against the UnMan as a representation of that justification for HATE. And Jesus allegedly whipped the 'money-changers' out of the temple, so there's at least a little Gospel basis for 'righteous violence'. It's a hard thing, for sure. Slippery slopes abound.