Jon Kennedy
Jon Kennedy

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'C. S. Lewis Overflow
Jon Kennedy's latest book is The Everything Guide to C.S. Lewis and Narnia, now in stores, from Adams Media, F&W Publications. This series of articles is thinking inspired by readings in Lewis's work that didn't fit into the book. Click here for a list of all articles in the C.S. Lewis Overflow series.

Perelandra, review notes

Continuing my review of the first two of C.S. Lewis's "space trilogy" novels.... Many (including this reviewer) agree that Perelandra (1943) contains the best prose in any of Lewis's works, and Lewis himself considered it his best novel until his last one, Till We Have Faces, appeared in 1956, seven years before Lewis's death.

In Perelandra the role of Lewis as the friend of protagonist Elwin Ransom, the Cambridge philologist, is expanded as he describes the return of Ransom from Mars (Malacandra) as chronicled in the first novel, Ransom's sharing of his experiences with a circle of friends, and his enlisting Lewis to assist his return to outer space or, after he came to believe more accurately after the first trip, High Heaven. This time it is the eldilla who summon him to another planet, known on Earth as Venus, but in the Old Solar language, Perelandra. Here, Ransom meets a human woman who turns out to be the mother of her race on Perelandra, and shortly after his arrival he is joined by what ostensibly is his old nemesis and the world's greatest physicist (which he demonstrated by being the first to achieve interplanetary travel in a man-made craft), Westin. This time, Westin's sidekick on Mars, Devine, is not mentioned.

Whereas Out of the Silent Planet was so subtle in its theological references that most secular reviewers completely missed them, this time Lewis is much more transparent, with most of the final chapter being an exposition of the Trinity in relationship with the creation. And the main crux of this novel's plot is that the woman, as Perelandra's "Eve," is being tempted to declare independence from God, or Maleldil the Young, God the Son. Ransom soon realizes that "Westin" is Westin in body only, inhabited by the Evil One. Much of the novel consists of the debates that Satan/Westin, who is later called the Un-Man, and Ransom conduct to persuade her to assert herself in the former case and to resist the temptation Satan presents in the latter. The temptation here is not a forbidden fruit, as in Genesis, but rather simply taking up residence on the "fixed land" on her planet, as her God has enjoined her and her husband (who, like Adam in the Genesis account, is off somewhere when the temptations begin) to reside only on the planet's floating islands.

Eventually, Ransom is so worn down by the Un-Man that he concludes that his only hope is to attack him physically. Though thinking he has no hope of defeating the Evil One that way, his prayers confirm that it is what he has been called across High Heaven to attempt. And when he does tackle the Un-Man, he finds it is a much more even match than he'd expected, with his blows against the Un-Man making considerable headway. Eventually, they mount large fishes (which are the "horses" of Perelandra) for a chase that takes them across oceans to the far side of the planet and, from there, through a physical skirmish in the water after their fish have been totally exhausted. They plummet into the deep. Though Ransom is unable to break loose from the Un-Man's clutches, they find themselves coming up in an undersea cavern which is free of water but also totally free of light They struggle for days and eventually the Un-Man is subdued. Ransom believes he has forced the final breath out of him, and after waiting a considerable time to listen for another breath from the other body in the dark, he begins to try to find an escape from the underworld. Eventually he finds a passage and climbs and clinbs what seems additional days, only to find that when he finally reaches some light, it is coming from a fire in a pit in the cavern next over from where he is, and when he gets there he finds that the Un-Man has revived and made his way after him and has to be confronted yet again. But this time Ransom is able to subdue the Un-Man and throw the lifeless body into the inferno in the pit, which is what Jesus teaches is the ultimate destination of Satan and all his minions.

When eventually Ransom makes his way back to the surface, he is met by Perelandra, which is also the name of the Oyarsa (the ruling archangel of their planet) who has been joined by the Oyarsa, Malacandra, of Mars. They have come to install Perelandra's first man and woman as its knig and queen. He is told that when Satan was defeated, the lady regained her senses and realized how unacceptable it would be to disobey Maledil. Her husband returned from his journey across the sea, and they inaugurate their rule and the beginning of their generations in the unfallen planet Perelandra, recognizing Ransom as their "savior" and their most honored guest from the silent planet, Tellus or Earth. In the climax of the final chapter the Oyarsas answer all of Ransom's questions about Maledil, God the son, the Trinity, and the "dance" that represents the whole creative course of the universe.

Notes from the Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3
Edited by Walter Hooper, Harper SanFrancisco, 2007, Part 14

The mission of these extensive notes is set out in the introduction of Part 1 of the notes for Volume 1, here. This week's entry encompasses the entire year 1961.

C. S. Lewis
 portriat by Val Craig Murray1961

To Don Luigi Pedrollo, January 3, p 1221: "I wish I could send you copies of the letters which the Venerable Father Don John Calabria wrote. But I have neither the letters themselves nor copies of them. It is my practice to consign to the flames all letters after two days — not, believe me, because I esteem them of no value, rather because I do not wish to relinquish things often worthy of sacred silence to subsequent reading by posterity.

"For nowadays inquisitive researchers dig out all our affairs and besmirch them with the poison of 'publicity' (as a barbarous thing I am griving it a barbarous name).

"This is the last thing I would wish to happen to the letters of Father John.

"That admirable man, to others most lenient but to himself most severe, not to say savage, out of humility and with a certain holy imprudence wrote many things which I think should be kept quiet. If you would politely convey this explanation of mine to Father Mondrone, I would be grateful."

To K.C. Thompson, translator of a book about St. Paul by an Italian author, Angelo Penna, January 5, p 1222, referring to the "recensions" of higher critics: "I didn't believe it ever happened in real life."

Same: "The R.C. clinging to archaic mispellings of names is rather absurd. No more absurd, though, than what I'm fighting against on the Commission for revising the Coverdale Psalter — I mean, the impulse to retain what we know to be mere howlers because they are 'so beautiful.'"

To Alastair Fowler, January 7, p 1224: "I have an uneasy suspicion that I have the reputation of being one whose geese are all swans."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, January 9, p 1225: "Whatever you decide to do, get your own attitude right. They are behaving as if they were penitent and wished to make restitution. Their penitence may no doubt be v. imperfect and their motives v. mixed. But so are all our reprentances and all our motives. Accept theirs as you hope God will accept yours. Remember that He has promised to forgive you as, and only as, you forgive them."

Same: "But I'm afraid as we grow older life consists more and more in either giving up things or waiting for them to be taken from us."

"As you rightly see, to become a member of their household wd. involve a severe and continual self-suppression. You wd. have to be silent about many things when you longed to speak. but the alternative is also bad."

Same: "Try not to think — much less, speak — of their sins. One's own are a much more profitable theme! And if, on consideration, one can find no faults on one's own side, then cry for mercy: for this must be a most dangerous delusion."

Same: "It is (no disguising it) only a choice between crosses. The more one can accept that fact, the less one can think about happiness on earth, the less, I believe, one suffers. Or at any rate the suffering becomes more purgatorial and less infernal."

To Clyde S. Kilby, January 11, p 1226-7, a defense against an American fundamentalist writer critical of Lewis, Harvie M. Conn of Westminster Theological seminary.

P 1230: divertissements = amusing distractions, entertainments, especially a short opera during a break or intermission in an ballet or play

To the editors of Delta: The Cambridge Literary Magazine, February, p 1231: "The word serious has two meanings. It can mean something like 'grave' or 'solemn,' as when we say 'Mr. Twiddle is a very serious young man.' It may also mean 'thoroughgoing' or 'wholehearted,' as when we say 'Mr. Thews is a serious student.' Mr. Twiddle, far from being a serious student, may be an idler or a smatterer; Mr. Thews, far from being a solemn young man, may be gay and jocund."

Same, p 1233: opprobrious = abusive or scornful

Same, footnote, p 1234: Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch became "the first Professor of English Literature at Cambridge in 1912."

Same, p 1235: "men of your own kidney" probably refers to "emotional makeup," or temperament, as a source says that in the Bible kidneys are mentioned as a seat of the emotions.

A footnote on p 1237 quoting Thomas McAlindon (1932 - ) as being "the only student at Cambridge to complete the PhD under [Lewis's] supervision." "I was completing the thesis during that summer of 1960 when his wife was dying; but he told me to send the final chapters to him at Oxford, and he returned them to me duly and meticulously checked. A generosity I have never forgotten."

To Mary Van Deusen, February 13, p 1238, refers to French existentialist novelist Sartre "as an artist in French prose [who] has a sort of wintry grandeur which partly explains his immense influence."

To Hugh Kilmer, Febuary 15, p 1239: "If I had time to re-read my own book [Miracles] (by now a pretty old one) I'd be able to answer you better."

Same: "In general, I incline to think that tho' the blessed will participate in the Divine Nature, they will do so always in a mode which does not simply annihilate their humanity. Otherwise it is difficult to see why the species was created at all."

To Alfred R. Paashaus, February 23. p 1242, a footnote says "The Rev. Alfred R. Paashaus was writing from the Bible Presbyterian Church, Firth, Nebraska. He was at that time manager of the 20th Century Reformation Center. In his letter of 15 February 1961 Paashaus said he had read a review of Lewis's 'The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment' in which Lewis said 'We know one school of psychology which regards religion as a neurosis.' Which 'school' was that? asked Paashaus." My interest in this entry is personal. Though I knew a number of Lewis's correspondents by repuration and as acquaintances of acquaintances of my own. Paashaus is the only one in the whole collection I ever knew directly. When I worked as an editor at the 20th Century Reformation Center in Collingswood, New Jersey, in the mid-1960's, he was a colleague there.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, February 24, p 1242: "as the comic beatitude says 'Blessed are they that expect little for they shall not be disappointed.'"

Same, p 1243: "Two rules from Wm. Law must be always in our minds.

"1. 'There can be no surer proof of a confirmed pride than a belief that one is sufficiently humble.'

"2. 'I earnestly beseech all who conceive they have suffered an affront to believe that it is very much less than they suppose.'"

Same: "Psychological diagnoses even about human patients seem to be pretty phoney. They must be even phonier when applied to animals. You can't put a cat on a couch and make it tell you its dreams or produce words by 'free association.' Also — I have a great respect for cats — they are very shrewd people and wd. probably see through the analyst a good deal better than he'd see through them."

To Anne Jenkins, a ten-year-old girl in Belfast, Ireland, March 5, p 1244: "The whole Narnian story is about Christ. That is to say, I asked myself 'Supposing there really were a world like Narnia, and supposing it had (like our world) gone wrong, and supposing Christ wanted to go into the world and save it (as He did ours) what might have happened?

"These stories are my answer." And the rest of the letter elaborates how this is worked out in each of the Narnian tales.

To Mary Willis Shelburne, March 28, p 1249: "remember (let us look in our own hearts for the truth!) humans are v. seldom either totally sincere or totally hypocritical."

Same: "The rule is to give every one 'the benefit of the doubt' about sincerity yet at the same time to be on one's guard."

Same: "Imitation is a good guide: 'I have often repented of speech but hardly ever of silence.'" He is quoting Thomas Kempis, The Imitation of Christ.

Same, p 1250: "'My own life as a person seems definitely at an end.' I know it's easy for me to give good advice to others in situations which I probably could not face myself. But that can't be helped: I must say what I think true. Surely the main purpose of our life is to reach the point at which 'one's own life as a person' is at an end. One must in this sense 'die,' become 'naught,' relinquish one's freedom and independence. 'Not I, but Christ that dwelleth in me' — 'He must grow greater and I must grow less' — 'He that loseth his life shall find it.' But you know all this quite as well as I do."

To Jonathan Muehl (an eight-year-old correspondent from Connecticut), March 29, p 1250: "Yours is one of the nicest lietters I have had about the Narnian books, and it was very good of you to write it. But I'm afraid there will be no more of these stories. But why don't you try writing some Narnian tales? I began to write when I was about your age, and it was the greatest fun. Do try!"

To Margaret Gray, May 9, p 1265, recommending books to an atheist confronting Christianity: "And possibly (but with a grain of salt, for he is too puritanical) Wm. Law's Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life. I know the v. title makes me shudder, but we have both got a lot of shuddering to get through before we're done!"

Same: "I don't mention the Bible because I take that for granted. A modern translation is for most purposes far more useful than Authorised Version."

To Mary Van Deusen, June 5, p 1273: "Yes 'day to day' is the thing. But some days are darn long, I find!"

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 5, p 1274: "We must beware of the Past, mustn't we! I mean that any fixing of the mind on old evils beyond what is absolutely necessary for repenting our own sins and forgiving those of others is certainly useless and usually bad for us. Notice in Dante that the lost souls are entirely concerned with their past. Not so the saved. This is one of the dangers of being, like you and me, old. There's so much past, now, isn't there? And so little else. But we must try very hard not to keep on endlessly chewing the cud. We must look forward more eagerly to sloughing that old skin off forever — metaphors getting a bit minex here, but you know what I mean."

To Jocelyn Gibb, June 13, p 1275: "A work of mine will have to be posthumous indeed before the word culture appears in its title or sub-title! I can't abide it."

To Mary Willis Shelburne, June 13, p 1275: "The sooner you are all out of that man's reach the better. The curse of modern city life is that people in your situation are so alone, like in a desert. In a village the neighbours would interfere and someone wd. offer you a refuge and someone else wd. do the same for the children and someone else wd. duck D. in the horse-pond. Couldn't, or wouldn't the Kilmers or some religious house do anything? Or the police? At any rate it becomes obvious why you were led by God to join the household. L's situation wd. be a good deal more desolate if you were not there."

Note on p 1276: "Lewis and Arthur Greeves spent 22-24 June together at The Kilns. It was a poignantly satisfying meeting of old friends, the last time they were to see each other. Greeves scribbled on the margin of his next letter from Lewis that, when they met in Oxford, 'He was looking very ill.'"

volte face = French, an "about face"

Note on p 1284: "On 29 Septembger 1961 Faber and Faber of London published Lewis's A Grief Observed under the pseudonym N.W. Clerk." A full year after Lewis finished the manuscript for A Grief Observed.

To Harvey Karlsen, October 13, p 1285, a letter full of spiritual advice: "Remember the condition on which we are promised forgiveness: we shall always be forgiven provided that we forgive all who sin against us. If we do that we have nothing to fear: if we don't all else will be in vain."

To Muriel Bradbrook, October 15, p 1286: "Another book I've just read is Empson on Milton's God. We must congratulate him on making it quite clear that what he objects to is M's theology, not his art. Most anti-Miltonists are, I believe, in exactly the same predicament but don't admit — or realise — it: so that their criticism is as silly as (salva reverentia) Plato's criticism of Homer." salva reverentia = "save your reference" A footnote says that in other words Lewis is saying Empson's critique is not of Milton's writing but of Christianity generally and the Puritan ethos, particularly.

To Mary Van Deusen, October 28, p 1292: "I'd like to give you the reference but my concordance is upstairs and — my heart being one of the things that is wrong with me — I'm not allowed to go upstairs."

To Laurence Whistler, October 30, p 1293: "The unrhymed lyrics in short lines (like The Choice) I liked least. Too close to the Tum-tum-tiddle-tum of Rugby Chapel and too Eliotically gnomic. I like The Failures." Lewis is critiquing a book of poetry Whistler had sent him. In the opening, he says "I was deeply — almost unbearably — moved by much of Pt. I." My choice of the quoted passage is primarily because of its allusion to Eliot. Though by now Lewis and Eliot had become acquainted and (Sayer, I believe, says) Lewis found him a likeable person, he is not still an admirer of Eliot's work.

To Arthur Greeves, November 12, p 1295: "Midway between the two I'd put the anonymous Theologia Germanica (Macmillan's in the little blue Golden Tresury series). This is curiously like the sort of letters we used to write 45 years ago!"

To John H. McCallum, November 16, p 1296: "I refused the proposal to S.C.B. and I think I'd better abide by his decision (about Miss Hopkins, I mean). I think it makes a living author rather ridiculous to publish selections from him." S.C.B. = Spencer Curtis Brown. Miss Hopkins is an editor at Harcourt, Brace & World who wanted to publish a collection of selections from Lewis's writings.

To Clyde S. Kilby, November 18, he declines to encourage Kilby to come to England to interview him and says he doesn't have much that would interest him, suggesting that Kilby was already gathering material for the Wade Center at Wheaton College which has been a major factor in Lewis's continuing fame and influence.

To Arthur Greeves, November 24, p 1297: "Thanks for review. I always thought Herbert R. an ass, so I don't know whether to conclude that my book is bilge or to revise my opinion of H.R."

To Edward A. Allen, November 30, p 1298: "But I've no pain and am seldom either bored or depressed."

To the editor of the Church Times, published December, p 1299: "I do not know whether capital punishment should or should not be abolished, for neither the natural light, nor scripture, nor ecclesiastical authority seems to tell me. But I am concerned about the grounds on which its abolition is being sought."

Same: "The real question is whether a murderer is more likely to repent and make a good end three weeks hence in the execution shed or, say, thirty years later in the prison infirmary."

Same: "If it is, we shall be giving countenance to the archaic, and surely erroneous view that murder is primarily an offence not against society but against individuals.

"Hanging is not a more irrevocable act than any other. You can't bring an innocent man to life: but neither can you give him back the years which wrongful imprisonment has eaten."

Same: "If deterrence is all that matters, the execution of an innocent man, provided the public think him guilty, would be fully justified. If reformation alone is in question, then there is nothing against painful and compulsory reform for all our defects, and a Government which believes Christianity to be a neurosis will have a perfectly good right to hand us all over to their straighteners for 'cure' to-morrow."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, December 3, p 1300: "Every year the merciless spate of correspondence makes this season more penitential and less festal for me.

"I forget whether you know that my wife died in July." Actually, Joy had passed in July of the previous year, (July 13, 1960), a year and a half before this writing.

To the editor of the Church Times, published December, p 1302, responding to correspondence about his letter on the death penalty: "I am on neither side in the present controversy. But I still think the abolitionists conduct their case very ill. They seem incapable of stating it without imputing vile motives to their opponents. If unbelievers often look at your correspondence column, I am afraid they may carry away a bad impression of our logic, manners and charity."

To Dom Bede Griffiths, OSB, December 20, p 1303: "One thing is perhaps worth recording. I prayed that when I buried my wife my whole sexual nature shd. be buried with her, and it seems to have happened. Thus one recurrent trial has vanished from my life — an enormous liberty. Of course this may only be old age — we must not, as Bunyan says, 'mistake the decays of nature for the advances of grace.' But the liberty is a fact. It is wonderful to be able to think unrestrainedly and gratefully of the act of love without the least reawakening concupiscence.

"About Nature — you are apparently meeting, at an unusually late age, the difficulty wh. I met in adolescence and which was for years my stock against Theism. Romantic Pantheism has in this matter led us all up the garden path. It has taught us to regard Nature as divine. But she is a creature, and surely a creature lower than ourselves. And a fallen creature — not an evil creature but a good creature corrupted: retaining many beauties, but all tainted. And certainly not a creature made for our benefit (think of the spiral nebulae). The devil cd. make nothing, but has infected everything. I have always gone as near Dualism as Christianity allows — and the N.T. allows one to go v. near. The devil is the (usurping) Lord of this aeon [age]. It was he, not God, who 'bound this daughter of Abraham.'"

Same: "I think we must fully face the fact that when Christianity does not make a man v. much better, it makes him v. much worse. It is, paradoxically, dangerous to draw nearer to God. Doesn't one find in one's own experience that every advance (if one ever has advanced!) in the spiritual life opens to one the possibility of blacker sins as well as of brighter virtues? Conversion may make of one who was, if no better, no worse than an animal, something like a devil. Satan is an angel."

Same: "I am rather seriously ill. Prostate trouble, by the time it was diagnosed had already damaged my kidneys, blood, and heart, so that I'm now in a vicious circle. They can't operate till my bio-chemistry gets right and it looks as if that can't get right till they operate. I am in some danger — not sentenced but on trial for my life. I know I shall have your prayers. My temptation is not to impatience. Rather, I am far too inclined to snuggle down in the enforced idleness and other privileges of an invalid.

"Have you read anything by an American Trappist called Thomas Merton? I'm at present on his No Man is an Island. It is the best new spiritual reading I've met for a long time."

To Mary Van Deusen, December 28, p 1307: "Beware of the argument 'the Church gave the Bible (and therefore the Bible can never give us grounds for criticising the Church)' It is perfectly possible to accept B on the authority of A and yet regard B as a higher authority than A. It happens when I recommend a book to a pupil, I first sent him to the book, but, having gone to it, he knows (for I've told him) that the author knows more about that subject than I."

—Webmaster Jon Kennedy

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Today's chuckle

Psychological diagnoses even about human patients seem to be pretty phoney. They must be even phonier when applied to animals. You can't put a cat on a couch and make it tell you its dreams or produce words by 'free association.' Also — I have a great respect for cats — they are very shrewd people and wd. probably see through the analyst a good deal better than he'd see through them.

— C. S. Lewis

Thought for today

Remember the condition on which we are promised forgiveness: we shall always be forgiven provided that we forgive all who sin against us. If we do that we have nothing to fear: if we don't all else will be in vain.

— C. S. Lewis (1898 - 1963)

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