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"Perelandra" (Space Trilogy) - C.S. Lewis' Masterpiece of Science Fiction
Everyone knows Aslan, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy these days! The Chronicles of Narnia have caught on recently and the author has received more publicity than he had for years. Clive Staples Lewis has to be considered one of the top writers and thinkers of the 20th Century, Christian or secular. His books are known worldwide, especially in the realm of theology and children's fantasy with the "Chronicles of Narnia". " Mere Christianity", "The Screwtape Letters", and "Till We Have Faces" are other well-known and influential books by Lewis and all are worthy and excellent books. Everyone should read "Mere Christianity" and "The Screwtape Letters" at least once in their life, even if they are not a Christian. These books force you to consider what truth is and what to do about it. But, they are not his best, in my opinion
There is another series that is more obscure and not adequately appreciated, but stands out to any science fiction reader, especially a reader who may be tired of science fiction that promotes an atheistic viewpoint, as many sci-fi books do. This series is The Space Trilogy, and it stands as the highest point of Lewis' work. The three books in this trilogy are "Out of the Silent Planet", "Perelandra", and "That Hideous Strength". Each book may be read on its own with full enjoyment, although they do follow in chronological order, with certain aspects explained as the trilogy moves. All three books are excellent, but "Perelandra" stands out as the masterpiece of the series.
A man named "Ransom" - Dr. Elwin Ransom - is the main character in the first two books and a secondary, but very important player in the final book. In “Perelandra”, Ransom is sent to the planet Venus, called Perelandra in the Old Solar language, to do a task. This task turns out to include a re-enactment of the Garden of Eden on Perelandra, where "Eve" is the first “created” (Lewis was a theistic evolutionist at the time, so it was a combination created-evolved) woman on Perelandra. The serpent is a scientist known to Ransom who has, by gross misuse of modernism, scientific ideas, and progressive evolution, opened himself up to demonic/satanic influence. Ransom is assigned the task of presenting God’s truth to prevent "Eve" from falling into sin. In the process, Lewis brings up a number of important concepts related to God, theology, and the role of modernism and science, and superstition.
The concept of obedience to God is covered in a new light, asking “Why does God want us to be obedient to Him?” Is the command given for God’s purposes or for man's good, and in either case, how does this affect our view of God? Part of the answer given is that God commands obedience, not because He needs it, but so that we can see that we follow Him through love. This isn’t the only reason, but part of the reason.
A major issue covered is the relationship of science and modernism and its accompanying philosophical conclusions. Science for the sake of understanding the world or the discovery of new ideas and concepts is a wonderful thing. Science without the restrictions of religion and morality, though, can lead to very problematical conclusions. The scientist in “Perelandra” was a traditional modernist – only what he could see existed – and had only the best interests of humanity at heart, but this concern unalloyed with compassion allowed him to previously kidnap Ransom and kill numerous sentient creatures without any compunction so that humans could travel from planet to planet and never worry about the earth or, eventually, sun dying. He wanted the human race to last forever at any cost. He eventually changed his mind, from reading essentially progressive evolutionary, almost new-age materials and came to believe that there was a universal spirit and that spirit had prepared him for a purpose. That purpose proved to substitute for the serpent as a representative of Satan in Perelandra. Ransom’s response to his nemesis and his conversations with God (“Maleldil”) prove to be some of the most fascinating theological aspects of the book. While Lewis was concerned with Modernism at the time, there is much to compare with postmodernism and newer concepts.
There is much more to “Perelandra” than theological and philosophical concepts - it is after all, a science fiction book. Action fills the book - Lewis is most evidently not a pacifist, and it shows, but Ransom is not a hero either. He just does what he has to do, which is the very definition of a man. The descriptive language is more than worth the reading. Lewis was a master of the English language and some of his description, especially near the last third of the book, are breathtaking. The first time I ever read "Perelandra", I had tears in my eyes the last portion of the book, not because the story was sad, but because of the beauty of his words and the glory and holiness of God. The book stands on its own as an excellent example of a thinking man’s science fiction story, and is among the best I have ever read. If you are a science fiction lover, pick it up sometime – you’ll be glad you did!