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First edition cover
|Author||C. S. Lewis|
|Series||The Space Trilogy|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Publisher||The Bodley Head|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||243 (hard cover)|
|Preceded by||Out of the Silent Planet|
|Followed by||That Hideous Strength|
Perelandra (also titled Voyage to Venus in a later edition published by Pan Books) is the second book in the Space Trilogy of C. S. Lewis, set on the planet of Perelandra, or Venus. It was first published in 1943.
The story starts with the philologist Elwin Ransom, some years after his return from Mars at the end of Out of the Silent Planet, receiving a new mission from the Oyarsa (the angelic ruler) of Mars. Ransom summons narrator-Lewis to his country home. Ransom explains to Lewis that he (Ransom) is to travel to Perelandra (Venus), where he is to counter some kind of attack launched by Earth's Black Archon (Satan).
Ransom is transported in a casket-like vessel seemingly made of ice, which contains only himself. He gets Lewis to blindfold him so the sunlight will not blind him once he travels beyond the earth's atmosphere. He does not wear any clothes on the journey as Oyarsa tells him clothes are unnecessary on Venus. He returns to Earth over a year later and is met by Lewis and another friend. The remainder of the story is told from Ransom's point of view, with Lewis acting as interlocutor and occasional commentator.
Ransom arrives in Venus after a journey in which he is surrounded by bright colours; the box dissolves leaving Ransom on what appears to be an oceanic paradise. One day is about 23 Earth hours, in contrast to the (roughly) 24 and 25-hour days of Earth and Mars. The sky is golden but opaque. Hence the sun cannot be seen, daylight is somewhat dimmer than on Earth, and the night is pitch black with no stars visible.
The planet is covered, so far as Ransom can at first see, by a sweet-water ocean, which is dotted with floating rafts of vegetation. These rafts resemble islands, to the extent of having plant and animal life upon them, including a kind of dragon-like creature encountered by Ransom early in his visit. However, as the rafts have no geologic foundations, they are in a constant state of motion. The planet's sole observable geological feature is a mountain called the Fixed Land.
Ransom soon meets the Queen of the planet, whose name is later revealed to be Tinidril; she is a carefree being who soon accepts him as a friend. Unlike the inhabitants of Mars in Out of the Silent Planet, she resembles a human in physical appearance with the exception of her skin colour, green; this is said to be the preferred form assumed by sentient creatures as a result of the incarnation of Maleldil, the second person of God, in human form. She and the King of the planet, who is largely unseen until the end, are the only human inhabitants and are the Eve and Adam of their world. They live on the floating raft-islands and are forbidden to sleep on the "Fixed Land".
The rafts or floating islands are indeed Paradise, not only in the sense that they provide a pleasant and care-free life but also in the sense that Ransom is for weeks and months naked in the presence of a beautiful naked woman without once lusting after her or being tempted to seduce her.
This Paradise changes when Professor Weston arrives in a spaceship and lands in a part of the ocean quite close to the Fixed Land. He at first announces to Ransom that he is a reformed man, but appears to still be in search of power. Instead of the strictly materialist attitude he displayed when first meeting Ransom, he asserts he had become aware of the existence of spiritual beings and pledges allegiance to what he calls the "Life-Force". Ransom, however, warns against Weston's position that not all spirituality is inherently good, and Weston, after a fit of pride, succumbs to full demonic possession.
In this state, the possessed Weston finds the Queen and tries to tempt her into defying Maleldil's law by spending a night on the Fixed Land. Ransom tries to counter this. Well versed in the Bible and Christian theology, Ransom realises that if the pristine Queen, who has never heard of Evil, succumbs to the tempter's arguments, the Fall of Man will be re-enacted on Perelandra. He struggles through day after day of lengthy arguments tempting the Queen to spiritual pride, as the demonic Weston shows super-human brilliance in debate (though when "off-duty" he displays moronic, asinine behaviour and petty cruelty) and moreover appears never to need sleep.
With the demonic Weston on the verge of winning, the desperate Ransom senses in the night what he gradually realises is a Divine command to battle the Tempter physically, hand to hand. The bookish Ransom is afraid, and debates for hours with the divine inner voice. A curious twist is introduced here; although Ransom knows that his name derives historically from "Ranolf's Son", God reminds him that the Passion of Jesus was a ransom for humanity, and Ransom's name was actually arranged to foreshadow his present role. Inspired, Ransom decides to confront the Tempter outright.
With no weapons to hand, Ransom attacks his opponent with clumsy punches and kicks. Weston's body is defeated despite the Tempter's superior guile, and he flees. Ultimately Ransom chases Weston over the ocean on the backs of giant friendly fish. During a feigned truce, the "real" Weston temporarily re-emerges to recount his experience of Hell, the horror of being "digested" into the Devil, losing all independent existence.
The moment Ransom is distracted by horror and pity, the demon takes Ransom by surprise and nearly drowns him. The chase continues into a cavern, where Ransom seemingly kills Weston's body and, believing his quest over, searches for the surface. Weston's body, horribly injured but still animated by the Tempter, follows him. When they meet for the last time in another cavern, Ransom defeats a psychological assault by a gruesome apparition, and finally throws Weston into the volcanic flames.
Returning to the surface, Ransom recuperates from his injuries, except for a bite on his heel which continues bleeding for the rest of his life. Ransom carves a memorial inscription for Weston, to commemorate his scientific achievements and pioneering space travel, though also recording his surrender to the Devil.
Ransom meets the King and Queen together with the Oyéresu of Mars and Venus, the latter of whom transfers dominion of the planet to the King and Queen. All the characters celebrate the prevention of a second biblical "Fall" and the beginning of a utopian paradise in this new world. The story climaxes with Ransom's vision of "The Great Dance": the exchange of higher and lower, as when an advisor gives power to a royal child. This is an allegory of life, and possibly of the nature of God, and alludes to the journey of Dante in the Divine Comedy.
His mission finished, Ransom reluctantly returns to Earth; his new mission is to continue to fight evil on its home territory: the Earth.
- 1943, UK, The Bodley Head, N/A, 20 April 1943, hardback (first edition)
- 1996, USA, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-83365-4, pub date ? October 1996, hardback
- 2003, USA, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 978-0-7432-3491-7, pub date 7 April 2003, paperback
- 2012, USA, HarperCollins, ISBN 9780062196934, Publication date April 2012, electronic book
- Unabridged reading by Alex Jennings broadcast on BBC Radio 7's The Seventh Dimension in 18 parts, originally 2003, repeated 2008.
- Downing, David C., Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C. S. Lewis's Ransom Trilogy. University of Massachusetts Press, 1992. ISBN 0-87023-997-X