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Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra by C.…

Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra

by C. S. Lewis

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In a lesser writer’s hands, this book would have been deadly dull. In Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra an everyman is instructed in perfect Christianity by prelapsarian alien species. The novels are mostly composed of philosophical discussions (why do your people not find the greatest joy in obeying God in all ways?) and narrations of the everyman’s thoughts (Isn’t corrupt, petty MAN really the beast, not these gentle savages?).

These passages are separated from each other by descriptions of Martian and Venusian landscapes, which are Edens of a sort. Everything there was created for the sustenance or education of the people: there are no bugs, no poisonous plants, and few animals which are not there to enrich people’s senses or teach them some kind of lesson by their existence. All vegetable matter is edible. After a while, there was a kind of sterility to these landscapes: watch, wonder, and eat whatever is at hand. For example, on Mars our everyman learns courage and manliness by killing a dangerous animal. There is only one kind of dangerous animal on this planet, and Lewis and his God put it there solely so our protagonist can learn courage and manliness by killing it. It doesn’t have its own aims or interests; it’s just an instrument for the spiritual education of the characters.

Then, of course, there’s the sexism. On Venus, our everyman attempts to avert the planet’s Fall of Man, and there’s a lot of talk about how ‘Eve’ should triumph by bearing children and obeying, not by attempting any heroic deeds. In her uncorrupted state, she seems to think that perhaps she should just wait until her husband shows up, and ask him about all of this first.

It’s not quite right to call this series an allegory – the characters aren’t simply metaphors for states of mind or characters from Christian myth. I do get tired of Lewis’ rude atheists. It is possible to be an atheist without being a boorish, mean, amoral (or evil) person who laughs at Christians and kicks puppies.

Lewis is brilliant at describing mental states and the small, betraying ways we fail in our treatment of others. He describes a good man, and I can only agree, though I know that he wouldn’t feel the same about my description of a good man. His insight combined with his gift for narrative and clean, beautiful prose make all but the most abstract passages of the book compelling, if frustrating. ( )
  Cynara | Jun 28, 2010 |
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