Tor.com content by

Matt Mikalatos

Not an Adventure but a Myth: C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra

Ransom realizes soon after his arrival in Perelandra that he is not on an ordinary adventure: “If a naked man and a wise dragon were indeed the sole inhabitants of this floating paradise, then this also was fitting, for at that moment he had a sensation not of following an adventure but of enacting a myth.” The echoes of Eden, of the story of Jesus, are not a mistake in Ransom’s world, not even a coincidence. He’s in a Passion Play—the medieval drama in which the players tell the story of the life and death and resurrection of the Christ.

It’s not an allegory; Lewis bristled at those who suggested this interpretation.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Demon Possession—IN SPACE! Lewis’s Perelandra as Exorcism Narrative

C.S. Lewis believed in a literal Satan. He believed in demons as living, actual beings who interacted with humanity. It was certainly common in his day that an educated person, even an educated Christian, might look at demons as a metaphor for human foibles and temptations, but Lewis had no patience for that point of view.

From Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

I know someone will ask me, “Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil—hoofs and horns and all?” Well, what the time of day has to do with it I do not know. And I am not particular about the hoofs and horns. But in other respects, my answer is “Yes, I do.” I do not claim to know anything about his personal appearance. If anybody really wants to know him better, I would say to that person, “Don’t worry. If you really want to, you will. Whether you’ll like it when you do is another question.”

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Brazen Smuggler: Biblical Allusions in C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra

“Any amount of theology can now be smuggled into people’s minds under cover of romance without their knowing it.” C.S. Lewis felt that reviews of Out of the Silent Planet largely seemed to miss the Christian underpinnings of the novel. No doubt emboldened by this, he packed Perelandra as full of Christianity and allusions as he could. In fact, Perelandra has enough Bible verses for a few months of Sunday School, and Lewis seemed to give up on disguising what he was doing at all… He could have only made it more plain by giving us a character list that included things like “Maleldil = Jesus.” But that would have been too far even for Lewis.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Worlds Beyond: How The Chronicles of Narnia Introduced Me to a Lifetime of SFF

I had come to Narnia as a kid after spending an entire year working my way through the Fellowship of the Ring. When I said “more!” to my dad, he took me to the living room and showed me seven books in a box set. I sat down and immediately thought, “Well, these are easier to read” and devoured them over the course of that summer. It had been very much like discovering a magical wardrobe in the guest room. I kept thinking, those were sitting in the living room the whole time! When I finished Narnia, I demanded to know what would be next and set out to find more books about magic or space or talking animals or time travel.

[Read more]

Strange Company: An Introduction to C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra

I was pretty nervous about re-reading Perelandra. The last time I read it, several decades ago, it was pretty firmly in the top three of Lewis’ novels for me, and I was concerned that after all these years I might discover some fatal flaw that would make the book less enjoyable, less interesting, or less fun. I’m glad to say that although there was a lot to process, and a lot of scenes I had no memory of whatsoever (there are a fair number of multi-page philosophical rambles), and although I’m still trying to wrap my brain around what exactly Lewis was saying about gender, overall I still enjoyed the book a great deal and, indeed, it’s still one of my favorites.

Perelandra was one of Lewis’ favorites of his own work, too. Multiple times throughout his life he suggested it was the best thing he had written (in his later days he’d sometimes push it to second after Till We Have Faces), and there is a lot about the novel that brings together Lewis’ particular interests, skills, and thoughts. It’s a theological book and a space adventure at the same time, and successfully does both things at once… it never feels like two books fighting with each other.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Moral Thought and Intergalactic Genocide in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

There’s a lot to uncover in Out of the Silent Planet. It’s a reflection on (or refutation of) colonialism in our own world and in science fiction, which is certainly fascinating when written in 1930s Britain. It’s an exploration of what it means to be human (or something like it). It’s an exploration of and conversation with Plato’s Republic. And all of it is leading up to (as is common in Plato’s work) a final conversation in which the final points will be made and a conclusion reached.

The culmination of Out of the Silent Planet is almost satire. It’s a presentation of why human beings think interstellar colonial practices are necessary and even praiseworthy, and it’s met with laughter, confusion, consternation, and eventually paternal concern for the poor warped humans who think colonization makes sense.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Malacandra as Utopia: Plato’s Republic as Reflected in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

We’ve spent some time already talking about Out of the Silent Planet as a critique of colonialism in the science fiction of Lewis’ time, and part of that critique is showing the “savages” on Mars to be part of a utopian society that’s not in any need of improvement that human beings can bring. “Utopia” is fun wordplay in Greek, meaning “no place” (as in, it doesn’t exist), as well as being a near homophone for “Good Place” (not referring to the sitcom). Thomas More coined the word in 1516, in his book of the same name, about an island culture where everyone gets along more or less. It’s unclear if he was serious or being satirical or maybe both.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Hnau and the Nature of Humanity in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

There’s a large part of Out of the Silent Planet that is centered around the impossibility of translating human thought processes to other intelligent beings in the galaxy. Ransom, our hero, is modeled after a certain professor friend of Lewis’ who loved long walks and philology. This, of course, was J.R.R. Tolkien. You can tell that Lewis is working hard to make sure that particular friend is going to enjoy the book. Lewis works to give the impression of a fully functioning language (or set of languages) among the Malacandrans, and includes the more deeply spiritual themes that he and “Tollers” longed for in the speculative fiction of their day.

We’ll get to the climax of the novel soon, where Ransom does his best to translate the “bent” human worldview into something understandable to the Malacandrans, but first I thought we should explore a specific Malacandran word, which the hrossa would pronounce as “hnau.”

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Colonization, Empire, and Power in C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

I was going to start out this article by saying that early science fiction was shaped by colonialism, but that’s probably understating it. Many of the tropes of science fiction and—going even further back—adventure novels are centrally located in colonialism. It’s not a huge surprise given that many of the authors were from colonizing culture or, as science fiction spread, in countries that were doing their best to get in on the colonization game. Out of the Silent Planet is no exception to this and, in fact, the book is largely shaped around a critique of H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon.

Lewis doesn’t disguise this at all. He lays all the cards out on the table that this is a novel about imperialism, colonialism, and seeing others as subhuman. We get some indications of this early on. Weston and Devine, the main antagonists are practically colonialism incarnated. Weston’s name comes from Old English, meaning “settlement.” Devine says he doesn’t care a bit about science or first contact (later we will learn he’s all about the abundant gold), but he does pay lip service to “the white man’s burden” and the “blessings of civilization” (encouraged by Kipling and critiqued by Twain).

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Bent But Not Yet Broken: C.S. Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet

When we started this series nearly two years ago, we started with the story of two friends, Jack and Tollers, walking through the woods and deciding together that if they wanted books they would enjoy—speculative fiction, essentially, but with a worldview more in line with their own—they would have to write those books themselves. They flipped a coin to see who would write about space travel, and who would write about time travel, and it was Jack who got “space.”

That’s the origin story of what would become C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy and also a little clue as to why the main character, Dr. Elwin Ransom—a professor and philologist with a fondness for long walks—resembles J.R.R. Tolkien so much.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Ordinary Saint in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce

This past weekend a “worship leader” from out of town came to Portland, where I live, to hold a big open air praise and worship service (for those not from the Christian culture, this mostly means singing and some prayer). Before the event he posted a note on Twitter about how he had a big volunteer security team (there was a lot of noise about how the evil people of Portland were supposedly going to come and threaten them). There was an American flag emoji and a strong arm emoji for emphasis. The security were described as “ex-military, ex-police, private security” and also “lovers of Jesus and freedom.” And, most disturbingly, the tweet ended with the words, “If you mess with them or our 1st amendment right to worship God—you’ll meet Jesus one way or another.” An actual threat of violence against those who would oppose them…the polar opposite of how Jesus, who this person claims to follow, would interact with anyone.

I couldn’t help but think about the two chapters of The Great Divorce we’re going to look at this week. It’s when we see at last what it looks like to meet a soul that has turned itself over to God… someone who has inhabited Heaven truly and is coming to greet one of her beloved from Earth (her husband, as it turns out). Her husband is a grotesque little spirit with a chain attached to a sort of gigantic puppet that Lewis calls The Tragedian. An actor, always trying to make the most dramatic responses to small things, a sort of mask for the person it represents.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Comforts of Hell: C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce

Hell is referred to as “home” eight times in The Great Divorce.

It’s not so bad, after all. You can make a house appear just by imagining it. If you need something, you can bring it to mind and it will materialize. There are little shops, even book shops, and there are “cinemas and fish and chip shops and advertisements and all the sorts of things they want.”

Sure, the grey rain never really ends, and the houses don’t seem to quite keep it out. But there’s plenty of space if one wants to be alone…which most people do.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Choosing Hell: C.S. Lewis, the Great Divorce, and Human Freedom

When Lewis finds the queue for the bus he has been walking in endless rain in a twilight town that is ever expanding but mostly empty. The line for the bus is something different than the monotonous city blocks, and he joins it as two others—a couple, apparently—end a disagreement by leaving the line. Others are fighting, jostling for position. Still others are disgusted by the class (or lack thereof) of the people in line. There’s a moment where someone cheats their way to a place further up in line. There’s a fistfight. Through it all there’s a sort of certainty that there won’t be room for everyone on the bus. And yet, when Lewis finally boards there’s plenty of room…indeed, it could have held every poor soul who had initially been in the line.

Lewis has made his choice and joined the tour, and others have made their choice and stayed in the grey city. The story of The Great Divorce hinges on this precisely: the choices that human beings make, and how those choices may or may not influence their place in eternity.

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Hell or Something Like It: C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce

This week in Portland, Oregon, where I live, temperature records were broken multiple times. Portland, typically the home of mild, pleasant summers, was suddenly one of the hottest places on the planet, with the temperature in my back yard reaching 114 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t help but wish for our more typical grey, rainy days. Which, as I sat down to write this article, seemed ironic given that Lewis doesn’t give us a burning Hell with flames and undying worms, but rather a soggy city with roofs that don’t keep out the wet and unpleasant, unhappy people waiting to board a bus.

“Who goes home?”

In other words, Who goes to Hell? Who goes to Heaven? Who gets in? Who’s out?

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

The Story King: How The Chronicles of Narnia Shapes the Worlds We Create

Our journey began with two friends—Jack and Tollers—walking together, and reflecting that if they wanted to find stories they loved—the kind of stories they wanted to read—then they themselves would have to write them. They went on to create a variety of works that caught our imagination and set us out walking through the woods and saying to ourselves, well, if I want more of what I love in stories I suppose I’ll have to write it myself…

[Read more]

Series: The Great C.S. Lewis Reread

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.