Saturday, November 2, 2013

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

Title: Perelandra (Space Trilogy #2)
Author: C.S. Lewis
Series: Space Trilogy
Original Publication Date: December 1943
Source: BYU Bookstore

What Goodreads has to say:
The second book in C. S. Lewis's acclaimed Space Trilogy, which also includes Out of the Silent Planet and That Hideous Strength, Perelandra continues the adventures of the extraordinary Dr. Ransom. Pitted against the most destructive of human weaknesses, temptation, the great man must battle evil on a new planet -- Perelandra -- when it is invaded by a dark force. Will Perelandra succumb to this malevolent being, who strives to create a new world order and who must destroy an old and beautiful civilization to do so? Or will it throw off the yoke of corruption and achieve a spiritual perfection as yet unknown to man? The outcome of Dr. Ransom's mighty struggle alone will determine the fate of this peace-loving planet.
What I have to say:
I feel that I am not qualified to say anything about this book. It was so amazingly wonderful that anything I can say about it would be of little worth and far below the truth. I cannot express in words what I felt while reading this book. However, with the knowledge that, “about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible,” I now proceed.

This is the second book in C.S. Lewis' space trilogy, but it can be read on its own without any
knowledge of the other two books. In fact, Lewis makes this point in the preface. I myself have not read either of the other books, though I did start Out of the Silent Planet and never finished it (I still hope to one day). Unlike Out of the Silent Planet, which was good but which I had a little trouble getting into, Perelandra had me riveted from the first chapter, and as it went on, I found myself enjoying it more and more and becoming more and more involved in the characters and plot.

Ransom, the hero of the book, is a very strong character: brave, determined, intelligent, and entertaining, while still remaining extremely human and relate-able. He is not perfect, and he has his flaws; he's a middle-aged Cambridge professor who has been called upon to help save a world, so of course he has his moments of weakness and doubt. But what makes his character truly admirable is that he overcomes his doubts and presses forward despite his weaknesses. Called upon to do what he believes to be impossible, he devotes his whole heart and soul to the mission. Chapter 11, which details the struggle Ransom goes through as he first tries to shrug off an assignment which he regards as impossible, then eventually accepts his role and realizes that, no matter how hard the task is, he has the capacity to do it, was for me the most compelling and moving section of the novel. (Did I mention that Ransom is supposedly based on Lewis' friend J.R.R. Tolkien? Yet another reason to read the book.)

But that's not to say that Chapter 11 was the only part of the book which I enjoyed, or even that it was the best part. The whole novel is filled with wonderful parts. For example, the descriptions of Perelandra (the planet on which the story takes place) were beautiful and imaginatively provocative, and the descriptions of the primary villain of the novel, the Un-man, were deliciously terrifying. But it gets better. Perelandra is not simply a well-written sci-fi novel complete with beautiful descriptions, or a thrilling story complete with suspense and horror; it is an account of the struggle, between good and evil, for a world, and it contains passages, relevant to everyone who has ever lived, that will make you catch your breath in wonder and understanding. For a sampling, consider this line from Chapter 6: “Every joy is beyond all others. The fruit we are eating is always the best fruit of all,” or this one from Chapter 9: “Whatever you do, He will make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you had obeyed him.”

In short, if you want a beautiful, well-written novel which is also a terrifying sci-fi thriller and which ends in a way that will cause you to see everything in a whole new light, try Perelandra. After all, C.S. Lewis himself regarded it as his finest book for a long time (at least until he wrote “Till We Have Faces,” but that's a review for another day).


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