Perelandra

by

C. S. Lewis

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Perelandra Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on C. S. Lewis's Perelandra. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of C. S. Lewis

Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis was born in Northern Ireland to Albert James Lewis, a solicitor, and Flora Lewis, the daughter of a Church of Ireland clergyman. Growing up, Lewis—who adopted the nickname “Jack” as a young boy—lived in a house in East Belfast that his parents and brother Warren called Little Lea. As a child, Lewis loved spending time in his father’s massive library, and he lost his mother to cancer around the age of 10. Lewis entered Oxford University in 1916, but he was soon sent to France to fight in World War I. He was injured in 1918 and thereafter returned to Oxford, where he studied classics, philosophy, and English literature. From 1925–1954, he taught English literature in Oxford’s Magdalen College. Though Lewis had been a staunch atheist since his teen years, he became a Christian in 1931 and remained a committed member of the Church of England for the rest of his life. During World War II, he delivered a series of radio addresses that became the basis for his famous work of apologetics, Mere Christianity. In 1954, Lewis became chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University’s Magdalene College. Later in life, Lewis married Joy Davidman Gresham, an American woman with whom he had corresponded. She died just a few years later, in 1960, and Lewis passed away in 1963.
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Historical Context of Perelandra

When Ransom refers to the Earth’s eldils “taking sides” in human events (and also to English boys giving their lives), Lewis is almost certainly referring to the events of World War II, which was well underway by the time he began writing Perelandra. Like Ransom’s character, Lewis was also a World War I veteran and no stranger to the struggle with fear and perseverance in the face of death that Ransom mentions throughout. Like the semi-fictionalized “Lewis” in the novel, Lewis was an Oxford (later Cambridge) academic who deeply valued the friendships he forged in that setting: he was a member and sometimes host of an informal but influential literary circle known as the Inklings, which included English writers like J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, Nevill Coghill, and Owen Barfield.

Other Books Related to Perelandra

Lewis’s Space Trilogy was partially inspired by, and written in critique of, the science fiction of H. G. Wells, especially his War of the Worlds (1897). Perelandra was also preceded by The Abolition of Man, a series of lectures Lewis delivered a few months earlier; the lectures’ ideas on objective value and the nature of scientific knowledge were expressed in fictional form in the third of the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. Several years later, Lewis began writing his widely beloved Chronicles of Narnia series for children, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, which, like the Space Trilogy series, incorporates Christian ideas into a fantasy universe. Among Lewis’s nonfiction works, Mere Christianity, which originated as a series of radio broadcasts during World War II, discusses the theological ideas indirectly dealt with throughout Perelandra. Though Lewis’s work is science fiction, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time are fantasy works that draw on Christian ideas in a similar way.
Key Facts about Perelandra
  • Full Title: Perelandra, also known as Voyage to Venus
  • When Written: 1941–1942
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1943
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Science Fiction, Christian Speculative Fiction
  • Setting: England, Perelandra (Venus)
  • Climax: Ransom destroys the Un-man in the cave.
  • Antagonist: Weston/Weston’s body/the Un-Man; Evil and Sin
  • Point of View: First Person and Third-Person Limited

Extra Credit for Perelandra

Wellsianity. In the Space Trilogy, Lewis critiqued what he referred to as “Wellsianity,” the worldview promoted by the science fiction of H. G. Wells, particularly in The War of the Worlds, which involves a Martian attack on Earth. One of Lewis’s primary critiques of Wells is that, whereas Wells sees human beings as rightfully dominant because of their evolutionary position and scientific achievements, Lewis portrays human beings as sinful and fallen—he sees people’s abuse of science and technology to dominate both other humans and other worlds as clear evidence of this fact.

Sister Penelope. The dedication of Perelandra is to “some ladies at Wantage.” This refers to a group of Anglican nuns, the Community of St. Mary the Virgin, who lived south of Oxford. Lewis had received fan mail from one of the nuns, Sister Penelope, after he wrote Out of the Silent Planet, and he even gave a talk at the convent in April, 1942, while working on Perelandra. He and Sister Penelope kept up a warm epistolary friendship for decades.