Ransom lights a candle, allowing Lewis to recognize the object he’d tripped over as a large, open casket. Ransom apologizes for failing to meet Lewis at the station—he hadn’t meant for Lewis to make that journey alone. He explains that Lewis experienced a “barrage” from Earth’s eldila, who know what’s going on and didn’t want Lewis to get through. He tells Lewis it’s best to ignore the things they try to put into one’s head.
The resistance Lewis felt on his way to Ransom’s cottage wasn’t just his own fear or doubt; hostile beings were besieging him—a hint that, in the story, resistance to temptation will not simply be a matter of mastering one’s own emotions but of fighting against external forces, too. Sometimes, this is simply a matter of recognizing such forces to be liars.
As they get supper, Ransom explains that the coffin is his vehicle for the journey into space. He’s not returning to Malacandra, though he’d give anything to see it again. Instead he’s being sent to Perelandra, or the planet Venus. He reminds Lewis that the Oyarsa of Malacandra had hinted that Earth’s isolation from other planets might be ending. This is because the “two sides”—the bad eldils occupying earth and the good eldils of Deep Heaven—are beginning to reveal themselves more clearly through their influences on Earth’s affairs. In addition, Earth’s Oyarsa is considering some sort of attack on Perelandra. That’s why Ransom has been ordered to go there by someone “higher up.” He doesn’t know what he’ll do when he arrives.
The good eldils are something like angelic beings, and the bad ones are like demons. Ransom suggests that these two sides are directly affecting earthly events—this is the first implicit suggestion of World War II, which was raging while Lewis wrote the novel. This isn’t to suggest a purely black-and-white, good-and-bad dichotomy between, say, British and Germans—Lewis would say that everyone is corrupted by sin—but to suggest that one side furthers the goals of the bad eldils more than the other. Also, despite Earth’s isolation and most humans’ obliviousness to worlds beyond, earthly events have repercussions far beyond this world.
Ransom points out that the Bible refers to people having to fight “principalities and powers.” Lewis argues that this refers simply to moral conflict, prompting Ransom to burst out laughing. Ransom replies that, while it’s true that people have usually encountered the Dark eldila in psychological or moral forms, that doesn’t mean the same will hold true throughout every phase of the “war.” If indeed Earth is entering a new phase of the conflict, then perhaps the enemy will have to be fought in a different mode.
Here, Ransom refers to a verse in the Book of Ephesians from the New Testament: “For we wrestle […] against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness.” Lewis, in keeping with his eminently reasonable character, takes this language metaphorically. Overturning expectations, though, Ransom sees Lewis as the naïve one for holding this view, which he suggests is a sign of complacency in the fight against evil.
Ransom’s selection for this task, he says, is not for any special reason. It’s probably because, when he was previously kidnapped and sent to Malacandra, it gave him the chance to master the Old Solar language, the old common speech of the solar system. Otherwise, he knows very little about Perelandra—just that it’s hot (he’ll be naked for the duration of his trip), and that details of the planet’s movements, like the length of its days, remain a mystery. He’s excited to find out more.
Ransom’s point is that, when a person is chosen to carry out some task in accordance with God’s will, often there’s little room for pride in having been so selected; the reasoning is often mundane or mysterious. One must simply trust in the higher power (Maleldil in the world of the novel), accepting that this involves unknowns and adventure.
Now Ransom explains that it’s Lewis’s job to pack Ransom into the coffin and then stand by to await his return and unpack him. The Oyarsa of Malacandra will propel the coffin to Perelandra—Ransom doesn’t know how exactly. Lewis feels frightened again, and Ransom agrees that although he believes, objectively, that the Oyarsa will do as he’s promised, Ransom still feels afraid. Ransom doesn’t know how long he’ll be gone—it could be as little as a few months, or it could be decades. Part of Lewis’s burden, then, will be to choose a trustworthy successor in case he should die before Ransom’s return.
Ransom’s reaction to Maleldil’s plan suggests that, besides wonder, there’s often fear involved in the adventure of following Maleldil’s will. But fear, Ransom argues, isn’t antithetical to faith. Faced with such unknowns, it’s natural for a human being to feel afraid, because they lack Maleldil’s perspective on what will happen. But even a fearful person can still authentically trust in Maleldil and act on that trust be obeying him.
The two men spend the rest of the night going over practical details to be taken care of in Ransom’s absence. Lewis is presented to the Oyarsa and “sworn in.” Then they lug the big casket into the chilly dawn. Lewis ties a black bandage around Ransom’s head to protect his eyes from the sun and then fastens the lid onto the casket. The next thing Lewis knows, he’s alone—the casket has vanished. He goes back inside and vomits.
Ransom’s preparations for departure, what with setting his affairs in order, the bandage, and the coffin-like conveyance, feel jarringly similar to his death. This reinforces the sense that he’s embarking on an unprecedented kind of adventure and won’t return the same, if he does return at all. Even Lewis’s simple role makes him feel complicit in that “death,” which is why he vomits.
A little more than a year later—a year filled with war and cruelties—Oyarsa comes to Lewis. Then he and Humphrey, Ransom’s trusted doctor, find themselves once again in Ransom’s garden. The casket descends from the sky and quietly lands between them. They hastily pry the lid off. After a moment, Ransom, covered with red flowers, sits up and greets them. He looks 10 years younger. He’s also bleeding from one of his heels. After Ransom washes up and dresses, Lewis pours tea, and Ransom begins his story.
Ransom’s adventure takes place against the backdrop of ongoing world war, implying that, even though he’s not directly engaged in warfare, his actions elsewhere aren’t irrelevant to struggles on Earth. The contrast between Ransom’s renewed youth and his wound is jarring—signs of brokenness and renewal side by side—creating a sense of expectation for the story to come. From this point forward, Lewis will narrate Ransom’s story as Ransom relates it to him.