Weston stands there scowling authoritatively, as if he belongs here, and Ransom can’t help admiring the man’s egoism. He’s then shocked to hear Weston addressing the Green Lady in Old Solar. On Malacandra, Weston had no proficiency in the language. Ransom feels that his sole advantage has been taken away. Nevertheless, Weston and the Lady don’t seem to be understanding each other very well.
From his first introduction, Weston has the look of a man who, unlike Ransom, doesn’t consider himself a guest but rather intends to make this world his own. His attitude about exploration completely lacks the sense of wonder that has marked Ransom’s time on Perelandra.
But when Ransom begins to follow the Lady off the island, Weston stops him by holding up a revolver. Ransom urges the Green Lady to go. Weston accuses Ransom of seducing a native girl, and Ransom finds the accusation so ludicrous that he hardly deigns to respond. He tells Weston that he’d better just get on with “whatever butcheries and robberies you have come to do.” Weston puts his revolver back in his holster and tells Ransom that he does him an “injustice.” Since his visit to Malacandra, he claims, he has rethought the whole “interplanetary problem.”
From the threatened use of a gun to the assumption that Ransom’s only business with the Green Lady could be sexual in nature, Weston’s sensibilities feel totally out of place in the innocent world of Perelandra. Especially compared to Ransom’s attitude toward the planet, Weston’s very presence seems to taint its atmosphere.
Ransom is inclined to laugh at Weston’s arrogance, but he figures that any show of humility, even one that’s mostly false, should be encouraged, so he asks Weston to explain. They sit down at Weston’s campsite on the beach, and Weston begins to lecture. Ransom finds the feel of a Cambridge lecture room to be quite ludicrous under the circumstances, but Weston appears to be utterly fixed on his goal.
Weston seems quite oblivious to Perelandra itself, taking little notice of the practically unexplored world on which he’s just landed. Ironically (and humorously), he’s totally focused on teaching Ransom a lesson about the nature of interplanetary exploration instead.
Weston begins by explaining that he never took an interest in the field of biology until he reached his 50s. He has never been interested in knowledge for its own sake, he explains; he always sought “utility”—and now his object is the utility of the human race, which necessarily involves interplanetary travel. After his time on Malacandra, Weston reflected that he had always drawn an arbitrary distinction between Man and non-human Nature. Now, he has begun to see all things as one. And all things are part of an “unconsciously purposive dynamism.”
Weston’s attitude toward knowledge is itself a departure from that of C. S. Lewis, who, in writings like The Abolition of Man, criticized utilitarian approaches to education and knowledge. Weston’s view of humanity and exploration typifies such approaches, in that he sees people and other planets as means to an end—though what end he envisions is still unclear.
Realizing this, Weston concluded that his devotion to Man was a dead end. By himself, Man is nothing, but “Life,” or “spirituality,” is everything. Weston’s goal now is the forward movement of spirituality. He works for “Spirit”—or, to use language Ransom might prefer, the Holy Spirit. When Ransom asks for clarification, Weston claims that there’s really no difference between him and Ransom except for “a few outworn theological technicalities.” But Weston claims to have broken through those technicalities to penetrate their inner meaning.
Weston uses language in a vague, imprecise way that mostly serves to obscure meaning rather than clarifying it. It allows him to gloss over major differences in belief with the claim that both he and Ransom are ultimately talking about the same thing when they refer to “spirituality.” In actuality, their views couldn’t be more different—Ransom is talking about God, while Weston is talking, somewhat incoherently, about human potential.
Ransom objects that for a Christian like himself, “blind, inarticulate purposiveness” is not at all what’s meant by “the Holy Spirit.” But Weston brushes this off, arguing that it’s difficult for Ransom to understand that science is rediscovering the so-called inner truths of religion, but that in fact, they really are talking about the same thing. He says that the “failure to recognize one’s own friends” is a weakness of “organized religion.”
Ransom points out that for a Christian, the Holy Spirit is one of the persons of the Trinity, not the source of a vague “spirituality.” Weston just classifies this as outdated religious talk, a failure to acknowledge that modern science is an ally to traditional faith rather than an enemy.
The “spirit” Weston is talking about, he goes on, is something like “mind,” “freedom,” or “spontaneity,” which he claims is the goal toward which the entire cosmos is moving. Ransom asks if this “spirit” is personal in any way. In response, Weston assumes a secretive tone. He says that this is what most people don’t understand—while it shouldn’t be anthropomorphized, there is a dark “Force” that pours into its chosen instruments. He, himself, has been chosen and guided by this force all along.
Weston’s understanding of “spirituality” doesn’t really become clearer. In fact, it becomes increasingly dark and obviously not the same thing Ransom means by the Spirit.
Ransom cautions Weston that not all “spirits” are good. Christians worship God, he explains, because they believe God is good, not primarily because he’s a “spirit.” The devil is a spirit, too, after all. Weston seizes on this point—popular religion’s “dualism” between opposites, like God and the devil, is unnecessary. He argues that such dualisms are more like two-sided “portraits” of “Spirit,” so the “devil” and “God” are just two pictures of the same “Force.”
Weston continues to sail past Ransom’s efforts at clarification, arguing that this vague spiritual “Force” is somehow both good and evil at the same time and that old-fashioned religious distinctions are meaningless.
Ransom says that if Weston really means all this, then it seems to him a terrible mistake. He hopes that Weston is really speaking metaphorically after all. How does Weston know, he asks, that he’s really being guided by some external Force? Weston says he's surrendered himself to the guidance of this Life-Force, allowing himself to become a conductor of it. People who do this are always reviled and rejected. Ransom asks if this means that the Force is making Weston do things that ordinary people would consider to be “diabolical.” Weston says that Ransom is being too simplistic, and that ordinary people always misunderstand the great, who always transcend mere moralism.
Weston portrays himself as a kind of misunderstood martyr to the cause of the so-called Life Force, whose ways transcend the mundane views of the simple and ignorant.
Ransom ponders how far this really goes. If this “Life-Force” told him to, would Weston murder him? Or sell England to the Germans, or publish lies in a reputable scientific journal? Weston says “yes” to all these and maintains that Ransom’s problem is that he can’t conceive of “a commitment to something which utterly overrides all our petty ethical pigeon-holes.”
Through his questions, Ransom demonstrates that Weston’s so-called Life Force must be diabolical, as it would readily demand lies, betrayal, and death. Weston continues to claim that Ransom’s misgivings can be chalked up to small-mindedness. On another note, the mention of England and Germany is another subtle reference to World War II, which was raging on while Lewis was penning this novel.
Ransom seizes on this point, trying to find common ground in the shared sense of “commitment” to something bigger than oneself. This enrages Weston. He tells Ransom he is an idiot who insists on making a distinction between self and the universe. As a conductor of the Life-Force, Weston is the universe, and as such, he is Ransom’s God and Devil. “I call that Force into me completely,” he says, and at this, his face contorts horribly, and he vomits. For the briefest moment, Ransom thinks he sees the old Weston’s eyes looking at him, but then Weston goes into convulsions and collapses. Ransom, not knowing what else to do, picks up Weston’s revolver and flings it into the ocean. Then, lonely, discouraged, and confused, he settles down for the night. The Fixed Land, which seemed at first like a paradise, now seems nothing but forbidding.
Ransom’s subordination of the self to a greater power triggers Weston’s fury because, it seems, the Force inside him doesn’t want to be second to anyone else. Whatever remains of Weston’s personality, it’s apparently now consumed by that Force to which he’s surrendered himself—there’s nothing left but evil, showing that Weston’s attempt to erase the distinction between good and evil was nonsense. Protecting the Green Lady and her world from this wicked creature is now Ransom’s burden.