In Perelandra, the second of C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy series, philologist Elwin Ransom is sent to the planet of Perelandra, or Venus, for unknown reasons. While there, Ransom delights in the wonder of this unexplored, uncorrupted planet. His attitude toward Perelandra—and indeed toward reality as a whole—contrasts with that of Professor Weston, the novel’s antagonist, who arrives on Perelandra after Ransom does. As the novel unfolds, Weston reveals his desire to subdue the planet for his own villainous ends, as he is caught up in the larger interplanetary battle between good and evil. By contrasting Ransom’s and Weston’s attitudes about space exploration, Lewis makes a larger claim about the trajectory of the universe. He argues that an attitude of grateful wonder accords with God’s ultimately triumphant plan for the universe, while a demanding, destructive attitude resists God’s plan and is ultimately ruinous for those who persist in it.
The novel praises those who receive whatever is given to them with an attitude of reverence and gratitude. Soon after his arrival on Perelandra, Ransom becomes enchanted by the fairytale wonder of his surroundings, including creatures like a tame dragon: “The golden beast at his side seemed no longer either a danger or a nuisance. […] To be the figure that he was in this unearthly pattern appeared sufficient.” In other words, Ransom’s ability to see this world as “enchanted,” with an attitude of wonder and gratitude, transcends fear of the unknown and even his own significance. This attitude allows him to not only delight in Maleldil’s creation, but to participate in Maleldil’s triumphant plan for this flawless world.
In the novel, the opposite of this kind of openminded wonder plays out as a desire for conquest—a desire to control the universe rather than humbly receiving whatever Maleldil gives. What makes this attitude so harmful is that it both oppresses others and tricks one into thinking that one can attain godlike power. This desire for conquest, argues Lewis, is ultimately rooted in the fear of death: Weston was “obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of [science fiction]. It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area […] a dream begotten by the hatred of death[.]” Unlike Ransom’s attitude of grateful wonder toward Maleldil’s creation, Weston is not interested in exploration for its own sake. Rather, he desires to use other planets and their inhabitants for his own purposes. In Lewis’s view, that includes proliferating the human species and its corruptions across the galaxies, whether that is what God intends or not.
Weston explains to Ransom that his desire to conquer the universe is guided by a new kind of spirituality that supersedes antiquated categories of right and wrong. As Weston explains, some vague “Life-Force” directs this striving for greatness, something that small-mindedly “moral” people can’t understand within their limited categories. He claims that what ordinary people see as “diabolical” actually transcends categories of good and evil. He even admits to Ransom that he would be willing to lie, betray his country, and commit murder for the sake of such “morality.” In other words, then, Weston sees basic morality as obsolete in the quest to explore and subdue the universe. Ransom perceives that, in fact, its selfishness makes Weston’s new “spirituality” demonic in essence. This “spirituality” is just a veneer for Weston’s old desire to dominate other worlds and creatures.
The novel highlights how a person’s basic attitude—whether of wonder or of greed—either goes along with God’s triumphant plan for the world or resists it. It’s only as Maleldil’s (God’s) plans for the universe come to fruition that the reasons behind his plans become clear. As the Green Lady (one of Perelandra’s first rational beings) realizes when she is crowned Perelandra’s first Queen, Maleldil always had a reason for forbidding her from living on the Fixed Land, the oceanic planet’s only stable landmass—it was to teach her to trust his ways: “[W]hy should I desire the Fixed except […] to be able on one day to command where I should be the next[?] It was to reject the wave—to draw my hands out of Maleldil's[.]” In other words, one must trust Maleldil’s goodness and receive the “wave” of life with gratitude, instead of stubbornly desiring what God has forbidden.
In fact, Maleldil’s reasons transcend individual destinies. Even the events recounted in the Christian Bible, which took place on Earth, are part of this, and those events are connected to events on Perelandra, too. At the end of the novel, Ransom, the King and Queen, and the good eldila celebrate this confluence of events, proclaiming together, "In the Fallen World [Earth] He prepared for Himself a body and was united with the Dust [humanity] and made it glorious for ever. Blessed be He!" The Christian belief in the creation of the world, as well as Christ’s redemption of that world, bears fruit in other worlds in wondrous ways that the inhabitants of both worlds can only celebrate with humble gratitude. With this, the novel again emphasizes that an attitude of wonder goes with the flow of God’s work in the world, as opposed to a selfish one which resists that work.
Lewis’s argument about wonder accords with his attitude about science fiction more generally. He suggests that Weston’s obsession with conquest echoes the tone of much contemporary science fiction, which often showcases a desire to venture beyond earth with the goal of subduing other lands and spreading human life and ideas indefinitely and indiscriminately. This contrasts with Ransom’s readiness to die in the cause of space exploration, because he trusts that more important aims are at stake than his own survival or, indeed, even the survival of the human race.
Exploration, Wonder, and God’s Plan ThemeTracker
Exploration, Wonder, and God’s Plan Quotes in Perelandra
“I'll tell you how I look at it. Haven't you noticed how in our own little war here on earth, there are different phases, and while any one phase is going on people get into the habit of thinking and behaving as if it was going to be permanent? But really the thing is changing under your hands all the time, and neither your assets nor your dangers this year are the same as the year before. Now your idea that ordinary people will never have to meet the Dark Eldila in any form except a psychological or moral form—as temptations or the like—is simply an idea that held good for a certain phase of the cosmic war: the phase of the great siege, the phase which gave to our planet its name of Thulcandra, the silent planet. But supposing that phase is passing? In the next phase it may be anyone's job to meet them . . . well, in some quite different mode."
He had confidence in those who had sent him there, and for the meantime the coolness of the water and the freedom of his limbs were still a novelty and a delight; but more than all these was something else at which I have already hinted and which can hardly be put into words—the strange sense of excessive pleasure which seemed somehow to be communicated to him through all his senses at once. I use the word "excessive" because Ransom himself could only describe it by saying that for his first few days on Perelandra he was haunted, not by a feeling of guilt, but by surprise that he had no such feeling. There was an exuberance or prodigality of sweetness about the mere act of living which our race finds it difficult not to associate with forbidden and extravagant actions.
Such was the refreshment that he seemed to himself to have been, till now, but half awake. When he opened his eyes—which had closed involuntarily at the shock of moisture—all the colours about him seemed richer and the dimness of that world seemed clarified. A re-enchantment fell upon him. The golden beast at his side seemed no longer either a danger or a nuisance. 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. To be the figure that he was in this unearthly pattern appeared sufficient.
He was a man obsessed with the idea which is at this moment circulating all over our planet in obscure works of "scientifiction," in little Interplanetary Societies and Rocketry Clubs […] It is the idea that humanity, having now sufficiently corrupted the planet where it arose, must at all costs contrive to seed itself over a larger area: that the vast astronomical distances which are God's quarantine regulations, must somehow be overcome. This for a start. But beyond this lies the sweet poison of the false infinite—the wild dream that planet after planet, system after system, in the end galaxy after galaxy can be forced to sustain, everywhere and for ever, the sort of life which is contained in the loins of our own species—a dream begotten by the hatred of death[.]
It snapped like a violin string. Not one rag of all this evasion was left. Relentlessly, unmistakably, the Darkness pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. His journey to Perelandra was not a moral exercise, nor a sham fight. If the issue lay in Maleldil's hands, Ransom and the Lady were those hands. The fate of a world really depended on how they behaved in the next few hours. The thing was irreducibly, nakedly real. They could, if they chose, decline to save the innocence of this new race, and if they declined its innocence would not be saved. It rested with no other creature in all time or all space. This he saw clearly, though as yet he had no inkling of what he could do.
The pattern is so large that within the little frame of earthly experience there appear pieces of it between which we can see no connection, and other pieces between which we can. […] But step outside that frame and the distinction drops down into the void, fluttering useless wings. He had been forced out of the frame, caught up into the larger pattern. […] Before his Mother had born him, before his ancestors had been called Ransoms, before ransom had been the name for a payment that delivers, before the world was made, all these things had so stood together in eternity that the very significance of the pattern at this point lay in their coming together in just this fashion. And he bowed his head and groaned and repined against his fate—to be still a man and yet to be forced up into the metaphysical world, to enact what philosophy only thinks.
"The world is born to-day," said Malacandra. "To-day for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of Maleldil that breathe and breed like the beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit in the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened in Thulcandra, this and not the greater thing happens here."
"Elwin is falling to the ground," said the other voice.
Gender is a reality, and a more fundamental reality than sex. Sex is, in fact, merely the adaptation to organic life of a fundamental polarity which divides all created beings. Female sex is simply one of the things that have feminine gender; there are many others, and Masculine and Feminine meet us on planes of reality where male and female would be simply meaningless. […] Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity. All this Ransom saw, as it were, with his own eyes. The two white creatures were sexless. But he of Malacandra was masculine (not male); she of Perelandra was feminine (not female).
The eyes of the Queen looked upon him with love and recognition, but it was not of the Queen that he thought most. It was hard to think of anything but the King. And how shall I—I who have not seen him—tell you what he was like? It was hard even for Ransom to tell me of the King's face. But we dare not withhold the truth. It was that face which no man can say he does not know. You might ask how it was possible to look upon it and not to commit idolatry, not to mistake it for that of which it was the likeness. For the resemblance was, in its own fashion, infinite, so that almost you could wonder at finding no sorrows in his brow and no wounds in his hands and feet.