In Perelandra, Ransom finds himself the unwitting redeemer of a world at risk of satanic corruption. During his quest, Ransom must reconcile his very real fears with his earnest desire to please God; he also learns that Perelandra’s inhabitants, like the Green Lady, obey God fearlessly because their wills are already so perfectly aligned with God’s. As he learns to embody a similar obedience, Ransom discovers that, as one’s will harmonizes with God’s, questions like the difference between predestination and free will fade into insignificance. From his Christian perspective, Lewis argues that obedience to God is a kind of adventure, and one must continue to yield to God even in the face of limitations like unknowing, uncertainty, and fear. However, Lewis also points out that obedience to God neither requires passively abandoning one’s will nor permits the assertion of one’s will against God’s.
Obeying God (Maleldil) is a kind of adventure, which isn’t devoid of fear. When Lewis (who narrates the first two chapters) asks Ransom if he is afraid of being transported to an unknown planet by some mysterious divine power, Ransom admits that he is afraid: "’Do you feel quite happy about it?’ said I […] ‘If you mean, Does my reason accept the view that he will (accidents apart) deliver me safe on the surface of Perelandra?—the answer is Yes,’ said Ransom. ‘If you mean, Do my nerves and my imagination respond to this view?—I'm afraid the answer is No. […] I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it's good practice.’” Ransom means that it’s possible to have a different intellectual versus emotional response to something—he knows in his mind that he’ll be safely delivered to Perelandra, but his emotional response is nonetheless one of fear and anxiety. To deal with that disconnect, one must simply act in spite of one’s feelings; within the world of the story, that means entrusting oneself to Maleldil to direct the adventure.
After arriving on Perelandra, Ransom talks with the Green Lady and discovers that she experiences the freedom of her will as a kind of continual adventure: “I thought […] that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. […] It is a delight with terror in it!" In other words, the freedom of her will entails no conflict, but a moment-by-moment thrill of yielding to God, and their wills are so harmonious that she can’t perceive a distinction between them.
While many people consider free will and predestination to be diametrically opposed—that life is governed by either one or the other—this is not the case in the world of the novel. Obedience to Maleldil doesn’t override a person’s will, but in a case of genuine obedience, there’s no clear distinction between free will and God-given destiny. When Weston arrives on Perelandra and tempts the Lady with the idea that she could want something that God has not permitted, she finds his insinuations to be nonsense: "How can I step out of His will save into something that cannot be wished? […] To walk out of His will is to walk into nowhere." The Green Lady means that venturing outside of God’s will is meaningless to her because, like tasteless fruit or resistance to basic desires like sleeping, drinking, or enjoyment, it has no inherent appeal to her.
When Ransom realizes that it’s his task to kill Weston in order to prevent Weston from irreparably corrupting Perelandra, he initially tries to talk himself out of it by vaguely leaving the issue in God’s hands, but this doesn’t last: “Relentlessly, unmistakably, [Maleldil’s presence] pressed down upon him the knowledge that this picture of the situation was utterly false. […] 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.” In this situation, there is no distinction between Maleldil’s action and Ransom’s. Maleldil has brought Ransom here as his instrument for the salvation of Perelandra; should Ransom shirk that role, Maleldil’s plan will not be fulfilled.
As Ransom continues to agonize over his obligation to save Perelandra, “gradually something happened to him which had happened to him only twice before in his life. It had happened once while he was trying to make up his mind to do a very dangerous job in [the First World War]. […] [W]ithout any apparent movement of the will, as objective and unemotional as the reading on a dial, there had arisen before him, with perfect certitude, the knowledge ‘about this time tomorrow you will have done the impossible.’" As he comes to understand his role as Maleldil’s instrument, then, Ransom also comes to a gradual acceptance of what must happen, even without understanding how it will come about. In a mysterious way, God moves within Ransom’s will, making him willing and able to obey, even as Ransom consciously yields to him—both God’s predestinating and Ransom’s will at work. The harmony between the two is such that, as for the Green Lady, there’s no clear divide.
For Ransom, then, freedom of the will rests on a trustful yielding to God, neither passively expecting all to be done for him or actively resisting what must be: “You might say, if you liked, that the power of choice had been simply set aside and an inflexible destiny substituted for it. On the other hand, you might say that he had […] emerged into unassailable freedom. Ransom could not, for the life of him, see any difference between these two statements.” As Ransom grows in his understanding of the relationship between fear, adventure, and yielding to God’s will, there no longer appears to be an obvious distance between free will and a destiny that’s been decided in advance for him.
Fear, Adventure, and Will ThemeTracker
Fear, Adventure, and Will Quotes in Perelandra
"Do you feel quite happy about it?" said I, for a sort of horror was beginning once more to creep over me.
"If you mean, Does my reason accept the view that he will (accidents apart) deliver me safe on the surface of Perelandra?—the answer is Yes," said Ransom. "If you mean, Do my nerves and my imagination respond to this view?—I'm afraid the answer is No. One can believe in anæsthetics and yet feel in a panic when they actually put the mask over your face. I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it's good practice."
“I thought,” she said, "that I was carried in the will of Him I love, but now I see that I walk with it. I thought that the good things He sent me drew me into them as the waves lift the islands; but now I see that it is I who plunge into them with my own legs and arms, as when we go swimming. […] It is a delight with terror in it! One's own self to be walking from one good to another, walking beside Him as Himself may walk, not even holding hands.”
"And will you teach us Death?" said the Lady to Weston's shape, where it stood above her.
"Yes," it said, "it is for this that I came here, that you may have Death in abundance. But you must be very courageous."
"Courageous. What is that?"
"It is what makes you to swim on a day when the waves are so great and swift that something inside you bids you to stay on land."
"I know. And those are the best days of all for swimming."
"Yes. But to find Death, and with Death the real oldness and the strong beauty and the uttermost branching out, you must plunge into things greater than waves."
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.
And the dark came. Horror of death such as he had never known, horror of the terrified creature at his side, descended upon Ransom: finally, horror with no definite object. In a few minutes he could see through the jet-black night the luminous cloud of foam. From the way in which it shot steeply upward he judged it was breaking on cliffs. Invisible birds, with a shriek and flurry, passed low overhead.
"Are you there, Weston?" he shouted. "What cheer? Pull yourself together. All that stuff you've been talking is lunacy. Say a child's prayer if you can't say a man's. Repent your sins. Take my hand. There are hundreds of mere boys on Earth facing death this moment. We'll do very well."
"They want to frighten me," said something in Ransom's brain, and at the same moment he became convinced both that the Un-man had summoned this great crawler and also that the evil thoughts which had preceded the appearance of the enemy had been poured into his own mind by the enemy's will. The knowledge that his thoughts could be thus managed from without did not awake terror but rage. Ransom found that he had risen, that he was approaching the Un-man, that he was saying things, perhaps foolish things, in English. “Do you think I’m going to stand this?" he yelled. "Get out of my brain. It isn’t yours, I tell you! Get out of it." As he shouted he had picked up a big, jagged stone from beside the stream. […]
"In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, here goes—I mean Amen," said Ransom, and hurled the stone as hard as he could into the Un-man's face.