Ransom eventually learns that he’s been sent to Perelandra in order to thwart the satanically corrupted Weston—or, as Ransom calls him, the “Un-man”—from tempting the planet’s King and Queen into sin. In other words, Perelandra has not yet experienced a Fall like that depicted in the Old Testament’s Book of Genesis. In the Bible, the serpent tempts Eve into wanting to attain the knowledge of good and evil and thus become more like God. He goads her into eating fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil—which God has expressly forbidden. The events of Perelandra thus give insight into certain aspects of the temptation to sin as, from Lewis’s point of view, it might have happened on Earth had Eve not fallen. When Weston tempts the Green Lady (later the Queen), he does so by questioning the goodness of Maleldil’s laws and suggesting that the Green Lady could become wiser and more powerful if she chose to go against what Maleldil has commanded. When Weston confronts Ransom, his evil comes across in a less obscure manner, showing that underneath Weston’s smooth words to the Lady, his motivations are utterly banal. By allegorizing the temptation of Eve through events on Perelandra, Lewis argues that temptation consists in subtly putting the self before God, and that such temptation leads to evil, which, because of its distance from God, is ultimately meaningless.
Temptation to sin is a subtle process that begins with questioning Maleldil’s commands and gradually elevates the individual ego above Maleldil. The tempter starts subtly by asking questions about the propriety of Maleldil’s command not to inhabit the Fixed Land: "this forbidding is such a strange one […] [a]nd so unlike the ways of Maleldil in my world.” He suggests that the Green Lady just think about the possibility of a different life, because on Earth, “the world is made up not only of what is but of what might be. Maleldil knows both and wants us to know both.” The temptation begins with the idea that perhaps Maleldil wants the Green Lady to ponder things he has not directly told her. But Weston doesn’t stop there. He suggests that maybe Maleldil is waiting for the Lady to venture out of childlike obedience and into a “deeper,” more difficult kind that actively goes against what Maleldil has commanded: "Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him […] The way out of that is hard. It was made hard [so] that only the very great, the very wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on […] through the dark wave of His forbidding, into the real life, Deep Life, with all its joy and splendour and hardness." He twists disobedience, in other words, into a form of obedience by making it sound noble and self-sacrificial.
From here, Weston builds on this twisted idea of obedience by suggesting that it leads to godlike power: "I only meant you could become more like the women of my world. […] They always reach out their hands for the new and unexpected good, and see that it is good long before the men understand it. Their minds run ahead of what Maleldil has told them. […] They are, as it were, little Maleldils.” In other words, earthly women decide for themselves what is good, effectively taking the role of God—something Weston portrays as desirable. Ransom observes that the tempter’s suggestions aren’t working because the Lady still primarily desires to obey Maleldil. But the Un-man’s words aren’t without effect: “The Lady's response to the suggestion of becoming a risk-bearer, a tragic pioneer, was still a response made chiefly out of her love […] of Maleldil Himself. […] But mixed with this response, from the moment when the Un-man began its tragic stories, there was the faintest touch of theatricality, the first hint of a self-admiring inclination to seize a grand role in the drama of her world.” Mixed up with her desire to obey Maleldil, the Green Lady is experiencing the first, potentially disastrous hint of her own ego.
Ultimately, evil doesn’t deliver on its promises—in fact, it’s utterly empty and meaningless. After Weston/the Un-Man arrives on Perelandra, Ransom discovers that Weston has been gratuitously tormenting Perelandra’s little frogs. When he sees the first frog—the first victim of violence of any kind on Perelandra—Ransom is overcome with grief: “The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame. It would have been better, or so he thought at that moment, for the whole universe never to have existed than for this one thing to have happened.” Part of the horror of the frog’s death consists in the fact that its suffering is so pointless—a mere petty indulgence for Weston. Evil is fundamentally meaningless, as Ransom learns when Weston torments him with pointless crude jokes and mockeries: “For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, [Ransom] was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging […] [O]n the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, […] an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties[.]” One of the most horrifying things about evil, Ransom discovers, is that at its deepest core, it is completely base and shallow. In other words, it’s the opposite of love, which, because of its derivation from God, becomes ever more profound and dignifying.
Because of the sheer vapidity of evil, it’s not surprising that Ransom’s victory over Weston finally consists not in outsmarting his enemy, but in brute killing. By this, Lewis suggests that there’s no redeeming the source of absolute evil, and that Ransom’s intervention was necessary so that the people of Perelandra would remain untouched by firsthand contact with suffering and death themselves.
Temptation and the Nature of Evil ThemeTracker
Temptation and the Nature of Evil 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.
"And do you," said Ransom with some hesitation—"and do you know why He came thus to my world?"
All through this part of the conversation he found it difficult to look higher than her feet, so that her answer was merely a voice in the air above him. "Yes," said the voice. "I know the reason. But it is not the reason you know. There was more than one reason, and there is one I know and cannot tell to you, and another that you know and cannot tell to me."
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[.]
"My dear Ransom," said Weston, "I understand you perfectly. I have no doubt that my phraseology will seem strange to you, and perhaps even shocking. Early and revered associations may have put it out of your power to recognise in this new form the very same truths which religion has so long preserved and which science is now at last rediscovering. But whether you can see it or not, believe me, we are talking about exactly the same thing."
"I'm not at all sure that we are."
"That, if you will permit me to say so, is one of the real weaknesses of organised religion—that adherence to formula, that failure to recognise one's own friends. God is a spirit, Ransom. Get hold of that.”
"I have said already that we are forbidden to dwell on the Fixed Land. Why do you not either talk of something else or stop talking?”
"Because this forbidding is such a strange one,” said [Weston’s] voice. "And so unlike the ways of Maleldil in my world. And He has not forbidden you to think about dwelling on the Fixed Land. […] [I]n our world we do it all the time. We put words together to mean things that have never happened and places that never were: beautiful words, well put together. And then tell them to one another. We call it stories or poetry. […] It is for mirth and wonder and wisdom.”
"What is the wisdom in it?"
"Because the world is made up not only of what is but of what might be. Maleldil knows both and wants us to know both.”
[…] Ransom had as yet seen nothing dead or spoiled in Perelandra, and it was like a blow in the face. […] It was irrevocable. The milk-warm wind blowing over the golden sea, the blues and silvers and greens of the floating garden, the sky itself—all these had become, in one instant, merely the illuminated margin of a book whose text was the struggling little horror at his feet, and he himself, in that same instant, had passed into a state of emotion which he could neither control nor understand. […] It was not merely pity for pain that had suddenly changed the rhythm of his heart-beats. The thing was an intolerable obscenity which afflicted him with shame.
[The smile] seemed to summon Ransom, with horrible naïveté of welcome, into the world of its own pleasures, as if all men were at one in those pleasures, as if they were the most natural thing in the world and no dispute could ever have occurred about them. It was not furtive, nor ashamed, it had nothing of the conspirator in it. It did not defy goodness, it ignored it to the point of annihilation. Ransom perceived that he had never before seen anything but half-hearted and uneasy attempts at evil. This creature was whole-hearted. The extremity of its evil had passed beyond all struggle into some state which bore a horrible similarity to innocence. It was beyond vice as the Lady was beyond virtue.
"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."
"Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him […] The way out of that is hard. It was made hard that only the very great, the very wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on—on out of this smallness in which you now live—through the dark wave of His forbidding, into the real life, Deep Life, with all its joy and splendour and hardness."
"Listen, Lady," said Ransom. "There is something he is not telling you. […] Long ago, when our world began, there was only one man and one woman in it, as you and the King are in this. And there once before he stood, as he stands now, talking to the woman. […] And she listened, and did the thing Maleldil had forbidden her to do. But no joy and splendour came of it.”
If the attack had been of some more violent kind it might have been easier to resist. What chilled and almost cowed him was the union of malice with something nearly childish. For temptation, for blasphemy, for a whole battery of horrors, he was in some sort prepared: but hardly for this petty, indefatigable nagging as of a nasty little boy at a preparatory school. […] On the surface, great designs and an antagonism to Heaven which involved the fate of worlds: but deep within, when every veil had been pierced, was there, after all, nothing but a black puerility, an aimless empty spitefulness content to sate itself with the tiniest cruelties, as love does not disdain the smallest kindness?
She stood like one almost dazed with the richness of a day-dream. She did not look in the least like a woman who is thinking about a new dress. The expression of her face was noble. It was a great deal too noble. Greatness, tragedy, high sentiment—these were obviously what occupied her thoughts. Ransom perceived that the affair of the robes and the mirror had been only superficially concerned with what is commonly called female vanity. The image of her beautiful body had been offered to her only as a means to awake the far more perilous image of her great soul. The external and, as it were, dramatic conception of the self was the enemy's true aim. He was making her mind a theatre in which that phantom self should hold the stage. He had already written the play.
Long since on Mars, and more strongly since he came to Perelandra, Ransom had been perceiving that the triple distinction of truth from myth and of both from fact was purely terrestrial—was part and parcel of that unhappy division between soul and body which resulted from the Fall. Even on earth the sacraments existed as a permanent reminder that the division was neither wholesome nor final. The Incarnation had been the beginning of its disappearance. In Perelandra it would have no meaning at all. Whatever happened here would be of such a nature that earth-men would call it mythological. All this he had thought before. Now he knew it. The Presence in the darkness, never before so formidable, was putting these truths into his hands, like terrible jewels.
"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.
"So this is hru," he said at last. "I have never seen such a fluid before. And this is the substance wherewith Maleldil remade the worlds before any world was made."
He washed the foot for a long time but the bleeding did not stop. "Does it mean Piebald will die?" said Tinidril at last.
"I do not think so," said Tor. "I think that any of his race who has breathed the air that he has breathed and drunk the waters that he has drunk since he came to the Holy Mountain will not find it easy to die. Tell me, Friend, was it not so in your world that after they had lost their paradise the men of your race did not learn to die quickly?"
"I had heard," said Ransom, "that those first generations were long livers, but most take it for only a Story or a Poetry and I had not thought of the cause."