The Praise of Perelandra

Excerpt from a chapel on the stories of C.S. Lewis, at Biola on Dec. 2, 2013.

I want to read to you a passage from the second book of Lewis’ Space Trilogy, from the book Perelandra. Though it’s from the final pages of the book, you don’t need any spoiler alert, and there’s no need to worry that I’m giving away the plot. Anything you could call a plot is long since over by this time, and all the characters have carried out all their significant actions. Yet the book keeps going on, and it goes on like this:

The Great Dance does not wait to be perfect until the peoples of the Low Worlds are gathered into it. We speak not of when it will begin. It has begun from before always. There was no time when we did not rejoice before His face as now. The dance which we dance is at the centre and for the dance all things were made. Blessed be He!

Maybe I should set this up a little bit more. It happens on Venus, after the Venus version of Adam and Eve face temptation and conquer it. An earthling named Ransom is there, along with a regular Noah’s ark of Venusian wildlife, and a bunch of angels. But angels are called eldila or Oyarsas, and Venus is called Perelandra, and Adam and Eve are called Tor and Tinidril, and they’re very tall. And green. And naked. Everybody’s naked for pretty much the whole book, which is one reason I’m not hoping for a movie version.

There are seventeen chapters in Perelandra, and it’s in the seventeenth that all the characters gather in a mountain valley and have a kind of awards ceremony like the one at the end of the first Star Wars. But unlike that celebration, this one features a speech. I wish I could tell you what kind of speech, but Lewis isn’t very much help with that. He describes it as a series of speeches, though they might have happened all at the same time. He describes it as a conversation, but he can’t specify which words were spoken by whom. He describes it as a game, as the Great Game, but then immediately switches the title to the Great Dance. It fits into a few pages, but when it’s over it has apparently taken one whole year –a Venusian year, of course.

The main character, Ransom, has just come through a gruesome struggle, really grappling hand to hand with evil incarnate in a disgusting and dehumanizing form. Weston the Un-man is worse than a zombie or a vampire, even worse than a demon. Ransom has won, but he hasn’t got his equilibrium back yet, and just before this final passage he fills most of a page with a series of questions: “I am full of doubts and ignorance,” he confesses, and asks one question after another about the structure of the cosmos, the meaning of life, the point of it all.

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