Friday, December 30, 2011

Adventure classics -- Lost in unfallen space


by C. S. Lewis


I’m a C.S. Lewis fan, and there’s lots I love about his science fiction trilogy, the source of this week’s Adventure classic, Perelandra. But even I have to admit, as science fiction, it’s got to be one of the oddest ever written.

For anyone who thinks Lewis begins and ends with the Narnia books, here’s a brief synopsis. Mild-mannered English professor Elwin Ransom is kidnapped by fellow professor Weston and taken to Mars in the first of the series, Out of the Silent Planet. The inhabitants of Mars are nothing like either Weston or Ransom (not to mention readers) expected. Not just that the Martians aren’t human, but that they exist in a sinless state, never having experienced the kind of fall from grace that occurred when Earth’s Adam and Even succumbed to temptation.

In the second book of the series, Perelandra (later published with the more descriptive title, Voyage to Venus), Ransom takes flight to the second planet of our solar system. This time he travels with the aid of angelic spirits, with a mission to save Venus’s inhabitants from sinning as well.

Problems? Partly because Perelandrians don’t know sin (and partly because their planet is pleasantly warm), they don’t wear clothes. So neither can Ransom, their “first contact” with humans. Nothing wrong with that, except making it hard to find an illustration that doesn’t trigger Blogger’s adult content alert. And, not exactly a spoiler alert -- the book takes way too long to wrap up after the climax.

Despite Lewis’s long list of nonfiction writings, he was still young in the craft of writing fiction. But he learned fast.

In Perelandra, he foreshadowed the relationships between human beings and animals that would become the great charm of the Narnia stories. He demonstrated his talent for what science fiction writers call “world building” -- the ability to construct a fully-rounded fictional world -- and the descriptive powers he would lavish on Narnia as well.

Perhaps most important for a writer, he made his first attempt at developing a strong female character in Tinidril, the Venusian Eve. He would use that ability again and again, creating characters such as Lucy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the sister of Psyche in his last novel (and my favorite) -- Till We Have Faces.

For more about C.S. Lewis and his writings, see Adventure classics post of September 9, 2011, “A faun in a snowy wood. . . .”

(Next Friday -- Adventure classics begins a month of true-life adventures with record of a medieval Spaniard whose pilgrimage to Mecca may have saved his life -- The Travels of Ibn Jubayr.)

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