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4.3 out of 5 stars44
4.3 out of 5 stars
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C. S. Lewis is said to have found "Perelandra" his favourite among his own books, and an improvement over "Out of the Silent Planet". Though a strong Lewis fan, I'm afraid I cannot agree. OOSP attempts one thing, and achieves it perfectly. Perelandra fails by being too ambitious.

"Out of the Silent Planet" is an almost perfect story. The description of Martian creatures and scenery is delightful, without the author having to ram home how terribly significant it all is; and the evil targeted for attack is limited, believable, and allowed to collapse under its own weight. (Ransom's translation of Weston's speech out of the Shavian-evolutionary into Malacandrian i.e. plain English is one of the funniest things I've read.) In Perelandra, on the other hand, the author is always TELLING you how beautiful everything is, instead of letting you find this out for yourself, and the appeal of every new fruit or creature is swept aside by its being used as the occasion for yet a further sermon on the nature of pleasure.

The central flaw is the problem of any writer in depicting evil: how do you make it obvious enough that it IS evil, but also account for its appeal? It is cheating, and ultimately self-defeating, first to depict the beliefs you dislike, and then to make them more obviously evil by adding a few extra unrelated vices. Weston (the devil figure in this book) is so plausible in his attempts to mislead the new Eve that Ransom does not know how to reply other than by physically removing him from the scene. However, Weston also amuses himself in his spare time by pointlessly mutilating frogs. This is of course explained by a further lecture on the banality of evil and its fundamental hatred of intelligence; but it is a grave tactical mistake, by the author as well as by the devil possessing Weston, as surely all Ransom needed to do was to show a frog to the lady. (In the same way, in That Hideous Strength, the Institute's programme as originally outlined by Devine is already bad enough, without adding gratuitous devil-worship.)

The odd thing is that no one knows these things better than Lewis. For the importance of letting the emotional situation speak for itself, see An Experiment in Criticism; for the blackening of villains by adding an inappropriate vice, see his review of Orwell's 1984. (That, incidentally, is where Brave New World scores heavily: the rulers there are not villains but entirely well-meaning, it is their beliefs that are gently shown to be disastrous.)

OK then, why so many as three stars? The language, as always, is wonderful. Lewis really is, in the words of Beachcomber's spoof review (obviously prophetic of Da Vinci-style tripe), "that rare thing, a writer who can combine breathless excitement with profundity of thought". The Lady's combination of innocence and majesty is perfectly done, and the consideration of the ways in which she does, and does not, need to grow up and of how Ransom's feelings for her are, and are not, sexual is suggestive and moving. The vision at the end is reminiscent of Dante. In showing how each thing in turn, by being utterly different, is in its own way the pivot of creation, it suggests an imaginative solution to the problem of creating a world that is both peaceful and interesting.

Not a book to miss.
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on 8 April 1998
In this book, Lewis stimulates the senses with his descriptions of bubble trees, floating islands, colorful skies, beautiful sounds and strange creatures. (It was a compliment to Lewis when one reader complained of being seasick after reading about the floating islands.) From the standpoint of imaginative scene painting, Lewis is at his best in PERELANDRA. His plot involves a wonderful twist on an old story: the Genesis fall of mankind. It is no coincidence that Lewis was lecturing on Milton at the same time that he was composing PERELANDRA. In fact, reading Lewis's PREFACE TO PARADISE LOST, John Milton's PARADISE LOST, and Lewis's PERELANDRA in this order forms a nice trilogy, one I recommend trying. The chief shortcoming of PERELANDRA is exactly what the reader from Eureka, CA says: the story drags in the middle. The action and forward movement of the plot are too slow for my taste. Lewis's tendancy towards repetitive writing also slows things at times, especially near the very end when he goes through several pages of "praise be he" statements. Despite these pecadillos, the book is definitely worth reading for the beauty, the intriguing plot, and for background to THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH.
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on 11 September 1997
To criticize C.S. Lewis is to incur the wrath of millions of his faithful. However, Perelandra simply drags. Where Out Of The Silent Planet was a breezy sci-fi allegory of humankind's failings, and That Hideous Strength is simply the penultimate Lewis tale, this middle chapter is overlong and overly dense. Ransom is taken to Perelandra by an eldil, where his mission is to thwart the devil's temptation of that planet's Eve. Once more, Lewis's description of a foreign environment is rich and brilliantly imagined. Once the devil arrives (in the body of Weston) things kick into low gear. While philosophically intriguing, the arguments of Satan and Ransom and the questions of Eve quickly begin to appear circular and meandering. The climactic chase and physical confrontaion with the devil is both much too long and rather illogical. The denouement is classic Lewis, setting up Ransom's position for the final chapter of the trilogy with magical and moving brilliance, though it is too little to redeem the rest of the novel. Perelandra is a slow and tedious read, worth it only for the wonderful payoff in the third book, That Hideous Strength.
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on 2 December 2012
"Perelandra", the second novel in the, if you believe the blurbs, celebrated "Space Trilogy", stands as Lewis's on contribution to the form of the modern epic and also his tribute to John Milton, the author of "Paradise Lost". There are a plethora of epic references, and I agree that science fiction is the inheritor of the epic tradition. Much of what Lewis accomplishes through "Perelandra" is from the epic tradition. There are several elements in "Perelandra" that not only salutes "Paradise Lost" but also throws the whole epic tradition in a favourable light. Here are some of the numerous ways in which "Perelandra" harkens back to the epic tradition.

Like most epics, the story begins in a crucial point in the story, with Lewis himself attempting to make it to Ransom's house under severe attack. There are generally catalogs in epics, and this is played as dark humour in Perelandra, as Ransom accounts what each individual has to fight with (essentially two middle aged bodies). There are then descriptions of what these are. Then, to rally himself up, Ransom makes a speech to himself for encouragement. Weston becomes the Unman, a very common tradition of giving a name to a character based on the description of that character. One of the best developed portion of Perelandra's similarities with the epic is the very vivid description of the Underworld which is given in the last section of Perelandra. In it, we get the quite hellish descriptions of the subterranean world of Perelandra, which we had no idea existed. Lewis also gives us his reoccurring theme of privacy and the fact that we do not know everything, with the two thrones and the sea people who appear and then disappear very mysteriously.

[Throughout the years, I have written a number of reviews that have never been published online on Amazon. These writings comprise two types of reviews: unfinished reviews, abandoned during various stages of composition, and completed reviews that for life reasons were never posted. Of the later type, back in September 2001 I wrote a cache of work, a full sixteen reviews of several different C. S. Lewis books which have never been released. I am publishing these reviews now for the first time, over a decade after they were initially written. Mike London 10-3-2012]

(These reviews covered all seven books of "The Chronciles of Narnia", the three novels of "The Space Trilogy", "The Abolition of Man", "The Four Loves", "A Preface to Paradise Lost", a revised version of my 2000 review of "Till We Have Faces", "Surprised By Joy", and "The Screwtape Letters". I have published newly written reviews of "The Space Trilogy" composed long after I wrote the three original reviews of Lewis's science fiction.)
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on 26 November 2012
Although the weakest book in the trilogy, Perelandra's worth reading for the sake of setting the context for Lewis's rip-roaring finale: "That Hideous Strength".

I usually really enjoy C. S. Lewis's books and had been looking forward to reading the Cosmic Trilogy for a while. For a pre-satellite era space story Lewis' science-fantasy plot is a good approach - it's better to make things obviously unrealistic, than be made irrelevant by actual developments in astronomy. And some things in the book are really excellent; I really like the method Lewis uses to transport his central character to Venus and he certainly demonstrates his creative imagination for a world of which almost nothing was known in the 1940s and comes up with a number of rich ideas for its environment, echoed in some sense in Stephen Baxter's book Flood.

Yet there are a few ways I think the book falls short. Too often Lewis seems to fall in love with his own abstract prose, it's like a verbal version of Disney's Fantasia in places. In other areas Lewis is too directly theological - I think he could have expressed his thinking in the context of the story better, as he did for "Out of The Silent Planet". I also think there are a few plot holes with the Queen of Perelandra and finally I think he lets the politics of WWII affect the resolution of the book.

Nevertheless, it's worth reading if nothing else, for setting the scene for the last book in the series, which is much, much better :-) !
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on 30 June 2012
The second story in CS Lewis' Cosmic Trilogy has Ransom (the hero of Out of the Silent Planet) being transported by a heavenly being to the planet Venus (the Perelandra of the title). There he meets a Green Lady, the Eve of Perelandra, who has become separated from her Adam. Weston arrives by spaceship and it turns out that he has allowed himself to be possessed by a demon. Weston proceeds to tempt the innocent Lady to disobey a prohibition made by Maleldil (the Christ-figure of the Trilogy). At first Ransom tries to argue against Weston. Then he has a night-time encounter with Maleldil during which he realises that the Un-man, as Weston has become, must be removed by force.

Perelandra is arguably the most beautiful world ever created by a science fiction writer. The planet is mostly ocean on which float islands composed entirely of plants. Lewis describes the various fruit trees and populates the world with animals, birds and fish - all tame, for they have no experience of predators. And sunset on Perelandra is marvellous.

The central part of the book is the debate between the Un-man, Ransom and the Lady as the demon tries to pervert the woman's innocence and Ransom tries to maintain it. I enjoyed the cut-and-thrust of this discussion as much as the action of the story.

If the book has a fault, it is that Lewis drags out the ending far too long after the climax of the story. It is as though Lewis had a number of pictures in his mind and was determined to get them in even though they are irrelevant to the story.

Several reviewers have raised points about the theology/morality/plausibility of this story and its message. I think it is worth drawing attention to what Lewis himself said about writing this book. The collection of CS Lewis' essays entitled "Of This and Other Worlds" has a transcript of a conversation between Lewis, Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss which took place in 1962. Here are the relevant quotations:

Lewis: "My starting point of ... Perelandra was my mental picture of the floating islands. The whole of the rest of my labours ... consisted of building up a world in which floating islands could exist. And then ... the story of an averted fall developed. This is because ... having got your people to this exciting country, something must happen."

Aldiss: "I am surprised you put it this way round. I would have thought that you constructed Perelandra for the didactic purpose."

Lewis: "Yes, everyone thinks that. They are quite wrong."

Amis: "... I'd have thought a simple sense of wonder, extraordinary things going on, were the motive forces behind the creation."

Lewis: "Quite. But something has got to happen. The story of this averted fall came in very conveniently. Of course it wouldn't have been that particular story if I wasn't interested in those particular ideas on other grounds. But that isn't what I started from. I've never started from a message or moral. Have you?"

In the light of the above, it seems pointless to discuss the theology of the story. If there is a message in it, it is the message that the individual reader gets out of it - and that is likely to be different for different readers.
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on 22 July 2010
Rating this book is hard. I feel like it was a good book (Lewis certainly has a fine grasp of language and does not throw obscure words at you to show off) but as a novel I think it left something to be desired. The plot seems to disappear for long periods of time to make way for philosophical and theological lecturing or speculation disguised as dialogue or internal monologues (almost like Starship Troopers). It also reminded me of Philip Pullman's Amber Spyglass in how half of the events seemed to happen merely because the author wanted to make some kind of esoteric point.

Ransom is a bit of Gary Stu and the cast in general in the novel is very small; it's like Lewis didn't want any character in the story that didn't have some kind of symbolic purpose or something. If you are not familiar with the Garden of Eden story in the Bible you will no doubt be almost completely baffled by some of the segments here...all in all this is a lot more esoteric than Out of the Silent Planet and less accessible for someone wanting adventure. That isn't to say that there is no "science-fiction" in Perelandra as the presentation of the new world and its lifeforms is very imaginative and apparently was even quasi-plausible according to 1930s knowledge of the planet.

That said Perelandra spends most of its time focusing on symbolism and allegory so much so that it will mean far more if you are an enthusiastic practising Christian or at least have a keen interest in theology. If not you may experience frustration with the slowness of the story and even antipathy at Lewis' ideas of paradise and his presentation of "evil".

I recommend this book if you're up for a heavy read where plot and character development are secondary to an arguably greater literary and philosophical endeavour. This was Lewis's own favourite in the trilogy apparently so its really depends on the reader. Out Of the Silent Planet and the Narnia books may be ultimately less deep than this challenging book but as "stories" I found them more satisfying and perhaps less discriminative in their intended audience. Its a 3.5-4.5 really. One to re-read eventually.
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on 27 March 1997
Ransom takes off for Perelendra (Venus ) with the help of his angelic Oyarsa and lands in an ocean world with floating islands, bubble trees, small tame dragons, and seemingly two other inhabitants. They are human(but green)and one, the man, is missing. The woman is astonishingly innocent.
Ransom's old nemesis, the evil physics professor, lands on Venus soon after Ransom and it is clear that he is possessed of an evil spirit and up to no good. Ransom and he battle over the women's soul and the fate of the planet through long, fascinating dialogue,that illuminates Lewis' theology. Ultimately, the battle becomes physical and deadly.
I enjoyed this book a great deal, not the least because a friend told me that he found himself always agreeing with the evil professor. He does make some compelling arguments.
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on 1 July 1998
I really enjoyed "Out of the Silent Planet", and proceeded on to the sequel. I was enchanted by this world of floating islands, and the prospect of returning to the Garden of Eden with hopes that we might "get it right". This one had me reading into the wee hours more than once. It's as close as I've been to obsessed for a long time.
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on 29 November 1998
C. S. Lewis wrote in the Introduction to his "Screwtape Letters" that one reason why he had not written a similar book about angels was that "every sentence would have to smell of heaven." In Perelandra, he has achieved that effect. The imagery and the sheer reason combine to make the most powerful and compelling picture of good vs. evil since the Book of Revelation. In Dr. Elwin Ransom we have a strong, good, yet thoroughly human hero; in Dr. Weston a chilling portrait of the real nature of evil. This is a book that should be read over and over again. It has something new to offer me every time I go back to it. C. S. Lewis wrote in his autobiography that his imagination was "baptised" by George MacDonald's Phantastes. For those seeking a similar imaginative experience, I wholeheartedly recommend Perelandra. For the whole experience I recommend the other two books of the trilogy, but Perelandra also stands on its own.
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