Friday, June 20, 2008

Serpent in the garden

But the serpent said to the woman, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."

So also said the Un-man who possessed the body of Weston in C.S. Lewis' second book of his space trilogy, Perelandra. I'm halfway through, and very much enjoying the books. They combine Christian truths with the existence of rational life on other planets. So much sci-fi is spiritually void or silly, or specifically non-Christian. I really like the reflections of our own condition that C.S. Lewis paints in the creatures of other worlds. Now, the worlds inhabited happen to be Mars and Venus (so far) which is of course impossible, but apart from a few annoyances I had in book one regarding the author's description of the effects of gravity, even I don't mind the stretch.

In Perelandra, Ransom has been sent by the Oyarsa of Mars (a good angelic creature) to Venus on some unknown mission by the command of Maleldil (God). He finds there a woman, the first of her planet, alone and without her king. Weston, Ransom's kidnapper from book one, arrives in his spacecraft and it becomes clear that he was merely used as a vehicle for the Bent One of Earth to enter and corrupt the innocent children Venus. C.S. Lewis writes long conversations, witnessed by Ransom, of the possessed Weston tempting the Lady to disobey Maleldil. So far "Weston" is unsuccessful, but it doesn't look good for the Lady, who eventually tires and lies down asleep. Ransom remains awake:

There was nothing to do but to watch: to sit there, for ever if need be, guarding the Lady from the Un-man while their island climbed interminably over the Alps and Andes of burnished water. All three were very still. Beasts and birds came often and looked upon them. Hours later the Un-man began to speak. It did not even look in Ransom's direction; slowly and cumbrously, as if by some machinery that needed oiling, it made its mouth and lips pronounce his name.
"Ransom," it said.
"Well?" said Ransom.
"Nothing," said the Un-man. He shot an inquisitive glance at it. Was the creature mad? But it looked, as before, dead rather than mad, sitting there with the head bowed and the mouth a little open, and some yellow dust from the moss settled in the creases of its cheeks, and the legs crossed tailor-wise, and the hands, with their long metallic-looking nails, pressed flat together on the ground before it. He dismissed the problem from his mind and returned to his own uncomfortable thoughts.
"Ransom," it said again.
"What is it?" said Ransom sharply.
"Nothing," it answered.
Again there was silence; and again, about a minute later, the horrible mouth said:
"Ransom!" This time he made no reply. Another minute and it uttered his name again; and then, like a minute gun, "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom," perhaps a hundred times.
"What the Hell do you want?" he roared at last.
"Nothing," said the voice. Next time he determined not to answer; but when it had called on him a thousand times he found himself answering whether he would or no, and "Nothing," came the reply. He taught himself to keep silent in the end: not that the torture of resisting his impulse to speak was less than the torture of response but because something rose up to combat the tormentor's assurance that he must yield in the end. 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 preparatory school. Indeed no imagined horror could have surpassed the sense which grew within him as the slow hours passed, that this creature was, by all human standards, inside out -- its heart on the surface and its shallowness at the heart. One 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? What kept him steady, long after all possibility of thinking about something else had disappeared, was the decision that if he must hear either the word Ransom or the word Mothing a million times, he would prefer the word Ransom.
Then all at once it was night. "Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom ... Ransom" went on the voice. And suddenly it crossed his mind that though he would some time require sleep, the Un-man might not.

It's clear so far that the Un-man is far more intelligent and smooth than Ransom, but Ransom has faith and is speaking the Truth and has won two bouts so far against the Evil One. Or at least two stalemates. We'll have to to see how it turns out.

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