Book Reviews, Reading, Theology

REVIEW – Perelandra

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot of books that have nothing to do with each other. For some reason, my reading habits got unfocused. Actually, I know the reason. Someone gave me a Nook and I’ve been playing with it rather than just reading a book through. As a result, I have several books going right now and I can’t seem to finish any of them.

(Eventually, I’ll get the reviews out on The Next Christians, Cryptonomicon, The Diamond Age, The World War and What Was Behind It: The Story of the Map of Europe, Ulysses, Publish This Book and Bishop Westcott, which are the other books I’m currently reading.)

In the meantime, I finished the second book in C.S. Lewis’ Outer Space Trilogy, Perelandra. If you don’t know about this series, it was Lewis’ first well-known works of fiction. Without a working knowledge of Lewis’ own beliefs, however, the series is virtually unreadable.

Early in his writing career, Lewis seems to have tried to work in the style of George McDonald and David Lindsey. Both of whom are also virtually unreadable. As a result, the Outer Space books are very heavy in philosophy and are written in something akin to a heavy hand, although Lewis’ prose does rise well above that of McDonald and Lindsey.

I read The Chronicles of Narnia when I was a teenager but when I read the first book in the Outer Space series – Out of the Silent Planet – and had no idea what was going on. Only later did I learn that Narnia was written long after the Outer Space series, when Lewis had gone through something of a renaissance in his thinking and style. To tell the truth, if his name wasn’t on the covers of both sets of books, I doubt I would be able to say they came from the same author.

Armed with years of experience and a wonderful course on Lewis’ work, I felt better prepared to read Perelandra. I returned to Lewis’ Outer Space world and my experience was very different.

First of all, Perelandra is different from Out of the Silent Planet. It is far more internal – with the main character Ransom having to face demonic oppression, his own self-doubts and a growing understanding of his incapacity to understand God. It is an intensely intellectual, multi-faceted book which struggles with many themes we would today call postmodernity. There are often multiple levels of meaning and interpretations, and Lewis very much leaves a lot of these ideas “hanging” for the reader to decide.

I won’t give away the story, but essentially the book is about our role in redemption. It is about assuming our place in God’s economy even when that place is incongruous with our understanding of how God should be.

This is not a book for children. In fact, any child under the age of 13 will not understand most of it, and most over the age of 13 will not truly grasp what is going on. It is most definitely a book for adults. What’s more, it is also a very Christian book. I’m not sure that a non-Christian would find it interesting or engaging because it is almost entirely set within the Christian framework.

All the same, it is an intriguing exploration of themes Christians often do not want to explore. It is worth reading, but prepare to sit and think quite a bit. This is not a quick breeze of a book by any stretch of the imagination.

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