Voyage to Venus by CS Lewis

I had the opportunity to reread PERELANDRA, the second in CS Lewis’ Space Trilogy. As I mentioned in my previous column on OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, Lewis’ first in that trilogy, it is interesting to note the difference reading it as a youth compared to as a greybeard. I will report that the change is entirely favorable. As I grew, the book got bigger.

As with the previous article, I write for readers who have read the Space Trilogy, so spoilers abound. Wise readers will read the book before reading this essay. You  are warned.

Of the various experiences which changed my view on PERELANDRA, the smallest change was due to my conversion. In other words, if any atheist reader of mine is worried that the alleged Christian propaganda of the work is so cloying it will stick in his throat, all I can say is that I was likely a fiercer atheist then than you are now, and it did not stick in mine.

Again, I can assure my Christian readers that there are the typical trenchant insights of Lewis into the human condition and the divine nature all fans of his come to expect, if you look for them; but they are not intrusive if you are not looking for them. And I take this ability to offer to each reader what he wants and no more, to be a sign of a superior author.

This makes me conclude that, like OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, the book is actually a better book of science fiction qua science fiction than those who sit in the seats of the scornful are likely to admit.  The Christian apologetic of the book, or what there is of it, is not the main appeal.

The greatest change in my own viewpoint across the years is the change from an inability to see the work in context compared to the other works of science fiction before and after it.  In this respect, allow me to dwell on merely two books: THE TIME MACHINE by HG Wells and A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS by David Lindsay. I am convinced that Lewis was consciously copying themes and ideas and inspirations from these books.

I wonder if the book’s other title, VOYAGE TO VENUS, was chosen in homage to David Lindsay’s novel?

I had in the days of my distant youth read David Lindsay’s A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, while in no way understanding the heavily-disguised symbolic point of that strangely haunted, abundantly imaginative, and ultimately nihilistic work, nor did I see, in my robust innocence of mind, the moral degradation and despair of Lindsay. I did not know that Lewis had also read it, nor how he admired the same strengths I had. Rereading PERELANDRA, I now see parallelism strongly reminiscent of Lindsay’s work in Lewis.  It is an homage, if not a rebuttal to Lindsay.

As to whether or not the book counts as Science Fiction, it would be peremptory of me to dismiss all arguments claiming PERELANDRA is not Science Fiction by characterizing them as arguments about nothing but whether the book is science fiction of the type one likes: but I am strongly tempted.

PERELANDRA is not “Hard” SF after the fashion of Jules Verne or John W Campbell Jr’s stable of writers. Those who define Science Fiction narrowly enough to exclude HG Wells and everything not printed in Analog Magazine, I need not trouble myself to answer. It is sufficient for my purposes that we include PERELANDRA in the same genre as THE TIME MACHINE or VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.  If you consider these not to be science fiction, so be it; but if you find them in the bookstore, tell me in which section you find them.

I will say that Soft SF is characterized by an emphasis on the human aspects of the story, on themes and philosophical statements, and is less interested in making solidly rooted speculations about realistic future or extraterrestrial technology.  Hard SF is speculation for the mind; Soft SF is speculation for the heart.

What Soft SF, or much of it, is trying to do is convey to an earthly reader what a voyage to another world remote in space or time would be like, would feel like, and how it would change us, rather than concerned with the realism of the machinery to take us there.

Indeed, Soft SF is notorious for how casually it treats the stage-machinery which carries the narrative to another era or another world. The Time Machine of HG Wells’ unnamed Time Traveler is described as a glittering metallic framework of nickel, ivory and brass, larger than a bicycle, with a bar of oddly twinkling “unreal” looking transparent crystalline substance in the works. Aside from this briefest of nods to the idea that time is fourth dimension which can be crossed much as a balloon allows a man to ascend in the vertical dimension, the Time Machine is a piece of stage machinery no more scientifically explicable than the Ghost of Christmas Future: merely a prop to get the narrative to the year 802701 A.D.

Likewise, in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, the oddly named protagonist Maskull is transported by what is perhaps the least convincing vehicle of all scientifictiondom: a torpedo-shaped car or carriage of crystal pulled by a container of liquefied “back-rays” from Arcturus, improbably described as that form of light which returns to its source. Cyrano flying to the moon by means of standing on an iron plate and throwing a magnet moonward, catching it and throwing it again as the plate rises, is in comparison positively Arthurcclarkean.

Dr Ransom’s voyage is in a container also crystalline, this one suggestively (albeit quite reasonably) shaped like a coffin, and carried from England across the deeps to Perelandra by an “eldil”, which is an invisible energy-being or angel inhabiting what mortals think of as empty outer space. Ransom during the voyage is in a state of suspended animation, or, rather a state which is above normal animation as hibernation is below it, some sort of timelessness suggestive of unity with eternal things rather than suggestive of, say, Buck Rogers unconscious and unaging due to radioactive gas.

However, for all its casual treatment of scientific realism, I will assert that Soft science fiction still takes place in the science fiction setting, that is, it is a science fiction story and not a ghost story nor a detective story nor a pirate story nor a mainstream novel, and as such it is obligated not to offend any known principle or fact of science. The Time Traveler of HG Wells is free to travel into some future world where, absurdly, the class distinctions of English gentry and workingmen are the primary factor in Darwinian evolution to produce cannibal troglodyte Morlocks and hapless Eloi, because as unlikely as this voyage and destination are, when the Time Traveler arrives, the world is not flat, nor does the sun rise in the West, nor does he encounter the battle of Armageddon and the New Jerusalem, but instead encounters evolution, entropy, giant crabs, and decay. No matter how unlikely, the Morlock world is still science fiction, because it is one of the most striking mythical images of the scientific viewpoint of time, namely, the appalling immensity of geologic ages which do not have mankind as their center.

What makes THE TIME MACHINE a science fiction tale is not the science fact but the science myth.  And by “myth” I do not here mean a false story, I mean a symbol which has both emotional power and mental clarity. Namely, the myth or symbol that Man is no more privileged than the dinosaurs to be free from the remorseless Darwinian grinding-machinery of time.

In PERELANDRA, Ransom arrives on a Venus no more in keeping with modern scientific knowledge of that hellishly hot and poison-smothered sphere than the advent of John Carter on Barsoom is in keeping with modern knowledge of the surface conditions of Mars.

Or, I should say rather, that the modern knowledge of the surface conditions of Mars and Venus places the work of Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein in that same neverneverland of worlds which, at one time, were not scientifically impossible, but which in the current decade are. The Mars appearing in STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND or DOUBLE STAR is no more scientifically credible than the oceanic Venus haunted by telepathic fish described in Isaac Asimov’s LUCKY STAR books, nor the swampy Venus inhabited by intelligent dinosaurs described in Heinlein’s BETWEEN PLANETS nor the venereal Vegas of PODKAYNE OF MARS. But all these books are science fiction, no matter how badly dated the science is. Call them retrofuture fiction, if you insist, but it is hardly a strike against the author that real science could not keep pace with all the fascinating developments in make-believe.

At one time, the scientific consensus was that Mars was an older world and Venus a younger than Earth. This led to a natural consensus about the stories to be set on Mars and Venus: namely, that Mars was a dying world of dead sea bottoms covered with ancient ruins of a scientifically advanced civilization, and Venus was the hot and swampy haunt of dinosaurs and cavegirls in smilodon-skin bikinis, primitive and savage.  And everyone from HG Wells to Edgar Rice Burroughs to Clarke Ashton Smith to C.L. Moore followed this consensus view.

And here I should mention that this is the second change of viewpoint which influenced the book in my eyes. When I first read it, it was still within the bounds of scientific possibility that Venus, under her eternal clouds, might hold earthlike or semi-earthlike atmosphere.  As an adult, I can only look on these retrofuturistic speculations with the avuncular indulgence one uses in studying sketches for Victorian steam-powered heavier-than-air craft. Ironically, a man in the age of nuclear submarines cannot read Jule Verne with the same attention and affection that he can read HG Wells. The Nautilus of Verne, because it is a prediction that came to pass, no longer has the glamor of the unknown hanging about it; whereas the antigravity sphere of Cavor, flying to a moon with an atmosphere inhabited by intelligent and inhuman termites, still has some mythic power to move the imagination. The Softer science fiction, by being less realistic, has a longer shelf life.

For that reason, here again, CS Lewis excels above his genre material and tropes: a man could just as easily be carried in a crystal space coffin by energy-angels now in 2011 as in 1943. Because he is trying to make a true myth with some philosophical depth to it, the work will remain of interest to readers for so long as poetry, song, philosophy, and wonder are of interest to civilized men.

It is to CS Lewis’ credit that he takes this consensus view of the science fiction planets and turns them to his own purpose of making a deeper point about the nature of life and death, primitive and advanced, time and destiny. For example, the mortals of Malacandra express surprise at the idea that any race should depart its home world to seek another if that home were dying: for like Stoics do, they have no fear of death, and they hope for life beyond this one as Christians  do (or, for that matter, as do the Martians in STRANGER IN A LAND and the Arisians in CHILDREN OF THE LENS.)

More interesting is the way in which the concept itself of “other worlds” is used by C.S. Lewis. It is worth quoting in full:

Tormance [the fictional world orbiting Arcturus in Lindsay] is a region of the spirit. He is the first writer to discover what ‘other planets’ are really good for in fiction. No merely physical strangeness or merely spatial distance will realize that idea of otherness which is what we are always trying to grasp in a story about voyaging through space: you must go into another dimension. To con­struct plausible and moving ‘other worlds’ you must draw on the only real ‘other world’ we know, that of the spirit.

Ransom does arrive on a Venus which changes him in profound and subtle ways, much as the traveler in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS is changed. And the change is not physical. Venus is another world spiritually, not just physically. If any writer other than David Lindsay and CS Lewis attempted so ambitious a depiction, I am unaware of it.

Nor do I think it too outrageous to say that , in my judgment, Lewis succeeds where Lindsay fails.

Lindsay in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS is attempting to project the moral and spiritual atmosphere of a crooked Gnostic myth, a combination of Nietzschean ambition, Stoic fortitude, and solemn Neoplatonic mysticism. As such the author leads his protagonist Maskull from one symbolic meeting to another to another: each one allegorical landscape contains roughly one character per one chapter, each character representing one competing philosophy, which is each time shown to fall short of Lindsay’s Promethean vision.  The end result is flat despair: the world of Tormance, and by extension all human life in the mortal sphere, is declared to be worthless, merely a deception.

By contrast, CS Lewis has a more wholesome view both of material and spiritual life, and, as a Christian, I am allowed to say it is the more realistic view, the closer to truth. As such, Lewis’ protagonist need not meet a stiff series of characters, one per chapter, to make his point. He need only contrast the landscape of Perelandra with its one inhabitant, the Green Lady (who, like the wife of Adam in Genesis, is not given a name until after the drama’s finale) as the wholesome spirit, and the bent eldil inhabiting Weston as the unwholesome. For a Christian, there is only wise obedience to the highest good and the temptation  to be disobedient, selfish, stupid.

I am also willing to assert that Lewis succeeds in something none of the ‘consensus’ writers (with the possible exception of Edgar Rice Burrough’s Amtor) manages to achieve: he gives the consensus view of Venus as a primitive world a personality and a spirit of her own.

He does this by a daring means no other science fiction writer would attempt. His background conceit for the solar system, or “the Field of Arbol” is that myths and legends on Earth have been subtly or overtly influenced by the immortal energy beings of Deep Heaven, so that what old stories and medieval images say about Mars and Venus are true, if seen as in a glass darkly. Mars, the Roman War-God, partakes of the masculine nature of the Oyarsa called Malacandra, even as the voluptuous goddess Venus is a distorted and earthly reflection of the sublime pleasures of Perelandra. Throughout, Lewis uses heraldic images and mythic references to make the world of Venus seems as familiar to us as some half forgotten story from Ovid or Spencer. But to this he adds the eye of a science fiction writer to give the world a striking and memorable appeal to the visual imagination.

While there are dragons, there are no dinosaurs on Lewis’ Venus, but then again his notion of what a primitive world might be was far different from, say, the modern for whom the word primitive means unevolved and barbaric.

Venus is Eden; in the star of the Hesperides is the garden of Hesperides.

In one of the more memorable passages, Venus is said to be the younger world of the SF consensus in another sense youth: it is spiritually younger, that is, the epoch of life on Mars and Tellus have been superseded. The condition of Venus does not allow for beast-shaped intelligent life, since the Incarnation on Tellus changed forever what form intelligence must have. Life must hereafter resemble the Creator more and more closely. The Perelandrans are also to be placed in a superior station to the Eldil or angels; and hence the fall of that world’s first parents, should they and their world fall in darkness, would be immeasurably worse than the fall of Adam and Eve. This is because the younger world is a more ambitious project by the Creator.

Venus is also a world of pleasure. The description of the exquisite pleasures of eating fruit or drinking water have a haunting profundity to them, for the author is describing a spiritual change in Ransom which goes hand in hand with his eating of the unearthly food, or being showered by the unearthly waters.

What makes this an act of towering imagination, is that Lewis envisions for us, and describes, what it must be like to experience to enjoy intense sensual pleasure innocently. Unless my readers are utterly unlike me, the idea of a pleasure both innocent and sensual is rare. The unwillingness of Ransom to repeat or seek those pleasures, and yet to welcome them all the more when they come, is the unusual speculation of what an utterly non-hedonistic epicurean would be like: to the Earthly reader, this is a merely paradox, an impossibility.

But the central theme of PERELANDRA, emphasized by the symbolism of a world of floating islands which move as the spirit moves them, tossed by wind and wave under no mortal control of sail or rudder,  is one of Edenic innocence. In the oceans of paradise, what is there to fear, no matter which way the wind blows?  Where is there to go that is not fair? Even as the floating islands of Venus move hither and yon, submissive to the will of the waves, so too are the unfallen King and Queen of that remote world as trusting of the future Providence intends for them, without any impulse to be selfish, grasping, fearful, or disobedient.

Lindsay in VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS has a similar theme, that is, each time the Earthly sojourner there eats the food of Tormance, some change of outlook, inevitably a new deception by the Demiurge, overwhelms the protagonist. It happens to Ransom only once: he bites into seaweed, and suddenly sees and understands the viewpoint of the mysterious undersea denizens of that world, to whom the world of the surface, the human world, is as remote to them as the high clouds of a winter sky.

Certain other visual images had that same striking Tormance mood in Lewis as can be found in Lindsay, such as the image of the solitary mountain in an otherwise sea-covered world whose peaks penetrate the golden clouds of the roof. For that matter, portraying the endless sky-roof of the fogs of Venus as the warm gold of old paintings is just as visually imaginative. And I recall no other author mentioning the realistic sounding and visually striking detail of the shining webs of reflected sea-waves dancing over the fogbanks far overhead like the bright rectilinear shadows which play off the ceiling of an indoor swimming pool.  And again, there are crystal caves and mountains of glass and seascapes of floating isles, brightly colored as tropical birds, lovingly described.

One particular description struck my memory and left a deep impression, that I must quote it in full:

… He came to a new kind of vegetation. He was approaching a forest of little trees whose trunks were only about two and a half feet high; but from the top of each trunk there grew long streamers which did not rise in the air but flowed in the wind downhill and parallel to the ground. Thus, when he went in among them, he found himself wading knee-deep and more in a continually rippling sea of them-a sea which presently tossed all about him as far as his eye could reach. It was blue in colour, but far lighter than the blue of the turf-almost a Cambridge blue at the centre of each streamer, but dying away at their tasselled and feathery edges into a delicacy of bluish grey which it would take the subtlest effects of smoke and cloud to rival in our world. The soft, almost impalpable, caresses of the long thin leaves on his flesh, the low, singing, rustling, whispering music, and the frolic movement all about him, began to set his heart beating with that almost formidable sense of delight which he had felt before in Perelandra. He realised that these dwarf forests—these ripple trees as he now christened them—were the explanation of that water-like movement he had seen on the farther slopes.

When he was tired he sat down and found himself at once in a new world. The streamers now flowed above his head. He was in a forest made for dwarfs, a forest with a blue transparent roof, continually moving and casting an endless dance of lights and shades upon its mossy floor.

Now here is a test for your science fictional imagination.  Without looking on the Internet or any other source material to prompt your memory, can you call to mind a vegetable from another planet?

(For the record, I myself can think of a few: the living wooden starships of HYPERION by Dan Simmons, the cabbage-like plant the boys spend the night under in Heinlein’s RED PLANET, the moss of Barsoom, the towering jungles from HOTHOUSE by Brian W Aldiss, the glassy-leaved trees of the Lusion Plain from Lindsay’s VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, or the endlessly fecund animal-trees of Matterplay)

I assure you that if you can bring such an image quickly to mind, the author who invented an unearthly tree has done his work as a science fiction author, and planted (no pun intended) in your imagination a world that is not real but which seems real.

The final perspective I saw upon rereading as an adult was the parallels to HG Wells THE TIME MACHINE. There are thematic, but I am convinced Lewis had Wells in mind.

First, there is the framing sequence. OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET uses that most hoary and beloved but not even remotely convincing conceit that the author is merely the editor of some manuscript or transcriber of an interview given by the extraterrestrial adventurer.

Now, of course, since I, John C Wright, was once contacted by Neal Armstrong and told in strictest confidence the true and astonishing adventures of that intrepid astronaut among the Catwomen of the Moon and how he rescued their fair yet furry Princess Miao-ro-Na from the Glass Labyrinth of the immense and weightless Space-Spider from the Unlife Zone at the Moon’s dark core, I think of the idea of an adventurer telling his story immediately to an obscure midlist science fiction writer much more likely than telling, you know, the press and the scientific community. Until now the Official Secrets Act and the skepticism of an unwitting public has required me to withhold the fantastic details, and while it is true that Mr Armstrong told me this story shortly after his return from the moon, um, when I was eight years old —

You get my point. The idea that CS Lewis is hurriedly writing down the space traveling adventures of his good friend and college don JRR Tolkien who was kidnapped by Oppenheimer and Howard Hughs and carried off an experimental space vessel in 1938, and that Lewis is writing up an faithful account of Tolkien’s advent on Mars, just changing the names, as in DRAGNET, to protect the innocent, would not fool a child.

Be that as it may, in the postscript to OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, the narrator (the diegetic version of CS Lewis) hints darkly that the next adventure of the eldils touching the Silent Planet of Earth will be in time rather than through space. This hint is somewhat realized in PERELANDRA, if it is taken as a voyage to an Eden, which, while current on Venus, to an Earthman is a thing of the past.

Both in THE TIME MACHINE and PERELANDRA, the voyager has no physical evidence of his trip aside from an unearthly flower. In both tales, both travelers land in what seems a paradise, albeit the paradise Perelandra turns out to be true. Both battle subterranean menaces in the dark, Morlocks in one case, and the Un-Man in the other.  In Wells, the Time Traveler looks sick and careworn to the narrator, whereas in Lewis the Space Traveler is so robust and filled with superhuman health, the narrator looks sick to him. Both tell their tale to the diegetic narrator over a meal, albeit with the highly symbolic difference. In Wells, it is a dinner, as befits a tale of the death of a world. In Lewis, it is a breakfast as befits a world being born. The Time Traveler craves mutton and eats with unseemly hunger; the Space Traveler avoids meat.

Let me conclude by making the bold argument that PERELANDRA has a better constructed plot than either of his two models. There is no plot to speak of in David Lindsay’s A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS: the traveler awakens naked on the immense planet, and after being rescued and treated with saintly hospitality by and Adam and Eve like figures of Tormance, named Panawe and Joiwind, he travels with no discernible purpose through eight or ten highly symbolic landscapes, and then dies or is reborn.

The plot in THE TIME MACHINE is well constructed, since it takes the form of a mystery. The Time Traveler lands in the shadow of the Sphinx of the far future, and slowly, after several red herrings, comes to realize the true horror beneath, literally beneath, the Edenic gardens and palaces of the soft and nigh-sexless Eloi. But there is no dialog with any of the inhabitants of the future world, and no character arc, and no resolution of the plot. The Time Traveler has no more power to save the Eloi than you have to save all the zebra in Africa from the claws of the lioness. The resolution, to put the matter another way, is to answer the riddle of the Sphinx: the news of the Time Traveler is that man is an animal like all others, subject to the remorseless and blind process of Darwinism, and whose teeth of the gears of evolution, neither intelligence nor spirit is necessarily specially prone to be maintained.

And there is not the least trace of humor or whimsy, nothing akin to Ransom trying to talk to a dumb beast he thinks may be a Venusian, in either the Time Traveler nor Maskull, and there are very few traces of ordinary human personality.

Upon rereading, I noticed how tightly the plot of PERELANDRA is actually constructed, which as a youth I thought was somewhat meandering and talkative. It is a mystery and adventure in three acts, and the greatest mystery, not revealed to the end, is to know to what end Ransom is being sent to another world.

Consider that any reader not spoiled by reading essays such as this beforehand do not know what kind of world Perelandra might be when Ransom first wakes upon its waves. The intense physical pleasures of every act is remarkable, the as is the beauty of the ever-changing landscape, and the unexpected friendliness of the wildlife. The scene where he tries to speak to one of the Hesperidian dragons is played for laughs, but it is actually quite arresting and tense; as is the scene where he spots a human figure in the distance and fears he is hallucinating, and so runs up and down the valleys of the floating island, and as if in a dream, the valleys become hills with every passing wave. But the mystery of what sort of world this is, and why he is there, is heightened.

We then discover the psychology of the Green Lady is more strange than that of Sorn or Hross on Mars: the idea of introspection is so new to her that she is dumbstruck. It is not without an eerie sense of recognition that the reader realizes this is what the mind would be like which no one, save perhaps the Twelve Disciples, ever met on Earth: a mind utterly innocent, utterly without guilt. And yet, like the Adam and Eve of Milton’s PARADISE LOST (on which the drama is also molded) she is highly intelligent, and so virtuous and pure as to be unaware of her own virtue and purity. Lewis displays this in convincing details, including such small matters as how she sits or stands, or how she does not know how to converse with two people at once.

The next revelation is that she is the Eve and Mother of her world, a queen, and the moment when she seeks to send greetings to her sister, the Queen of Earth, Eve, mother of the Human Race, by way of Ransom—only to have him awkwardly and with much shame explain that his mother is dead—few enough are the scenes in any science fiction story which capture this flavor of strangeness and wonder and recognition. For the character of the Green Lady leaps as if alive from the page and the reader says, “Of course that is what such a creature would be like, if only she were real!” Of course.

The descent and appearance of Weston is the next surprise, as is the horrific tale of his possession by entities he describes as a Shavian “Life Force” but which Christians and men of all faiths will recognize as a chthonic and unclean spirit. Only a modern materialist is so naïve as not to recognize the devil when he introduces himself and asks to share and consume your soul.

The scenes of the Un-Man tempting the Lady and tormenting Ransom are, upon rereading, rather brief and to the point, and Ransom’s despair of out-arguing the devil seems quite a bit more realistic when I read it as an adult. Ransom is physically exhausted and the devil is too subtle for him. As I youth, I was too optimistic to believe that the spoken truth could not convince. As an adult I know better. And so comes the dread and final decision to trample the serpent of this unearthly Eden, and crush his head even as he bites Ransom’s heel.

In a most satisfying climax, Ransom climbs out of the underworld, finds his way to a high and holy mountain, and there is the presence of beasts and angels and the Lord and Lady of the newly-saved world, Ransom hears not only the explanation for why these terrible deeds were necessary, but why life and the cosmos are necessary, far more than he could have thought to ask.

The major dislike of those readers who dislike the work is centered on two final scenes: first, where Ransom is commanded by the silent pressure of the Divine Will to murder Weston in cold blood. It seems unconstitutional to suppress the devil’s freedom of speech, if not downright unchristian to murder him. With this viewpoint I have so little sympathy, I am not sure I can rebut it with justice. I would feel the same way about some environmentalist who objected to Van Helsing putting a stake through the heart of Dracula on the grounds that vampires are an endangered species. The idea that Christians should all be monks and pacifists no doubt would delight the Axis Powers with whom the civilized nations of the world, along with Soviet Russia, were locked in mortal struggle, the bloodiest war in history, and one in which more hung in the balance than merely a question of sovereignty or prestige. I am reminded that this war was ongoing when the book was written.

I will also remind the reader that Weston, in a particularly horrific scene near the very end, is allowed by the devils occupying him to rise to the surface, peer out through human eyes again, and address Ransom in a human voice. Ransom very wisely suggests Weston pray—a child’s prayer if he cannot recollect a man’s prayer—but Weston never makes the least attempt to save himself from being consumed and obliterated. Ransom speculates that, unlike the divine light which grants even more individuality to each soul as that soul is loved, the darkness of hell makes the boundary between devil and possessed soul blurred, indistinct, meaningless. In effect, Ransom kills the body of a man already dead.

The second scene is the vision of the Great Dance, which is one of the most well crafted, briefest, and most powerful prose poems of the Christian view of life and the universe ever penned. That it is set in the midst of an eerie space adventure story lends a certain unexpected dignity to the work. I can understand how those who hate all things Christian would hate or skip this passage, but as a work of science fiction, it is a description of both the transcendence of what a nonhuman but superhuman intelligence might think, and a description of a point of view even more alien to modern and fallen man than anything uttered by men from Mars.

If you cannot tolerate alien points of view, dear reader, you have no business reading science fiction. If you want nothing that threatens, nothing that provokes, nothing with which you disagree or which disagrees with you, just watch television.

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