C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos edited by Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe
(Kent State University Press, 2013, 160 pages)
Perelandra, the second of C. S. Lewis’ three science fiction novels (known alternatively as the Space Trilogy, the Cosmic Trilogy, or the Ransom Trilogy), is an ambitious story which draws on classical and medieval cosmologies to address deep questions about the foundations of metaphysics and morality. It envisions Venus as a planet of floating islands populated by an original couple who are untouched by sin. Elwin Ransom travels to Venus and realizes that his task is to help protect this god-like couple and their paradisal environment from a demonic tempter.
This collection of essays considers the theological and literary significance of this unique science fiction novel. The collection is broken up into two sections, the first dealing with the novel’s cosmology and the second looking at the relationship between morality and meaning in the world that Lewis creates. The stand out essays, at least to my mind, were Michael Ward’s “Voyage to Venus,” which draws out the classical sources that influenced Lewis and the “Venereal imagery that underlies the whole subcreated world” (27); Sanford Schwartz’s “Perelandra in Its Own Time,” which shows how Lewis takes up and transforms the materialist evolutionary ideas of H. G. Wells and Henri Bergson’s notions about “emergent evolution”; and Michael Travers’ “Free to Fall,” which explores how Lewis’ philosophical understanding of free will is dramatically depicted in three of the novel’s characters. All of the essays in this volume display close and careful readings of Perelandra, coupled with incisive (yet non-reductive) engagements with the intellectual sources that helped to produce this remarkable work of fiction.
Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe have become major figures in the world of Lewis scholarship. Along with the other collection they have edited on Lewis, C. S. Lewis and the Church, they are also executive editors of The Journal of Inklings Studies. This journal has been producing wonderful scholarship on Lewis and his friends for a few years now, and the Wolfe’s have been facilitating and contributing to some of the most interesting and original scholarship in this growing field of theological and literary investigation. This volume is another example of just how fruitful this field can be.