Perelandra Thoughts 2: Letting the Past Go

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I would like to share some more fascinating thoughts expressed in C.S Lewis’s Perelandra. [SPOILER ALERT] You should skip these sorts of posts if you ever plan on reading the book. [/Alert] The character Ransom has traveled to Venus, and is exploring the strange alien landscape. In discovers a kind of fruit, similar to a gourd, that seems to be full of liquid. He decides to try a sip of it:

After a moment’s hesitation he put the, little aperture to his lips. He had meant to extract the smallest, experimental sip, but the first taste put his caution all to flight. It was, of course, a taste, just as his thirst and hunger had been thirst and hunger. But then it was so different from every other taste that it seemed mere pedantry to call it a taste at all. It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men, out of all reckoning, beyond all covenant. For one draught of this on Earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed. It could not be classified.

What happened next, I think, is interesting.

As he let the empty gourd fall from his hand and was about to pluck a second one, it came into his head that he was now neither hungry nor thirsty. And yet to repeat a pleasure so intense and almost so spiritual seemed an obvious thing to do. His reason, or what we commonly take to be reason in our own world, was all in favour of tasting this miracle again; the child-like innocence of fruit, the labours he had undergone, the uncertainty of the future, all seemed to commend the action. Yet something seemed opposed to this ‘reason’. It is difficult to suppose that this opposition came from desire, for what desire would turn from so much deliciousness? But for whatever cause, it appeared to him better not to taste again. Perhaps the experience had been so complete that repetition would be a vulgarity—like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day. … [H]e stood pondering over this and wondering how often in his life on Earth he had reiterated pleasures not through desire, but in the teeth of desire and in obedience to a spurious rationalism.

Later on, he had a similar experience with the nectar of a tree:

 Looking at a fine cluster of the bubbles which hung above his head he thought how easy it would be to get up and plunge oneself through the whole lot of them and to feel, all at once, that magical refreshment multiplied tenfold. But he was restrained by the same sort of feeling which had restrained him over-night from tasting a second gourd. He had always disliked the people who encored a favorite air in an opera—’That just spoils it’ had been his comment. But this now appeared to him as a principle of far wider application and deeper moment. This itch to have things over again, as if life were a film that could be unrolled twice or even made to work backwards … was it possibly the root of all evil? No: of course the love of money was called that. But money itself—perhaps one valued it chiefly as a defense against chance, a security for being able to have things over again, a means of arresting the unrolling of the film.

I think this is wonderful. Here, C.S. Lewis lays bare an assumption that we make as human beings, that may or may not be true of heavenly beings or the eternity: we assume that if something is worthwhile, good, delicious, important, lovely, enjoyable, etc., that it should be repeated or continued indefinitely. But this very approach to life is what leads to excess, gluttony, and a host of other vices. Later on, Ransom is talking with an inhabitant of Venus about some of the creatures he met while on Mars (in the previous book). The Venusian, with a little bit of telepathic, revelatory insight says, “It all comes to my mind now. I see the big furry creatures, and the white giants … Oh what a strong pleasure it would be to see them with my outward eyes, to touch them, and the stronger because there are no more of that kind to come. It is only in the ancient worlds they linger yet.” She explains that there would be no more creatures like that in creation again.

Ransom replies, “I think I have no more understanding than a beast. … I loved the furry people whom I met in Malacandra, that old world. Are they to be swept away? Are they only rubbish in the Deep Heaven?”

The Venusian replies, “I do not know what rubbish means, nor what you are saying. You do not mean they are worse because they come early in the history and do not come again? They are their own part of history and not another. We are on this side of the wave and they on the far side. All is new.”

Again, the theme continues: Ransom’s first instinct, in hearing that a particular alien race is to eventually cease to exist (and no more return like it), is to assume that this race is not valued or wanted. We assume that if a musical composition is a masterpiece, it should be replayed, re-experienced, ad infinitum. We assume that if a race of creatures is good or valued by the heavens, that it should be perpetuated indefinitely. We think that things that are good should have no end. But maybe it’s not true? Maybe God values t-rex’s as much as He values sparrows, but this doesn’t mean that He didn’t allow the sun to set on the t-rex, and new races of creatures to take its place. And similarly, maybe we should be willing to let good things stand as they are, rather than trying to desperately to repeat them and re-enact them. Ransom’s thoughts about money were fascinating—perhaps money, and power itself, is valued by us because we wish to repeat, hold onto, and perhaps even halt the flow of time so that we can re-enact moments in our lives.

I think a little bit of the movie “Up,” in which Carl learns that his years with his beloved wife are not wasted if he moves on to new adventures after her death.

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