Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Perelandra (I): Ransom and the Lady

(Prologue to this series here.)

When Ransom meets the Green Lady (the Eve analogue) on Venus, they hardly understand each other. There are things which an unfallen mind, in its Edenic innocence, either cannot conceive or would not conceive on its own. Ransom is able to show her, or teach her, the following:

• It is possible to "step out of life into the Alongside and look at oneself living as if one were not alive." (52)

In other words, the Lady realizes that she can think about herself in different ways and from different perspectives. This happens when she tells Ransom she is "old" today, compared to yesterday, and Ransom points out that tomorrow she will think differently about herself today -- that she was "young" today and "old" tomorrow. She realizes, furthermore, that she can speculate about different possibilities in general. "What would have happened if X?" "What could happen if Y?" Up to this point she has lived by thinking and acting spontaneously, purely in the here-and-now.

• Not all events are pleasing or welcome. (58)

Ransom is talking about certain things on Earth (like death). The Lady cannot grasp this idea at all, for in paradise she has never experienced anything unpleasant or unwelcome. There's no death in Perelandra, no getting hurt at all (she can't even scrape herself climbing rocks). Indeed, she asks, how can anything not be pleasant or welcome? "How can one wish any of God's waves rolling towards us not to reach us?" (58)

But Ransom points out that even she is guilty of this to a very small extent: When she first encountered him, she had been expecting to find her husband and -- for just a moment -- wished he had been her husband. She thus begins to realize that

• It is possible to refuse something offered for the sake of something expected. (59)

This is the crucial lesson of the novel, around which everything that follows revolves. We must cite the Lady's discovery at some length:

"'What you have made me see,' answered the Lady, 'is as plain as the sky, but I never saw it before. Yet it has happened every day. One goes into the forest to pick food and already the thought of one fruit rather than another has grown up in one's mind. Then, it may be, one finds a different fruit and not the fruit one thought of. One joy was expected and another is given. But this I had never noticed before -- that the very moment of the finding there is in the mind a kind of thrusting back, or setting aside. The picture of the fruit you have not found is still, for a moment, before you. And if you wished -- if it were possible to wish -- you could keep it there. You could send your soul after the good you had expected, instead of turning it to the good you had got. You could refuse the real good; you could make the real fruit taste insipid by thinking of the other." (59)

Again, the Lady experiences such desires only fleetingly, by virtue of expectations themselves. But she now realizes it would be possible to cling to such expectations, to refuse new things or new ideas -- though she cannot fathom why anyone would want to do such a thing. It would be unnatural in the extreme. Indeed, this would be the definition of "evil" (if the word existed) from an unfallen perspective:

• "You have made me see that it is I, I myself, who turn from the good expected to the given good. Out of my own heart I do it. One can conceive a heart which did not: which clung to the good it had first thought of and turned the good which was given it into no good." (60)

The idea of clinging to something old in the face of something new is almost inconceivable ("evil") in an unfallen world, where every thing and every idea is good and pleasing no matter what you expect. But this is a paradox, because it will become the very logic exploited by the devil as he tries persuading her to dwell on the Fixed Land.

In the next post we will see how he does it.


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