Monday, January 30, 2006

Perelandra (IV): Ascension vs. Incarnation

(Prologue to this series here. Part I here. Part II here. Part III here.)

Thanks largely to Ransom, the Lady of Venus resists temptation. She and the King -- their names are Tinidril and Tor, we finally learn -- ascend to angelic perfection as God intended. The angel from Mars explains:

"'The world is born today... Today for the first time two creatures of the low worlds, two images of [God] that breathe and breed like beasts, step up that step at which your parents fell, and sit on the throne of what they were meant to be. It was never seen before. Because it did not happen in your world a greater thing happened, but not this. Because the greater thing happened [on Earth], this and not the greater thing happens here.'" (169)

But does Lewis truly believe the Incarnation was greater than if Adam and Eve hadn't sinned? We saw his unease with this idea in the last post, and the rhapsodic non-Christian conclusion to this story undermines it completely. Tor explains to Ransom that Christ's second coming on Earth and the apocalypse will be "the wiping out of a false start in order that the world may then begin" (182). The other planets have seen beginnings, but Earth nothing more than "a failure to begin" (ibid). In the grand scheme of things, the so-called greater good on Earth amounts to a mere corrective, or erasing a blot.

The ascension of Tor and Tinidril is clearly portrayed as a greater good than what happened on Earth, and Ransom probably speaks for Lewis when he asks Tor:

"In our world those who know God at all believe that His coming down to us and being a man is the central happening of all that happens. If you take that from me, Father, whither will you lead me?" (183)

Whither indeed. Tor leaves it to the angels to explain, which they do in a bombardment of praises and hallelujahs (183-187) that are frankly too abstruse to make much sense of, which is probably much the point.

The closing chapters of Perelandra stand as Lewis' ambitious attempt to deal with the dilemma of the felix culpa ("happy blame") by envisioning what was originally meant to be. That he overreaches himself is not a fault, for that's what writers who tackle big questions are supposed to do. It's what Stephen Donaldson did in The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and what Dan Simmons did in Hyperion-Endymion. I believe Lewis is suggesting that Christ's Incarnation is perceived as greater than Adam's Ascension on account of a caged perspective, and that the greatest good is in fact the "Great Dance" of the universe -- which has already begun, and doesn't need to wait on a fallen world like Earth (183).

In the next and final post, we will wrap up in epilogue and look more generally at the question of Edenic innocence and loss thereof.


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