Saturday, January 9, 2021

Four Myths for Elwin Ransom

 So, I'd been thinking lately about the Biblical myths C. S. Lewis chose as the inspirations for each of the four books in his Ransom series. The myths themselves aren't that hard to identify, but looking back on them now I'm wondering if there's some unifying thread I missed. 

OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET: the legend of War in Heaven and the fall of the Angels 

PERELANDRA: the Garden of Eden on the cusp of the Fall

 THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH: the Tower of Babel

THE DARK TOWER: Cain's children and the Mark of Cain (possibly with a bit of Cain thrown in)

Two of the four come straight out of the Bible, one Old Testament, the other New. One is Apocryphal (Book of Enoch), another part-canonical, part apocryphal. If there's a pattern here I don't see it. Perhaps the Biblical theme is all that was needed. 

Something to ponder over and see if at some point a plausible answer pops out.

--John R.

current reading: THE ELUSIVE SHIFT by Jon Peterson (2020), and ADRIFT ON THE HAUNTED SEAS by Wm Hope Hodgson (assembled 2005)


Murilegus rex said...

There is a pattern in the three published novels, actually. At least one I see.

Lewis has stated his belief that humans are called to choose a side in a war that has already been taking place since BEFORE the creation of humans. (I'm afraid I forgot where Lewis said this. Might have been The Problem of Pain.) In other words, Lewis believed that the Fall of Satan and the war with the angels happened at a point in time before humans even existed.

That's why Mars is presented as an ancient world in Out of the Silent Planet. It is specifically mentioned that the surface of Mars was ravaged during the war with the Bent One. Compared to Mars and its inhabitants, humans (in Lewis' cosmology) are a 'new' creation.

Perelandra/Venus, on the other hand, is depicted as an all new world, with humans (of the green-complexioned variety) having just been created. In fact, at one point in the narrative, Ransom gets a glimpse of an apparently far older, non-human subterranean civilization on Venus, but immediately becomes aware that this is a part of Perelandra that is not for him to know.

That Hideous Strength then presents the resistance of a group of Earth's humans against Satan/the Bent One and his followers.

Taken together, there is a kind of history of the fall and salvation in this:
– The Fall of Satan and his battle with elder creatures (Oyarsa/angels and Martians) in the distant past.
– the creation of humankind on Earth (with its implied Fall) and later on Venus (with the prevention of its Fall).
– The resistance of a group of Earth's humans against the Fall, inspired by Ransom's encounter with non-fallen humanity on Venus (and by Arthurian legend!). This would presumably be an example of the 'choosing a side' I mentioned earlier.

Which is not to say that Lewis worked with some preconceived scheme in mind. That would be very unlike what we know of his writing method. But it is how the narrative unfolds, I believe. I would also say that The Dark Tower does not really fit in the narrative, which might be part of the reason it was an abortive attempt.

Does any of this make sense?

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Murilegus Rex

Thanks for the comment. I hadn't thought of the interconnections that way and will have to mull over it a bit.

I do think we have one additional bit of evidence re. THE DARK TOWER in JRRT's statement that it seemed likely to clash (i.e. cover similar ground as) with his NOTION CLUB PAPERS. I suspect THE DARK TOWER is meant to be an inverted narrative, like THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS.

A pity we'll never know.

--John R.