Session #32: October 20th, 2010

Adam, Eve, and the (female) serpent at the ent...
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Another theme we discussed in this session was that “reality” is not real! To be more specific, our everyday reality masks or hides a different reality which is hiding behind it.

The part of Perelandra which expresses this idea is in Chapter 2 where the character Lewis talks about the price we pay for our comfortable reality.

At the sesion, I mentioned a quotation from Lewis (the author) where he expressed a similar idea. It is from Lewis’ foreword to a fairy tale byGeorge MacDonald:

The quality that had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real university, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live.

In this session we discussed the first few chapters of  C.S. Lewis‘ novel “Perelandra“, the second book in his science-fiction trilogy. Please write any comments about Perelandra after this blog entry. Comments are welcome in Japanese or in English.

At first, we discussed the details of the story of Adam and Eve and the Fall of Man, as described in the Book of Genesis and in  Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (Penguin Classics). We recalled most of the details, but we were not sure exactly why Satan and the other angels rebelled against God: some of us thought it was a power struggle, others thought it was because Satan and the rebel angels wanted more freedom.

Then we began to discuss the book itself, starting with the Study Guide questions. However, the Study Guide questions were quite difficult, and we ended up discussing other topics. We did not get very far in the book or in the Study Guide!

One topic we discussed was about “being drawn in”: Lewis, at the beginning of the story, is afraid of being drawn in to something he will not like. He is afraid that already he is too much involved to retreat. One member asked how we can prevent ourselves from being drawn in to dangerous or unpleasant groups or activities. I suggested an essay by Lewis entitled “The Inner Ring”. I’m sure there exists a Japanese translation. Can you help me find it? Here is how one man, a Christian and a historian, describes this essay by Lewis:

Here is what C.S. Lewis wrote many decades ago. Take it to heart… This lecture, “The Inner Ring,” was the Memorial Lecture at King’s College, University of London, in 1944. By the time he gave it, he was famous. The inner rings wanted to get him in, so as to increase their prestige. He demurred.

He had the group he needed. His circle of friends — the Inklings — included authors J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams. The “grunt” member, his brother Warnie, as an amateur historian eventually dwarfed them all in academia with his book on Louis XIV.

It was the high quality of the men in the group that served as a screening factor for their writings. They read their stories to each other. Their stories got better.

This opens up a very interesting possible path for future discussion:

  1. the meaning of temptation
  2. how to resist temptation

In fact, the Christian historian who wrote the paragraph about Lewis above,  has written a “curriculum” for young people to teach them how to resist temptation. He calls it “Providing your children with the will to resist”. It is a 10-week course. Week 3 is to read and discuss Lewis’s science fiction story That Hideous Strength.

Another way to say “being drawn in” might be “being tempted”. In his speech “The Inner Ring”, Lewis describes how this temptation will come. It is similar to the temptation of Eve in Paradise Lost, and of The Lady in Perelandra. A very subtle temptation, very difficult to protect oneself against. Only strong principles and a deep understanding of your own heart (it’s strengths and weaknesses) can help you:

And the prophecy I make is this. To nine out of ten of you the choice which could lead to scoundrelism will come, when it does come, in no very dramatic colours. Obviously bad men, obviously threatening or bribing, will almost certainly not appear. Over a drink, or a cup of coffee, disguised as triviality and sandwiched between two jokes, from the lips of a man, or woman, whom you have recently been getting to know rather better and whom you hope to know better still–just at the moment when you are most anxious not to appear crude, or naïf or a prig–the hint will come. It will be the hint of something which the public, the ignorant, romantic public, would never understand: something which even the outsiders in your own profession are apt to make a fuss about: but something, says your new friend, which “we”–and at the word “we” you try not to blush for mere pleasure–something “we always do.”

And you will be drawn in, if you are drawn in, not by desire for gain or ease, but simply because at that moment, when the cup was so near your lips, you cannot bear to be thrust back again into the cold outer world. It would be so terrible to see the other man’s face–that genial, confidential, delightfully sophisticated face–turn suddenly cold and contemptuous, to know that you had been tried for the Inner Ring and rejected. And then, if you are drawn in, next week it will be something a little further from the rules, and next year something further still, but all in the jolliest, friendliest spirit. It may end in a crash, a scandal, and penal servitude; it may end in millions, a peerage and giving the prizes at your old school. But you will be a scoundrel.

Perhaps the story of Adam and Eve is not a story about something that happened a long time ago, but a story that is very relevant to us today.

We also discussed the character of Lewis in the novel. Lewis wrote the novel, but he also placed himself in it! Why? Why not just keep Ransom as the main character and narrator?

A possible answer is that Ransome, especially in book 2, becomes a rather special, even super, human being. It might be difficult for readers to relate to or identify with Ransome. So Lewis created an “ordinary person”  and called him “Lewis”! This person thinks, feels and acts very like ordinary people, like people who might read this novel. This makes it easier to read and to understand what is happening. Perhaps some people would not be afraid of meeting a real ghost or a real angel, but most people would be, just like Lewis.

It was a very interesting and wide-ranging discussion, and we all felt rather tired by the end of it.

Finally, we agreed to hold our next session on the last Wednesday in November, November 24th. In that session, we will continue our discussion of Perelandra. I don’t know whether we will finish it or not, but please try and finish reading the whole book by next session.

As well as reading the book itself, in both English and Japanese, I recommend that you read the relevant parts of the Book of Genesis, and a summary of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

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7 thoughts on “Session #32: October 20th, 2010”

  1. ” .. but we were not sure exactly why Satan and the other angels rebelled against God: some of us thought it was a power struggle, others thought it was because Satan and the rebel angels wanted more freedom.”

    彼は最高位の大天使ではなかったが、高い位の天使の階級に属し、権力においても、寵愛と名誉においても偉大な存在であった。しかるにこの日、御子がその父なる神によって栄光を与えられ、油を注がれし王、すなわち救世主(メシア)と宣旨され給うに及んで、嫉妬(envy) にかられ傲慢にも御子の顔を見るに堪えずとばかり忌避し、自分が不当に貶められたと思い込んでしまった。 (ll.660-665)

    Seeing from this quote, Lucifer’s “envy” would be more proper reason than “lust for power.” When Son of God was ranked second to God, he felt rejected by God. He tempted other unprepared angel to rebel.

    I should’ve read “Paradise Lost” earlier. This is quite interesting as it touches fundamental human nature and universal problems which humans are trapped in.

  2. I also have read the whole story in Japanese. At the beginning, I recognised as a reader that was Lewis who took the role of writing Ransom’s experiences in Malacandra. The style of opening of “Perelandra”is quite different from that of “Out of The Silent Planet”. Is it “breaking frame”, as we learnt in past sessions?
    “Perelandra” itself seems to be a book that readers can enjoy independently, although it is more meaningful if it is read as the second story in the trilogy.

  3. I read till chap. 6 in English and skimmed through Japanese translation till the end just following dialogues of the characters.

    This is my fifth book by C.S.Lewis. So far, I think I’ve enjoyed finding similar things, different descriptions about the same theme in the books.

    I feel this book is much more difficult than the former two books we read together. I don’t understand the idea of the story of Adam and Eve literally. Is it why I feel the book difficult for me, although I think I can understand it figuratively? Or, maybe I don’t understand at all. I look forward to your explanation and instruction in the sessions.

  4. After finishing the book, I thought how beautiful the universe seen through Ransom’s eyes was; actually it was Lewis’s universe. (p33)
    It is interesting Lewis mentioned the mythological heavens are much more expressive of the real universe than the scientific one. (p33,34)
    He wrote, “now that the very name “Space” seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance —–No: space was the wrong name. Older thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens” (p34)
    I suppose many of the astronauts who went to the space and saw what it was, must have felt like Ransom did (read above ).
    That’s why some of the astronauts became religious after coming back to the earth. However, I’m afraid the words, religion or religious, are not proper. Many times I have pondered which word I should choose to say that there must be the supernatural power in the universe and people are giving it many names. I feel religion is coined for the sake of people.

    1. “Many times I have pondered which word I should choose to say that there must be the supernatural power in the universe and people are giving it many names. I feel religion is coined for the sake of people.”

      I think I know what you mean. Language is human invention: so is religion. We picture the same thing in our mind, but the used word could be different. Many people would believe or feel there must be a supernatural force in the cosmos which has something to do with all the phenomena, and people call it by different names according to their languages or beliefs.

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