Academic journal article Mythlore

The Use of the Vertical Plane to Indicate Holiness in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy

Academic journal article Mythlore

The Use of the Vertical Plane to Indicate Holiness in C.S. Lewis's Space Trilogy

Article excerpt

IN C.S. LEWIS'S SPACE TRILOGY, Cambridge philologist Elwin Ransom travels to Malacandra (Mars) in Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra (Venus) in Perelandra, and serves as an agent of heaven on Thulcandra (Earth) in That Hideous Strength. Each planet's geographical features--the striking "perpendicularity" of Malacandra and the waves of the water world Perelandra--are at first glance very different. Michael Ward explains Malacandra's "perpendicularity" as "phallic imagery," emphasizing the archetypal masculinity of Mars, the Roman god of war (80-81). The waves of Perelandra are described in the book as a metaphor for relinquishing one's control and submitting to the will of Maleldil (God), and Sanford Schwartz explains this as an inversion of Platonic Being vs. Becoming (15). Useful as these insights are for the individual novels, they are presented as applicable only in the context of the novel in which they are found. I would like to suggest that all three books in the trilogy share Out of the Silent Planet's emphasis on verticality and Perelandra's use of the wave to indicate holy space. In each book, Lewis uses a number of vertical images, both spatial and social, to depict the vertical plane as well as one common image, the wave, to illustrate the spiritual state of each planet. First, I will demonstrate how positive (upward pointing) verticality and defiance of gravity indicates the acceptance of Maleldil and negative (downward pointing) verticality or submission to gravity indicates refusal of him throughout the trilogy. Then I will show how Lewis uses wave and water as a common example of verticality throughout the trilogy to indicate holiness and willing submission to Maleldil.

In order to demonstrate the spiritual significance of weightlessness and the inclination to rise or reach toward the heavens, resisting gravity, I must start with Ransom's initial experience with space in the trilogy's first volume. In Out of the Silent Planet, Lewis corrects the notion of space as a "barren" void, "an abyss of death" ([OSP] 34, 145), with images of the ocean and fertility explicitly linked to a "spiritual cause for [Ransom's] progressive lightening and exultation of heart" (OSP 34). The protagonist, Ransom, is kidnapped by physicist Edward Weston and opportunist Dick Devine and taken to Malacandra as a sacrifice. When Ransom learns he is in space, he initially panics, but soon he is comforted by the feeling that "the very name 'Space' seemed a blasphemous libel for this empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam" (OSP 34). He spends his time "basking," "totally immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour" (OSP 34). What once seemed to him a "black, cold vacuity, the utter deadness [that] separated the worlds" he begins to think of as an "ocean" or "womb" from which "the worlds and all life had come" (OSP 34). Ransom, apparently unafraid of the ocean, finds comfort in this metaphor. He decides the "[o]lder thinkers had been wiser when they named it simply the heavens" (OSP 34). Adrift in the heavens, Ransom is anchored only by the slight gravitational pull of the spacecraft. In his return trip to Earth, Ransom would do away with the ship itself, for "[t]o be let out, to be free, to dissolve into the ocean of eternal noon, seemed to him at certain moments a consummation even more desirable than their return to Earth" (OSP 145). Before Ransom's adventures on Malacandra, in which he experiences a great spiritual growth, and after them, Ransom feels more alive and spiritual than ever in this "ocean" that is the heavens, buoyed up away from gravity as if on a wave.

"Falling out of the heaven, into a world" marks the change in imagery from oceanic and drifting, in which Ransom felt spiritual peace, to vertical and anchored, in which creation seems to long and reach for heaven where gravity is not a factor and spiritual consummation is achieved (OSP 41). As the spaceship approaches Malacandra, Ransom experiences "disturbing sensations" which turn out to be the "weighting] of his limbs" (OSP 39). …

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