Academic journal article Mythlore

Paradise Retold: Lewis's Reimagining of Milton, Eden, and Eve

Academic journal article Mythlore

Paradise Retold: Lewis's Reimagining of Milton, Eden, and Eve

Article excerpt

Throuqhout Perelandra, C.S. Lewis's science fiction novel set in an unfallen world, the main character Ransom reminds himself that events in Eden were unique and cannot unfold exactly the same way again, opening the possibility of a different conclusion to the myth of humanity's fall from a sinless, paradisiacal state. Ransom is particularly focused on the possibility that Perelandra's Eve-figure might not transgress and thus maintain the world's innocence. In stressing the importance of a flexible myth that allows a different ending for both its woman and its world, Lewis recalls John Milton, who more than 275 years earlier, explored the potential for a different ending to the events narrated in Genesis when he turns two Biblical chapters about humanity's fall and scattered verses about Satan's rebellion into the twelve-book epic Paradise Lost. Milton stresses that Eve's choice to eat the fruit was not inevitable, and her disobedience, followed by Adam's, is not the narrative's inescapable, necessary ending. Milton's God addresses the issue explicitly when he says humanity is "sufficient" (3.99) to withstand their temptation, and Milton's detailed portrayal of prelapsarian Eden in Books 4-9 challenges readers to imagine a functional, sustainable, unfallen world.

C.S. Lewis takes up that imaginative challenge in his own criticism and fiction by commenting on and critiquing Milton's version in A Preface to Paradise Lost (1942) and presenting his own different versions of the Fall myth in Perelandra (1943) and The Magician's Nephew (1955). That these multiple presentations refigure both the Biblical account and Paradise Lost's version of the fall emphasizes Lewis's interaction with those sources and their expression of the Fall myth's "particular pattern of events" (George MacDonald: An Anthology xxx). (1) Lewis's commentary and retelling of Milton's version of that myth allow 1 1 us to track, through his changing presentation of Eve-figures, Lewis's evolving stance on gender, as his interactions with Paradise Lost and Eve change dramatically from The Preface to Paradise Lost and Perelandra to The Magician's Nephew. In particular, his fragmentation of the Eve character in The Magician's Nephew, which exhibits specifically gendered changes, reflects the more nuanced consideration of gender evidenced in Lewis's later years, as he makes more complex the roles Eve plays to reinforce Lewis's commitment to the importance of human action in maintaining and redeeming creation.

The possibility of reimagining humanity's actions in Eden, especially Eve's, was a marker of both Milton's and Lewis's commitment to Free Will, an ideal neither considered gendered. Milton's commitment to Free Will in opposition to doctrines of predestination is perhaps the key issue in his presentation of the Genesis story. As Satan flies toward Paradise, Milton's God justifies His craftsmanship of humanity, especially its inclusion of Free Will (and thus humanity's option to act counter to God's will). God asserts that He made humanity, both male and female, according to the same principles as the angels: "just and right / Sufficient to have stood though free to fall" (3.98-99). God proclaims this quality vitally important to the agency of both angels and humanity:

   Not free, what proof could they have given sincere
   Of true allegiance, constant faith, or love,
   Where only what they needs must do appeared,
   Not what they would? What praise could they receive? (3.103-106)

Free will, according to Milton's God, makes humanity's actions meaningful, sets up the condition for their further exaltation, and allows them to offer and express love. (2) Such a claim was particularly important for Milton's Eve, who becomes a free, independent, responsible agent, whose actions could lead her to success rather than ensure failure. As Diane K. McColley writes, Milton "broke the stereotypical scapegoating of Eve as essentially a temptress" and gives "responsible motives for her independent movements" which "are not proleptic of the Fall" (179). …

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