A Year of Reading Lewis: Perelandra

I approached this book with a mix of eagerness and trepidation. I loved it so much the first time I read it as a teenager, could it possibly live up to my memories of it?

The answer is yes.

Perelandra (originally published in 1943), is the second book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy, describing the further adventures of Ransom, which began in Out of The Silent Planet.

The funky, 70s cover of my edition.

The funky 70s cover of my edition.

The book begins with Lewis going to Ransom’s house in response to a message and dealing with a strange compulsion to “turn back” along the way.

But he perseveres and once he arrives he discovers Ransom (and Oyarsa, the ruling angel — eldil— of Malcandra) needs his help in sending Ransom to Venus (called Perelandra) to forestall an attack of some sort orchestrated by Earth’s “bent” Oyarsa.

Lewis does so, and the rest of the story is told by Lewis in the form of  an account of the affair from Ransom, related to Lewis after his return a little more than a year later.

Ransom discovers  that Perelandra is a watery world, and that most of the “land” is composed of floating islands, which lie atop the swells of the sea, affording them a peculiar landscape which always shifts with the motion of the water. We are given the impression of a beautiful, mysterious world, full of pleasures so sharp Ransom can hardly bear them.

In Lewis’ writings he often explores his idea that “what is myth on one world is reality on another”. This comes into play when Ransom finds a dragon-like creature, and especially when he meets the Queen of Perelandra, who is a beautiful green woman, seemingly the living representation of the goddess Venus.

It quickly becomes apparent that this Lady is alone in the world but for her King, from whom she has become separated due to the islands upon which they were on being separated by the waves. It is also very quickly apparent to Ransom that this Lady is one untouched by the Fall – that she is as Eve once was before her corruption by Satan.

Ransom, who was half-expecting encountering some other sentient creatures as he found in Malacandra, is a little dismayed to discover that Perelandra is “newer” than Malacandra, and the events in our own world have ensured that such creatures will never be seen again.  As the Lady says, “Since our Beloved became a man, how should Reason in any world take on another form? That is all over. Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do no go backward.” 

This little snippet of her speech will give you a sense of the conversations Ransom begins to have with the Queen. He is in turns flummoxed, challenged, and confused. She is utterly unique to him – and, he to her. As he speaks to her she grows delighted in becoming “older” by his introduction to her of concepts such as time. It begins to dawn on him that he must be careful in what he says to her, for who is he to teach this uncorrupted one the meaning of such things that we as humans wish we did not know, things such as pain, or death? Is this his task that he was sent there to do? As Lewis writes after an exchange in which Ransom tries to explain the meaning of regret: 

Ransom wondered what he had done. It was suddenly borne in upon him that her purity and peace were not, as they had seemed, things settled and inevitable like the purity and peace of an animal – that they were alive and therefore breakable, a balance maintained by her mind and therefore, at least in theory, able to be lost. 

During the course of their conversations Ransom discovers that there is indeed “fixed” land (non-islands)  in Perelandra, but that Maledil (God) has forbidden the Lady and her King to sleep there overnight. In response to his desire to see it, the Queen takes him there. But before Ransom can discover any more, they are interrupted by the arrival of a space-ship and in it is Weston, the brilliant, arrogant physicist who was the originator of Ransom’s first voyage in space.

However the sun is going down and the Lady must leave the Fixed Land, so Ransom has time with Weston alone, to determine what he is doing on Perelandra. Weston begins to pontificate in his usual pompous way about his purpose, some kind of new theory about spreading spirituality among the planets, but is overcome by a strange fit as night falls.

In the morning the terrible truth becomes apparent – Weston has been overtaken by an evil spirit, his body merely the host for a demonic presence, the bridge by which one of the bent eldila has been transported to this uncorrupted planet.

And so begins the heart of the book: the temptation of this Eve by what Ransom calls the Un-man, for little of Weston is left in his shell of a body. The temptation is, of course, to do the one thing that Maledil has forbidden: to spend the night on the Fixed Land.

The Un-man and the Queen begin a conversation where Ransom is mainly kept silent, due to the creature’s ability to convince the Queen that it is Ransom who must not be listened to, that it is the Un-Man himself who will make the Lady “older”.

It is difficult to summarize this part of the book, and difficult to explain to you the fascinated horror with which I read it. Along with Ransom, we are given a glimpse into what, perhaps, it might have been like at the dawn of our own world. I remember the awe in which I read this the first time around, and I can say my appreciation for it has only grown. I, too, am “older” now, and the face of evil portrayed here is very more familiar to me than it was when I first read it.

The Un-Man, the demonic vessel, is a horrific creature. But this is no two-dimensional devil. The sheer banality, stupidity and yet cunning of evil is portrayed with skill. The unrelenting nature of the temptation is familiar to us who live here under Enemy siege, as it were. All through the day he cajoles, flatters, and urges the Queen to consider the value of going against Maledil’s will. And through the night, when the Lady is sleeping and Ransom tries to guard her, he torments Ransom by repeating over and over again, “Ransom” and when Ransom replies, “What?”, the reply is, “Nothing.” It nearly drives Ransom mad, until he steels himself by the thought that he would rather hear his own name over and over than that one word, “nothing”.

As the days pass Ransom tries to interject into the Un-man’s discourses with the Lady, but he is easily dismissed. And so the dawning realization comes to him that the only way to be rid of the Un-man is to kill him in a fight, however reluctant he is to engage the creature in combat. He is given the choice: to obey or not.

It is clear that Ransom is a Christ-figure in this book. For, as Maleldil Himself says to him, “My name is also Ransom.” And so, once he understands what is to be done and the risk to himself,  Ransom has his own night of struggling with the task before him; the cup waiting to be taken. And then he endures the physical struggle against the creature, the pain and the difficulty of besting one who means to kill you.

I won’t tell you the ending, I urge you to read it for yourself. I can’t imagine you’d be sorry. This book is a beautiful, haunting reflection on temptation, evil, and sacrifice.

Coming next month: That Hideous Strength, book three in the Space Trilogy.

Have you read this book? Tell me your thoughts, I would love to hear them!

The Staffordshire Hoard

On July 5, 2009, Terry Herbert was sweeping his metal detector over the field belonging to farmer Fred Johnson in central England, located just off the ancient Roman road known today as Watling Street. His detector beeped in one corner of the field, and he started to dig. I imagine he had done this exercise countless times before. I can only put myself in his shoes, but likely every time he began to dig it was with tempered optimism. However, this time, his shovel began to unearth something extraordinary – small pieces of gold, twisted and broken, clearly Anglo-Saxon in origin.

Terry Herbert had just found the Staffordshire Hoard, the largest amount of Ango-Saxon artifacts ever discovered. It consisted of some 3,500 pieces which came from hundreds of different objects. It quickly became apparent the objects were all military in nature – sword hilts, scabbard pendants, a cheek piece from a helmet, etc. Only three objects were non-military, and they were religious in nature, including a twisted golden cross.

I was deep into the writing of The Traveller’s Path in July of 2009, immersed into the world of 7th century Britain, so you can be sure this news item made me sit up and pay attention. Very quickly pictures began to circulate of the objects, revealing some extraordinary pieces.

Even a quick glance at the objects found will help you to understand just how skilled the Anglo-Saxon metalsmiths were. I mean, just look at these:

Cheek piece from a helmet

Cheek piece from a helmet – not cleaned up yet. It’s made of gold


Piece from a sword hilt. This is pretty much what it looked like when it came out of the ground – see the dirt on it? Note also the reflective nature of the garnet inlay – achieved by the waffle-like texture of the gold underneath it.


Detail from a seahorse or horse figure. The whole thing is 1.6″ high.

Part of a sword scabbard

Part of a sword scabbard

You look at these things and you can’t help but revise your opinion of the “Dark” ages, right? Not so backward and uncultured as you might think?

Various theories abound as to how this buried treasure ended up in this place. It’s location provides a clue – it is slightly west of Tamworth, the ancient seat of the Mercian kings, and just off the ancient Roman road. At that time objects such as these would have been booty from a battle, stripped from the enemy and taken to be melted down and re-used for your own battle swag. Perhaps this was stolen treasure of one of the Mercian thegns or aethlings who lived in Tamworth, perhaps even the king’s own hoard? Maybe it belonged to Penda of Mercia, the most powerful king Mercia ever had, the staunch rival of Oswy of Bernicia. As to why it was hidden in the ground, well, maybe the warrior who took it was being pursued, and he stopped to bury it there, intending to come back for it later. Alternatively, it could have been a ritual burial, an offering to the gods.

But there it lay, undisturbed for centuries, until Terry Herbert’s shovel brought it to light. If you’re wondering, the whole thing was valued at $5.3 million dollars, and Terry got half. Not bad for a day’s work….

There is a lifetime’s worth of work to be done on all the objects in terms of research and study. One turn of Herbert’s shovel unearthed more Anglo-Saxon objects than had ever been found before, the second-largest one being the Sutton Hoo ship burial, excavated in Kent in 1939. The Hoard is now at the Birmingham Museum, along with an interactive display of life in Anglo-Saxon times. Yet another place on my ever-growing list of places to visit when I get to England next!

How I wish I could have been there on that July day to see this incredibly treasure come out of the ground, to be the first person to touch it since that unknown person buried it so long ago. Wow. It makes me want to get a metal detector and head off to England to see what I could find. Who knows what else is buried under some farmer’s field, just waiting to be found again?

Does this give you the goosebumps too? What kind of treasure would YOU like to find? Love to hear from you….

The Joys of Scrivener

By happy accident, I discovered the perfect writing software just as I started writing my book. It’s called Scrivener, and I know the process of writing my book (s) has been made much simpler because of it. This lovely piece of software was developed by a writer, for writers, so that right there is a good start. And it was originally developed for the Mac, which made this Mac-lover very happy, especially in those early years when it was ONLY available for the Mac platform. It was so nice to have software that was made for Mac, right from the get-go. Why do I love Scrivener? Let me list the ways…

1) Research, research and more research – my novel is set in Dark Ages Britain. Aside from the many books I have on the subject, I have also come across a huge number of  websites, pictures, scholarly papers, blogs, etc that I wanted to be able to refer to easily. Enter Scrivener’s research file. I can easily drag and drop all of that stuff into my research folder, and bring up with a single click. Honestly, I don’t know how any novelist keeps their research info handy if they are not using Scrivener.

2) Organization – your document is not stored as one long document in Scrivener. You can break it up into chapters, scenes, snippets, or whatever else you want. Then you can make a virtual “index card” of each section and put those on a “corkboard” (it really does look like index cards on a corkboard) and then move those around until you have things the order you like. Or, if you want to have your masterpiece in one big chunk, you can enter Scrivenings mode and have it all in one chunk. Easy peasy.

3) Full screen mode – genius. Other writing programs are doing this now, but at the time when Scrivener came out (2006) I think they were the first. Enter full screen mode and the rest of your desktop fades away, leaving only the text you are working on. It really does help with concentration.

4) Compile – once the manuscript is done, you can compile it into pretty much any form you want for export. PDF, Word, RTF, iBook, eBook….it’s a very easy few steps and tah-dah! There it is, ready for you. I have to say I did get a bit of a thrill the first time I did this to my book and put it on my Kindle. There it was, listed amongst my other books, just like a “real” book. There are many other features which I won’t get into, and many ways to personalize and organize your writing in this marvellous software. In many ways I have only scratched the surface – I know I have a lot more to learn about it. And lest you think it is only for novelists, think again! It works just great for short story writing, screen plays, and research papers as well.

You can go to the site (literatureandlatte.com) and download a free 30 day trial. FREE. And if you like it, the final reason why I love Scrivener is its cost. Only $45 (US), pretty affordable even for a struggling writer. If you are doing any writing at all, I highly recommend Scrivener.

So, fellow writers, how do you do your writing? Anyone out there use Scrivener? What features do you like the best? What other writing software do you use? If you’re not a Scrivener fan (horrors!) why not?

My Shelfie, Part One

Awhile back the Twitterverse was awash with the phenomenon of the “shelfie” – a picture of a person’s book shelf. Kind of a fun idea; after all, the books you read tell quite a bit about the person you are, don’t you think? So, jumping late on the bandwagon as I am apt to do, I thought it might be fun to give you an idea of the books on my shelf. But not just any shelf. I have waaay too many books to photograph them all. The shelf I photographed above sits above my writing nook, and on it are some of the books that have played a large part in my writing journey as I wrote down The Traveller’s Path trilogy.

From left to right:

1. The AA Book of Britain’s Countryside – I can’t remember exactly how or when I stumbled across this particular treasure, but I am so glad I did! This book has been invaluable to me as I strove to write accurate descriptions of the area around Lindisfarne and Bamburgh; places I have never been (yet! Hope springs eternal….). In this book Britain is divided up into areas, and each area is described with photos and text, including detailed information on the flora and fauna found there. This book has made my novels come alive, and helped me to envision the rugged coastal area of Northumbria so that I can write about it with confidence. Well, that, and YouTube….

2. The Illustrated Bede – Bede (often called the Venerable Bede) was one of the world’s first historians, and lucky for me, he wrote about the time period and people that populate my books. His work is called the Eccelesiastical History of the English People, and he completed it in 751 AD when he was 59 years old.  As the title suggests, Bede, a monk at the monastery of Monkwearmouth, wrote this book to describe the history of the church in England, and he begins his book at 55 BC and the invasion of Caesar, ending it just before his death in 735 AD. The book on my shelf includes both Bede’s work and illustrations of the places he mentions in it. A great “first hand” resource for this era, one of the few that describes the people and places, although he is maddeningly silent on most things that don’t impact the church. Spoiler alert! A blog post on Bede is coming soon! 

3. The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in the 1800s (McCutcheon) and What the Past Did for Us (Hart-Davis) – two books not relevant to my novels, they are waiting for “another day”.

4. The Lindisfarne Gospels (British Library – the little blue book)- I picked this up in the British Library bookstore when I was there last, in 2007. I was looking for books about Lindisfarne, this was a nice small one that would not add much weight to my luggage and included some great descriptions of how the monks made illustrated manuscripts. Plus gorgeous pictures of the Gospels, truly some of the most beautiful books I have ever had the pleasure to see. Seeing the Lindisfarne Gospels in the British Library for the first time in 1987 was the first seed that planted the idea for my books.

5. Welsh Talk – also picked this up on my trip in 2007. I thought it might come in useful for helping me write down Welsh speech, but it’s a little too modern for my books. I can’t quite imagine my 7th century exiled Welsh warrior, Celyn, saying “I could drink a pint!”, could you? (if you’re interested, the translation is Gallwn i yfed peint!) Next time I go to Wales I’ll brush up on my Welsh, though….

6. Listening for the Heartbeat of God (Newell) – one of the many things I had to learn about in order to write my novels was Celtic Christianity, the “brand” of Christianity practiced by the monks on Lindisfarne. The church in Britain, particularly in the West and North, developed its own way of doing things in the period between the departure of the Romans and the arrival of Augustine. There are some significant differences, not theological, mainly, but ones of approach and focus. This book helped me to understand those, and to appreciate the practice of Celtic Christianity from a modern perspective.

7. Anglo-Saxon FAQs (Pollington) – pretty self-explanatory, really. A great resource on all things Anglo-Saxon, although sometimes I wished there was more information in it (the curse of a historical novelist, I suspect!). One thing I quickly discovered is that there is much “guessing” about the Anglo-Saxon era, especially in trying to figure out just how ordinary people lived. Most of what survives as information about this era is all about the kings and churchmen of the day. So this book was a good resource to find out other things, like what regular people ate, drank, or wore.

8. Treasury of Anglo-Saxon England (Cavill) – another great resource on the Anglo-Saxons and the time in which they lived. Used this one quite a bit.

9. Christianity and the Celts (Olsen) – another book picked up at the British Library bookstore. A fascinating, concise history of the Celts and their embrace of Christianity, focussing on some of the important figures in Celtic Christian history, such as St. Patrick and St. Brigid. Great pictures, too.

10. The Holy Island of Lindisfarne (Adam). The author was Vicar of the Holy Island of Lindisfarne for thirteen years. It is a good little history of the island.

11. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Anglo-Saxon England (various editors) –  I probably used this book the most to research the times and people of the day. The contributors are leading scholars and experts on AS England, and it covers pretty much everything you might want to know; from the food people ate, the books they wrote, the languages they spoke, to the prominent people of the time. Invaluable. This was the book I pulled off the shelf most often when I got stuck on questions like, “Where was the Battle of Hatfield Chase?” or “Who was king before Edwin?” Or even, “Oswy, Oswald, Oswine….drat, who is which?” (Let me just state up front for those who may complain about confusing, similar sounding names in my book: It’s not my fault. These are real people, and those are their real names. Deal with it.)

That’s it for now….Part 2 coming up next month….

Why not take a shelfie of your own and share it with me? I’d love to see it!