19 July 2009

report on the Perelandra Colloquium (#3)

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Panel session 3, chaired by Richard Jeffery

Prof. Charles Huttar, “Perelandra and The Problem of Pain: Variations on a Theme from Genesis”
This very scholarly paper compared these two rarely compared books, based on the premise that CSL spent about five years pondering the concept of an unfallen world, and that (therefore) The Problem of Pain was practice for Perelandra.
In 1930, CSL was giving his lectures on Paradise Lost, and thus was thinking about the Problem of Evil. Milton’s answer is: Free Will & The Fall. This is, of course, in stark contrast to modern progressive evolution—not Darwin’s biological theory, but the popular anthropology of Fraser’s The Golden Bough. He was also reading Andrew Lang (who disagreed with Fraser), Rudolph Otto’s The Idea of the Holy, and G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, which challenged the evolutionary monomania.
In 1939, CSL wrote The Problem of Pain at a time when readers no longer believed the Biblical narrative. His response was to write a his own account of how religion developed. Here is his progression:
1. from the earliest times, people have had an idea of the Numinous (the Spiritual Other).
2. they also have a concept of the Tao (moral law), and of falling short of it.
3. there must be some single God: Monotheism is the cause of 1 & 2.
4. Then Christ came and lived His earthly life.
CSL talked about the abuse of free will, and reaffirmed his belief in a Fall (not a gradual rise): a real spiritual Fall (not a social fall).
Then, on p. 65 of The Problem of Pain, he presents a new ‘myth’ of the development of Man and of Religion. It contains beautiful descriptions of unfallen humanity, and is rife with Augustinian ideas. He suggests that there could have been more people than just Adam & Eve, and that the sinful act might or might not have been the eating of a fruit. He uses quasi-scientific diction (“A new species, not made by God, had sinned itself into existence), no names, no fruit [necessarily], but still a narrative.
Now we get to Perelandra: a full-length myth of a possible, alternative, development of man & religion. It is a Platonic myth, a Socratic myth. In this book, CSL accepts the long time scale and animal ancestry of macroevolution. However, and more importantly, Tor & Tinidril show what unfallen man had and what he lost at the Fall: Maleldil’s constant presence. They are they Ur-Human, and they teach us that revelation begins by knowing God. They will patiently wait 10,000 years for the redemption of their bodies, then their bodies shall be changed—as shall ours at the resurrection. Read I Corinthians 15 in this connection.

Mrs. Eliane Tixier, “Ransom: The Figure of Christ in Perelandra”.
Mrs. Tixier based her paper on the idea of the One Cosmic Plot: the Ultimate Story of which all other stories are merely episodes. Sadly, her paper was pretty much just a plot summary with an emphasis on the obvious: Ransom’s Christological role. She had a couple of good points, however. She compared Weston to Screwtape. She mentioned the Athanasian creed in connection with Tinidril’s assertion that after the incarnation, God will save through men. She made an interesting claim that the book is like a play in three acts: Act I is an Old Testament evocation of temptation, Act II is a New Testament acceptance of sacrifice, and—I missed what Act III is! I imagine Act III is a future vision of paradise (the Great Dance and all that).
There are several ways that Ransom resembles Christ (However, Ransom is not Christ: he is a man, a humble man). First, he has a wounded heel (Gen 3:!6). Second, he has many other wounds, and his & Weston’s are of different kinds. His are the marks of flagellation; Weston’s are broken bones. Fourth, he suffers from a terrible thirst. Fifth, his fall into water, while it resembles the Jungian subconscious, also could be considered a Descent into Hell. Sixth, he has a ‘resurrection’ or new birth out of the top of the mountain. This is a close parallel to the soul that Christ revives. He goes through a phase of childhood and renewal, a second infancy. Seventh, he experiences a return to Eden on a mountain: this is either Easter Morning or the Transfiguration. Cf. Ps. 104.
Perelandra is, generically, best considered Theology-Fiction (I would call this Theological Fiction). It is a new way of presenting the spiritual: stripped of traditional associations, no stained glass. It employs spiritual adventures and CSL’s distinctive concept of Transposition.

Panel session 4, chaired by Prof. Chris Mitchell (director of the Wade Center)

Prof. Rod Miller, “Perelandra: The Synoptic Lewis”.
Prof. Miller was asking the question, “How can we fight evil?” He talked about lawful hatred, and discussed how Christians should respond to evil and violence. Ransom fights a spiritual battle in both the intellectual and physical realms. He reminded us that our actions matter: this is the point and result (?) of the Incarnation. We are to engage in a conflict as Ransom did. Every Christian is called upon to enact Christ. We can do this in our academic work, as well as in other realms.

Dr. Peter Miller, “Perelandra: An Imaginative Step to Gain New Horizons”.
Dr. Miller talked about how fiction/fantasy opens up new perspectives for readers. It gets us to accept a new point of view. Perelandra encourages us to ‘try on,’ for example, Hooker’s theology or the Medieval cosmos. CSL uses story to bring about a change of consciousness, which brings you to a new perspective on your own world. [Willing Suspension of Disbelief]. Nathan the Prophet uses story to convict David. Symbol is within story; readers need to accept the mythopoetic (even in the Bible). We have a hunger for other worlds because they enable us to view our own world with grater clarity. Good novels are comments on life; good mythical stories are additions to it.

Mr. David Harden, “ ‘Art is the Signature of Man’: Chesteron’s Influence on Perelandra”.
Scholars love to trace CSL’s sources. Mr. Harden pointed to a particular source for Perelandra in the writings of Chesterton. Chesterton wrote that “Rome defeated Carthage.” This was a metonym for two facets of the pagan imagination. The pagan imagination can be helpful and healthy (= Rome) or it can be evil (= Carthage). The sacramental imagination is the key. It was an excellent paper; unfortunately, my notes on this talk are not very good, and that’s about all I go.

closing keynote address: Walter Hooper on “Of Other Worlds: the science fiction of C. S. Lewis.
I didn’t take any notes on this talk; sorry. It was reflections on some of Hooper’s conversations with CSL, primarily chats about the ‘space’ trilogy.

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