I don’t think I can wait any longer, so I’ll just go ahead and jump into a look at the scene I’m interested in at the end of Perelandra. There’s some crazy stuff going on inside my head, but I need to write out some of this first. I already set the scene in my first post, so I’ll refrain from doing it again here. You’re definitely going to want to have a copy of the book to refer to for this one, though! I’d like to dive in by looking at the ways in which the masculine and feminine eldila are the same.
First, Let’s take a peek at some ways in which the eldilas’ forms are alike. In humans, men are generally taller and larger than women, but the eldila are both 30 feet in height. In the culture in which Lewis lived, men and women also differed by hairstyle, but the eldila both have long sparkling hair that streams out behind them as they move to keep up with the movement of the planet on which Ransom is standing. Their bodies are both white, although they have halos around their neck and head that are different colors.
And their faces. Oh, I love the description of their faces! They are alike unchanging, with a single, unadulterated, “unnatural” expression, which Ransom eventually decides must be charity minus affection. “Pure, spiritual, intellectual love shot from their faces like barbed lightning. It was so unlike the love we experience that its expression could easily be mistaken for ferocity.” My guess is that this refers to the love/charity he talks about in The Problem of Pain. Affection would be the kind of love our culture usually thinks of – enjoying someone, wanting them to be happy. It was, according to Lewis in Pain, a lesser love than charity. Charity is loving someone so much that you want to see them at their best, and are willing to allow them to suffer so they become, as it were, more worthy of love; more praiseworthy, more beautiful, happier in a deeper sense. God, in the Scripture, has both kinds of love for His children. Lewis’ eldila have the charity without the love. Entire papers could, and possibly have been, written about that idea. But I will resist the temptation to digress and get back to the issue at hand. It’s another similarity.
Interestingly, they “were naked, and both were free from any sexual characteristics, either primary or secondary.” This is what seems most to confuse Ransom. “He could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided, yet it was impossible to ignore.” But he comes to the conclusion that the difference is that of gender. In our world the sexes are generally recognizably different because of things like overall body size and shape, in addition to sexual characteristics. Lewis adamantly eliminates many of the cues our society takes as essential differences between men and women. The eldila appear equally strong and tall; a masculine trait in our world. They are both beautiful, with sparkling hair that would be – in Lewis’ society, at least – far too feminine for a man. I live near Portland, Oregon where anything goes, but it would still be unexpected. They are white, reminiscent at first glance of a bride, perhaps, but they are white-hot; not cool and retiring but glowing intensely so as to be unapproachable. This overall physical similarity can be partly explained by Lewis’ insistence that, for humans, “Their reproductive functions, their differences in strength and size, partly exhibit, but partly also confuse and misrepresent, the real polarity.” He removes the human differences in an effort to get at the, for him at least, underlying reality.
Another similarity is in the amount of time they spend speaking. Even before they appear in their more visible forms, they speak with Ransom and their voices are identical – he can’t tell at first who is speaking – and they converse as equals. Perelandra has longer speeches as she explains the situation to Ransom. As the scene progresses, after they appear in their more solid forms, they share in giving Ransom explanations of how echoes of them have filtered into our world, with no clear delineation of which is speaking. Ransom and Mars do have a conversation, initiated by Ransom, about which appearance is closest to who the eldila really are. Rather than being a sign of sexism, I think it is explained by the fact that Ransom has conversed with Mars in the other form many times, both on Malacandra and on Earth. So it seems natural that he would answer Ransom’s question about which form is closer to reality. He better understands Ransom’s question and confusion. When the time comes to crown the new king and queen, Perelandra naturally takes the lead in the ceremony, as Oyarsa of this planet up to this time. She gives a “long oration,” of which Ransom only catches the end. The only other time it is clear which eldila is speaking is when Malacandra asks a brief question of the new king. So they seem to have a fairly equal amount of speaking time. But I think it’s important to note that Malacandra’s primary conversation is in response to Ransom, while Perelandra’s is part of the respect due her in honor of her position. Quite the reverse of what one would expect of a misogynist.
The eldila are also equal in their status as rulers of planets. Many see Lewis, at least at this point in his career, as insisting that women were not fit to be players in the academic or political spheres. But here he has a feminine being ruling a planet, on the same level as her masculine counterpart. In the first part of their conversation, before they take on their more perceivable forms, Malacandra corrects Ransom for calling him Oyarsa, “[H]ere that is not my name. In my own sphere I am Oyarsa. Here I am only Malacandra.” Lewis then makes it quite clear that Perelandra is both essentially feminine and truly the ruler of the planet. She alone conducts the ceremony in which she confers joint rulership on Tor and Tinidril. Malacandra remains silent during the ceremony, until after the coronation, when Tor speaks and he asks a brief question so Tor will continue. There is no indication that her authority is anything less than expected by anyone involved.
In the ensuing, well, I’ll call it a praise service for lack of a better term, there is no distinction whatsoever between masculine and feminine, or between eldil and human, or between beings from different planets. All reasoning beings take part in speaking the glory of Maleldil. It is a beautiful picture of each person fulfilling their God-given role in peace and harmony. After Ransom has a glimpse of The Great Dance, or the interlocking motion of all that exists in space and time that God is continually weaving together so beautifully, the eldila are gone. He is left on the mountaintop with King Tor and Queen Tinidril to say their farewells before his journey to his home planet.
In conclusion, I’m guessing you’ve gathered my conclusion from all this. Lewis describes the eldila’s similarities in such a way as to ensure that we see their equality. They are equally strong, tall, beautiful, loving. They have equal power as rulers of planets, and this is exemplified in the time and manner of their speech. Lewis describes many of these similarities before he gets to the differences, so that one has a sense of their essential equality, their sameness, before any note of divergence enters. This tells me that Lewis wanted to make sure that his analysis of the essential differences between the genders was preluded by this sense of their equality, their relatedness. This is important to keep in mind as we move on to exploring the differences between them.
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