Technically, the first difference Lewis mentions between the eldila in the full text is that of color of the halo surrounding their heads and shoulders, but I think it makes more sense to touch on that later. I want to go ahead and jump into the differences mentioned specifically in the context of gender – when Ransom realizes that gender is the difference he is sensing between the two eldila. And the first difference is this: “Malacandra was like rhythm and Perelandra like melody.”
Jack Lewis loved music. He attended concerts and opera. Even as very young men, his friend Arthur Greeves and he wrote frequently about music – discussing new records or concerts or operas, giving opinions on private and public performances, and commiserating about being unable to attend favorite or much anticipated musical events. He sometimes disparaged his own musical taste, seeming to feel that Arthur’s taste was more refined. He loved Wagner, but not Handel. I had to laugh out loud when I read in one letter from 1914, of Handel, “Of course the inappropriateness of his tunes is appalling-as for instance where he makes the chorus repeat some twenty times that they have all gone astray like sheep in the same tone of cheerful placidity that they’d use for saying it was a fine evening.” I will never hear “All We Like Sheep” the same way again.
Given that long-standing love of music, it’s not surprising that Lewis chose a musical metaphor when describing the difference between Malacandra and Perelandra, Mars and Venus. But what is he saying with it? I plan to do a lot more reading in Lewis – and I’m only halfway through the first volume of letters (hey – it’s over 1,000 page in itself. And there are 3 volumes. And I’m working on other books, too). But I don’t think he intended it to be all that deeply gone into.
What strikes me most about rhythm and melody in this context is that they’re both necessary to have music – at least the kind of music Lewis enjoyed and was familiar with. Since his time, it may be true that rhythm has become more dominant, and some forms of music are entirely dependent on rhythm, but I don’t think that was true for Lewis. He actually uses both words to describe poetic meter in some of his letters, almost interchangeably. Rhythm provides the backbone of the music – the beat to which the melody conforms. But the melody also influences the rhythm – it stretches some measures and quickens others. They work together so that they are almost inseparable. And I think that’s the point. In context, Lewis says that Ransom “could point to no single feature wherein the difference resided,” that “he tried to put it into words,” that even the comparisons he used couldn’t explain the difference clearly.
The fun thing is that this fits perfectly with the conversation Ransom, Tor and Tinidril, and the eldila have at the end of the book. In viewing the King and Queen with the eldila, Ransom says he would have expected to see “a discord” (Note the musical term. Sorry-not-sorry.) between the gods and the humans, but instead “he saw this living Paradise, the Lord and Lady, as the resolution of discords, the bridge that spans what would else be a chasm in creation, the keystone of the whole arch.” And later, in what I’ve dubbed the praise service, describing the Great Dance, “It is loaded with justice as a tree bows down with fruit. All is righteousness and there is no equality. Not as when stones lie side by side, but as when stones support and are supported in an arch, such is His order; rule and obedience, begetting and bearing, heat glancing down, life growing up. Blessed be He!” The masculine/feminine nature of that last section is obvious, and the musical and arch metaphors link it all together. I’ll dig into more of that last quote in a later post, I’m sure, but for now I’ll focus on what I take to be the main point. They are all necessary and interdependent. An arch doesn’t work if it’s missing any one stone. All are of equal importance.
Music would be boring if it were only one note, without melody, or if it were melody always written to the same rhythm. Melody without rhythm would be merely chaos. A recently discovered favorite poet, Marguerite Wilkinson, reflected on much the same idea in the introduction to her book Bluestone, “I liked a band, too, partly because the beat of the drum was accompanied by a melody that ran with it, as it seemed to me then, but also ran away from it. But not all rhythms gave me pleasure. I was tormented by the strict regularity of the rhythm of ‘The Lay of The Last Minstrel’ when I heard it for the first time.” (She heard it, not read it. Maybe it was a poor reader . . .) I think Lewis would agree about poetry and music needing variety – rhythm and melody and harmony as well. He said in a letter once, “I find, however, on reading the poem over, plenty of melody but not enough harmony: it does not leave a continuous music in the ear.” (to Leo Baker January 12, 1920) I think he was getting at much the same idea – this time using melody and harmony as the musical terms, but the point being that there was too much sameness in the poem. The differences are what make the music, the Dance, possible – they resolve the discord that would exist if everything were either masculine or feminine – or if they were androgynous or gods or humans or planets or stars or bugs for that matter.
So, in using the comparison to rhythm and melody, I think the focus is that both are necessary, integral, of equal significance, to God’s creation. The eldila and the humans are different, but resolve rather than creating discord. And the masculine and feminine nature of created beings are the same. Rhythm is not melody, and melody is not rhythm, but it’s almost impossible to separate one from the other, hard even to define one without the other. Masculine and Feminine. Rhythm and Melody. Different and Integral.
Last Perelandra Post: Similarity before Difference
Introductory Post: With Hands Open