I am so, so, so excited to be getting to the really fun part! This is where I believe Lewis came to what was, for him, the crux of the matter – the essential difference between masculine and feminine. Ready?
“He thinks that the first held in his hand something like a spear, but the hands of the other were open, with the palms towards him.” I think for Lewis the primary difference between the genders is exemplified by posture, here represented as physical posture in two awe-inspiring celestial creatures, but reflected by humans in a posture of the heart – by their attitude toward God and others.
I think the real reason the open hands comment struck me so hard is that it comes at the end of Perelandra. I’ll go into more of that as the weeks go on, but that simple gesture of open hands reminded me of all the words and actions that came before, that the gesture so vividly exemplified. And upon later reflection, the masculine holding of the spear is the much same.
But what do the two postures mean? To what kind of heart attitude might they correspond? Since the masculine comes first in the text, I’ll address it first. At first glance there’s a tendency to see the masculine holding of a weapon as the traditionally masculine tendency toward violence or aggressiveness. But, as Monika Hilder has done an excellent job pointing out in her book The Gender Dance: Ironic Subversion in C.S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy, the aggressive characters in the trilogy are evil, and when Ransom pursues aggressiveness it usually ends up hurting people or making him look foolish. I think the reconciliation to this dilemma is found on the next page, where Lewis goes into more detail on Malacandra’s stance. “Malacandra seemed to him to have the look of one standing armed, at the ramparts of his own remote archaic world, in ceaseless vigilance, his eyes ever roaming the earthward horizon whence his danger came long ago.” The answer is that Malacandra is exhibiting a protective posture, rather than an aggressive one. He is on watch, armed and prepared to protect Perelandra, and whoever else needs protecting, from the bent eldila who had before attacked their worlds from his base on the silent planet of Thulcandra. So, I think, for Lewis, the primarily masculine trait is a willingness to sacrifice oneself to protect others. I’ll get into more of why I think this is so in future posts, but I wanted to outline it in brief here.
Before I get into the feminine posture of Perelandra, I’d like to mention that Lewis many, many times pointed out that everyone is feminine toward God. There are indications all over his books that men are not exempt from this feminine aspect I’m going to talk about next. In fact, I believe the femininity toward God must come first, even for his male characters, before they can proceed to the masculinity mentioned above. But I’ll get into that more later. (I know, I’m saying that a lot in this post. It’s a book in the making.)
Now let’s talk about what Lewis meant by giving his feminine representative open hands. There are several aspects I’ll highlight eventually, but Lewis mentions the primary one in a letter of March 31, 1958. “St. Augustine says ‘God gives where He finds empty hands.’ A man whose hands are full of parcels can’t receive a gift. Perhaps these parcels are not always sins or earthly cares, but sometimes our own fussy attempts to worship Him in our way.”
I had already determined, from reflection on Perelandra and other Lewis fiction, that the surrender/acceptance aspect was the primary point of the metaphor, before I read the above quote, and before I read Monika Hilder’s emphasis on what she calls “receptivity.” But the quote emphasizes what I would say are two primary aspects of empty-handedness that always come together. They are letting go of what the individual wants and accepting as a gift whatever God sends. Sometimes it means surrendering, as Lewis says, the way we think we should worship God, or the way our culture says we should. Sometimes it means accepting things about ourselves or others that we wish were different. Sometimes it means accepting a project we don’t really feel equipped for, or doing something we think will be embarrassing or that others will misunderstand. I think at heart it’s giving up control of everything to God, and accepting as His good will everything He sends into our lives, even the things that look like the opposite of good. There’s an underlying necessity for vulnerability that is complemented by, and in turn complements, the masculine characteristic of sacrificial protectiveness. It’s a trait we see often in the Green Lady in the novel – it is what makes her so unique as a character; that she has no shred of self-protectiveness about her, fully trusting in Maleldil to send what is best.
I do also believe there are other aspects involved in having open hands – opening the hands to welcome others, or to impart to others what God has given to us. But I’ll dig into those later, as I move into the bigger picture of how these ideas play out in Lewis’s fiction, especially the Ransom Trilogy, and most especially in Perelandra. But I think next week I’ll probably dig a bit more into the arch metaphor I mentioned two weeks ago, and why I think that it helps level the playing field, so to speak, for those who see this scenario as having sexist tendencies.
Next Post: The Arch Metaphor
Introductory Post: With Hands Open