The more I read C.S. Lewis, the more amazed I am at the complexity of his work. I had noted the feminine imagery in chapter 5 of Out of the Silent Planet, where Lewis describes Ransom as ‘a second Danaë.’ I think I had looked up her mythology at some point, but while listening to that section the other night (Audiobooks are awesome for doing dishes and laundry. Have I said that before?) I realized that the whole section is permeated by references to the story.
So, I’ll give the story first. Danaë was the only child of King Akresius. He wanted a male heir, so he consulted an oracle, which told him that he would be killed by the son of Danaë. He locked her up in a (variously) bronze/brass tower/underground prison, with a small skylight for light and air. That, of course, didn’t stop Zeus, who impregnated her with a shower of gold. Her father locked her and her son in a casket and tossed them into the ocean, where Poseidon protected them and brought them safe to land. There’s much more to the story, but that’s all we really need to give here.
So, in OSP, Ransom is on the spaceship, on the way to Malacandra, having been kidnapped and with only his kidnappers for company. But he feels great! In explaining why, he describes the daylight on one side of the ship and the night on the other. Both are delightful. At night, or on the night side of the ship, he describes some stars as ‘pinpricks of burning gold,’ with a comet to the left side of the ‘skylight.’ ‘Stretched naked on his bed, a second Danaë, he found it night by night more difficult to disbelieve in old astrology: almost he felt, wholly he imagined, “sweet influence” pouring or even stabbing into his surrendered body. All was silence but for the irregular tinkling noises.” The word tinkling is from an old word for star. In the myth, the gold enters Danaë’s womb to give her Perseus. Then he mentions being in a ‘hollow drum of steel,’ not brass exactly, but a metal container like Danaë’s prison.
Ransom then moves to the sunward side of the ship. There he is ‘immersed in a bath of pure ethereal colour and of unrelenting though unwounding brightness.’ The water imagery brings to mind both Danaë and Perseus floating in the casket on the sea, and Venus herself, especially when one considers the descriptions of the planet Perelandra – the overall golden brightness and wateriness of the planet. Again he mentions being ‘stretched [to] his full length’ in the ‘strange chariot’ and he ‘felt his body and mind daily rubbed and scoured and filled with new vitality.’ Again, it sounds like impregnation, especially when he mentions Weston explaining this vitality by his exposure to ‘rays that never penetrated the terrestrial atmosphere.’ Here Lewis-reporting-Ransom moves into the comparative inaccuracy of the word ‘space’, in which he describes the ‘empyrean ocean of radiance in which they swam. He could not call it “dead”: he felt life pouring into him from it every moment. How indeed should it be otherwise, since out of this ocean the worlds and all their life had come? He had thought it barren: he saw now that it was the womb of worlds.’ Wow! As I said, the whole section is permeated by not only feminine imagery, but imagery connected directly to the myth of Danaë and to Venereal influence.
So, the question is, what was Lewis getting at with this imagery? Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. From my reading of the trilogy, the primary focus is not only gender, but maturation in gender. And, for Ransom and I think possibly in Lewis’s view for everyone, maturation in femininity (open-handedness toward God) precedes maturation in masculinity (protectiveness for others). And, I think, masculine influence encourages growth in femininity and vice versa. I know, I know, it sounds weird, but bear with me. I’ll just say that the primary reason I think this, other than the fact that Ransom learns femininity from/on Malacandra and masculinity from/on Perelandra, is that in That Hideous Strength, the answer to the final question from Merlin, the one that convinces him that Ransom truly is the Pendragon, is that he learned war on Venus. It’s an important scene, and an important question, and I don’t think Lewis would have put it there if it wasn’t important. So, he learned war (as in, war to protect others, as in masculinity) on Venus, representative of femininity. Anyway, back to the scene in question.
In this scene, I think, possibly, pending more reading, that Lewis intends the two sides of the ship to represent masculine and feminine influence, and a double impregnation of Ransom with the seeds of femininity and masculinity. I know, crazy. But maybe not.
First Lewis pictures a masculine influence from the night, star studded sky – Zeus of the Danaë myth. The stars ‘reign,’ the planets are ‘of unbelievable majesty’ he thinks of meteorites powerful enough to smash the ship. And he is Danaë, open to impregnation by Zeus via the ‘pinpricks of gold’, also pictured in the tail of the comet, pouring into ‘his surrendered body.’ I think (think being the operative word) this is an image of Maleldil planting the seed of femininity/openness in Ransom. As I wrote in an earlier post, this seed is developed under the influence of the masculine planet of Malacandra, as Ransom learns more and more to ‘surrender’ to the will of Maleldil.
On the other side of the ship, the sunward side, the water imagery begins. This is not only the second episode in the story of Danaë, it is also indicative of the influence of Venus. He is “drawn by an irresistible attraction’ to this area of the ship. This attractiveness, along with her connection to water and fruitfulness, seem to indicate the involvement of Venus. The description of being ‘filled with new vitality,’ ‘penetrated’ by rays, may well be a second impregnation, this time with the seed of masculinity. This masculinity is brought to fruition on the planet of Perelandra, or Venus.
Like I said, it’s just a theory. But if fits so well that I can’t help but think it’s intentional. It wouldn’t be the first time if I’m wrong! But at least this time it’s all coming out of the text, in conjunction with the rest of the novels in the series. The man’s mind simply astounds me.
Next Post: Preface to Paradise Lost