I’ve been thinking lately about the main theme of the trilogy. In my article (which I’m hoping to submit next week!), I make the point that the trilogy represents an interweaving of many themes – the ‘unity in diversity’ Lewis praised in The Allegory of Love – into a unified work. I mention that gender is one of these themes, and perhaps the primary one. I carefully avoid saying that it IS the primary one. One of my beta-readers commented that he didn’t think it was the primary theme; he saw it as ‘unity in diversity’. But that’s not really a theme; it’s more of a strategy. So, what IS the primary theme?
I made the point in a post a while back (The Ransom Trilogy and Maturity) that the trilogy demonstrates Ransom’s maturation – especially his growth in femininity and masculinity. So, I’ve been thinking about the idea of maturation, growth, development. And I think the overall theme of the trilogy has to do with that idea, not just in Ransom, but in Weston and Devine as well. And, I think, the two of them represent a sort of growth in evil – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. It’s also the contrast in Proverbs – the wise man and the fool (simple, fool, scoffer); the way that leads to life and the way that leads to death. Perhaps most significantly, it’s a reflection of the theme he quotes in his Preface to Paradise Lost, ‘“The great moral which reigns in Milton,” said Addison, “is the most universal and most useful that can be imagined, that Obedience to the will of God makes men happy and that Disobedience makes them miserable.”’ (Edit: As I get further into Paradise Lost, seeing in letters that he re-read it in 1940 and published his Preface in 1942, I realize more and more how much PL influenced the trilogy. I think he may have been writing his own variation on this theme when he wrote the trilogy.) And, Lewis being Lewis, the process they progress through and their interaction with various philosophical positions, regarding various subjects, exhibits that ‘unity in diversity’ he loved.
So, in the novels, Ransom illustrates development in good – in obedience, in femininity, in masculinity, in charity, in the knowledge of God and nature and humanity. Obviously I’m most interested, at least at the moment, in the gender aspect, but if you see growth as the primary theme – and remember Lewis called Out of the Silent Planet ‘Ransom’s enfances’ – there are several possible tracks to follow. So gender is A main theme, under that overarching idea of development. Ransom starts off a nice guy, so to speak. A bit selfish, a solitary walker. Nobody knows where he is, and nobody cares. He’s polite, but really much more interested in his own comfort than the well being of others. He grows to risking his life to protect others, then directing the growth of his neighbors (as in, the people God sends his way, as in the parable of the Good Samaritan) in the fight against, well, Satan. He grows to be respected by humans and gods, and his end is being translated, without death, to Venus to await the end of the universe in the company of King Arthur. The path of the righteous leads to life. Obedience makes men happy.
Lewis, as I’m beginning to understand is usual, provides a contrasting development in the characters of Weston and Devine. They start out selfish, but selfish in different ways. I see Devine reflecting the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes while Weston reflecting the pride of life. On the spaceship on the way to Malacandra Devine talks about what he hopes to gain from the trip, and it has to do with villas on the Riviera, yachts, and the best women. Weston’s hopes are the continuation of the species – conquest. Pride is a highly-emphasized characteristic throughout Ransom’s interactions with him.
Lewis echoes Milton’s portrayal of the foolishness of evil in the scene where the men are brought before Oyarsa Malacandra at the end of Out of the Silent Planet, as they both completely misread the situation and act foolishly in light of what we know that they don’t – that in their pride they refuse to recognize.
Weston’s development is summarized in Ransom’s talk with him after he lands on Perelandra. His seeking after power – the power to ensure the continuation of the species – leads him to Satanic influence and eventually being fully controlled – possessed – by the trilogy’s equivalent of a demon. His end is being overpowered by Ransom in the bowels of Perelandra, and his grave is in a river of lava. This is the path of development of the lust for power; the pride of life.
Devine’s development is shown in That Hideous Strength. His setback in not getting the gold from Malacandra doesn’t appear to have hindered him; he inherits a title, acquires some of the things he lusted after, but he is not satisfied and continues to seek more. That he grows to enjoy baser things is illustrated by the fact he stays and watches the carnage in the dining room at NICE. He continues to think only of himself and his end is being swallowed by the earth. The path of the foolish leads to death. Disobedience to God makes men miserable.
I’ll just say that I’m sure this barely, barely scratches the surface. I’m just jotting down my musings. I’m not very knowledgeable about the philosophical positions reflected in the characters’ beliefs. But maybe by pointing out this theme of growth, of contrasting development, I can encourage someone else to dig into that aspect while I dig into the gender one.
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