As I’m reading Paradise Lost and thinking about its relation to the Ransom Trilogy, one thing I’ve been struck by is that Milton puts Eve clearly in submission to Adam from the beginning, before the fall. Here’s part of the initial introduction to the pair.

  •                                            Though both
  • Not equal, as their sex not equal seem’d;
  • For contemplation hee and valour form’d,
  • For softness shee and sweet attractive Grace,
  • Hee for God only, shee for God in him:
  • His fair large Front and Eye sublime declar’d
  • Absolute rule . . .
  • Shee as a veil down to the slender waist
  • Her unadorned golden tresses wore
  • Dishevell’d, but in wanton ringlets wav’d
  • As the Vine curls her tendrils, which impli’d
  • Subjection . . .

So Milton saw Eve as subject to Adam from the beginning, before the fall. Their other unfallen interactions make this clear, as well. She gets his food, he asks her to bring food for Raphael, she gets his permission to work in a different part of the garden, etc. My reading of Genesis is a bit different from Milton’s, and I would hope most people now would see it my way, though I’m pretty sure nobody in his day would have agreed with me! But I do think Lewis would have . . .

When Genesis says God created Eve, she was created after Adam, out of Adam, but there’s nothing in the text to indicate that she was subject to him. Unfortunate connotations of the word ‘helper’ have contributed to the persistence of the idea, but the word in the text doesn’t imply subjection at all. The word is used in the Old Testament several times to refer to God – ‘The Lord is my helper.’ So, if God is characterized with this word, then it can’t imply subjection because the idea of God being subject to man is simply ludicrous. Some modern translations clarify this by translating it with a phrase like ‘suitable companion,’ ‘a companion who corresponds to him,’ though some still use ‘helper’ in there somewhere. The note in the NET is very helpful (ha!) here. ‘In the Bible God is frequently described as the “helper,” the one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves, the one who meets our needs. In this context the word seems to express the idea of an “indispensable companion.” The woman could supply what the man was lacking in the design of creation and logically it would follow that the man would supply what she was lacking, although that is not stated here.’ The note on the ‘corresponds to him’ part says that the word ‘literally means “according to the opposite of him.”’

That, to me, sums up the way that Lewis portrays the masculine and the feminine fitting together, suiting one another, working together to bring about growth and fertility. What I’ve been seeing in the trilogy is that every physical location where major growth happens has elements of both masculinity and femininity. Growth in femininity occurs under a masculine influence, and vice versa. Each fills up what the other is lacking.

In an unfallen world, this means that there would be no need for subjection. If both parties have the same goals, and if each is continually content in the role they have been given, then there is no need for rule or authority between them. I think this is a lot of what Paul is getting at when he is continually exhorting Christians to be of the same mind, to have unity, to be like a building or a body. There will be little to no conflict or need for anyone to exert authority if everyone agrees on the goal and each fills their role. Within marriage, Paul instructs women to submit to their husbands. But a woman only needs to submit to her husband when her desires are different from his. And that’s what Genesis says, isn’t it? “Thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he will rule over thee.” The desire to usurp his role (and therefore to be ruled) is part of Eve’s punishment, which is fitting as her sin was driven by a desire to be as God, usurping His role. Another part of this punishment is the tendency of men to rule over women, whether or not their relationship makes such rule reasonable (such as in a king/subject or employer/employee relationship).

I think Lewis deals with this beautifully in Perelandra, in contrast with Milton. There is no sense that the Green Lady needs or seeks her husband’s permission to welcome the stranger, to converse with him, to learn from him, to teach him. Ransom gets his own food, as presumably does Tor, her husband. She frequently receives information directly from Maleldil regarding their conversations, to enable her to understand Ransom. She desires to see her husband, and there is indication during her conversation with the Unman that she wishes to seek his guidance (on which more in another post), but their relationship seems much more equitable than that in Milton. When they arrive at the coronation, it is side by side, hand in hand. King Tor takes the lead in answering many of Ransom’s questions – and a few of Tinidril’s as well – but he also acknowledges that he has received information from her without any necessity for outward communication. She tells Ransom where Tor has been during his absence and indicates that his role has been just as vital as hers when Ransom thinks he’s getting off easy. As it was Adam’s job to name the animals, it seems to be part of Tor’s role to name the places of Perelandra. But as there is no desire to usurp that role on Tinidril’s part, there is no necessity for submission- much less subjection. They are together crowned ‘Oyarsa-Perelendri, the Adam, the Crown, Tor and Tinidril’, joint rulers with no hint that one needs to rule over the other. Malacandra need not rule over Perelandra, and Tor need not rule over Tinidril, because each accepts their role, their part in the dance, their place in the arch.

Next Post: High and Low Brows, Part 1

Previous Post: Femininity + Masculinity = Fertility

One thought on “Lewis vs. Milton: Rule and Subjection Before the Fall

  1. Thank you, Christy, for sharing what you’re learning. It’s intriguing and I agree that while wives are called to be submissive to their husbands, women are not subject to men. I like your explanation of “helper” and want to look deeper into the translation of the word in relation to Eve and then to God.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *