I found something exciting – at least to my weird self! I’ve been re-reading Perelandra, and I keep getting interrupted (thanks to everybody being home all the time) and re-reading the same section over and over. Granted, it’s slightly irritating, but it has brought into focus something I’ve been puzzling about for some time but haven’t really pursued. I’ve talked about the significance of the ‘colours’ of the halos – not actual colors, but time of day, temperature, etc. I know I’ve also mentioned the significance of actual colors connected with Mars and Venus when talking about Narnia – Tumnus’s red scarf, the red rock his cave was made of, etc. So, red has traditionally been associated with Mars, and green with Venus. (Fascinating side note – that may be where we get the red and green of Christmas. Mars’ metal, iron, was used to make red dye, and Venus’ metal, copper, was used to make green dye, in addition to traditional association. Here’s an interesting article I came across on the subject: https://www.mysciencework.com/omniscience/medieval-roots-for-our-christmas-colors-the-meaning-of-red-green ) So it isn’t surprising when the water, and even the rock Ransom sees when he first arrives on Perelandra are described as green.
But I was rather confused when I realized how often gold is mentioned in Ransom’s first few minutes on the planet. In the beginning of chapter 3, there’s a conversation which repeats the word ‘colours’ six times in three sentences. The next page describes his sensations as he enters Perelandra’s atmosphere. ‘The prevailing colour, as far as he could see through the sides of the casket, was golden or coppery.’ On the next page (on my e-book at its current setting, anyway), there are no fewer than seven references to gold. The sky is described as ‘the burning dome of gold’, then ‘the sky was pure, flat gold,’ then ‘the ocean was gold, too, in the offing, flecked with innumerable shadows.’ You get the idea. I know by now that Lewis is not going to mention something seven times on one page without it having some serious significance. I know that gold is Sol’s metal, connected with the sun, but that just didn’t seem to fit here. I had puzzled about it a bit before, but hadn’t really looked into it. This time I did a little more digging.
I decided to take a look at Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature as a place where Lewis may have discussed the significance of the color gold. It’s a collection of Lewis’s scholarly essays, some of which I’ve read and some I haven’t gotten to yet. Bingo! I found an essay entitled ‘Spenser’s Cruel Cupid’. It’s about a stanza in which Spenser describes Cupid, blindfolded, with his arrows, and beneath him a dragon with both eyes pierced with arrows. In the process of figuring out the meaning of this stanza, Lewis poses several possible meanings for the dragon, but he concludes that the real point of the dragon is that it is a guardian. He quotes another medieval author describing dragons as guarding things, especially young girls’ virginity. Then he talks about golden apples – especially the golden apples of the Hesperides (connected to Venus), which are guarded by a dragon – as sometimes symbolizing a girl’s underdeveloped breasts. So dragons guard things – especially gold and virginity. Now, in Spenser’s work, Lewis comes to the conclusion that Britomart symbolizes true love – she’s a virgin in the context, but we’re constantly reminded that she will be a mother, much like Tinidril in Perelandra – and this particular Cupid symbolizes lawless love, having prevented the dragon from guarding her virginity by shooting its eyes with arrows.
So here’s how I think that connects to Perelandra. Perelandra’s sky is a golden dome, described as golden pretty much every time the sky is mentioned. This hints at the idea that she is a virgin planet, untouched by evil. Ransom, in a sense, is the dragon – and dragons are connected to Mars (being killed by him, granted, but in this usage serving that masculine purpose of protection) – sent to protect the virgin planet from the fall intended by the Un-man. It just makes so much sense! It’s also kinda fun that he arrives from the sky, as a dragon would.
Once again, I am impressed by the idea that Lewis meticulously crafted his work, using repetition to call attention to images that have an underlying significance, and that significance is connected to that medieval imagery that he loved. Now I look forward to seeing if this image crops up again in Perelandra – it’ll give me something specific to look forward to in this re-reading!
Quick note – I published this yesterday, went on with my Perelandra reading today, and was reminded that the first animal Ransom encounters is a dragon – a heavy, hard, red gold (not coppery) dragon . . .
Previous Post: Journal Article