When I read the scriptures, I usually focus on the spiritual contents and don’t always take time to consider the “back-stories.” Reading Perelandra, the second book of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, gave me the opportunity to reflect on the back-story of the biblical account of Adam and Eve. In Genesis 3:1-6 and 13, the story of Satan’s tempting of Eve is briefly summarized:
1 Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
2 And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
6 And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
13 And the Lord God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.
Eden on Venus
The theme of Lewis’ second science fiction book revolves around a similar setting on the planet Perelandra (Venus). The protagonist, Ransom, is sent to Perelandra for a purpose he knows nothing about beforehand. The planet is very young, still in its Garden of Eden phase. It is covered by seas and sprinkled with various sized floating islands planted with exotic and vibrantly colored flora and fauna—a veritable paradise. There are only two people on the planet when Ransom arrives, the green Lady (the equivalent of Eve), the first mother of her race; and the King (the equivalent of Adam), the first man. Shortly after Ransom’s arrival, another space ship lands, introducing his old nemesis Weston, whose body has been taken over by a devil.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were subject to a law: it was forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In Perelandra, there is a similar divine forbidding: the King and Lady, who ordinarily live on the floating islands, are not to sleep on the Fixed Land. Ransom, a devout Christian, arrives before Weston, and learns about this forbidding. Weston (a devil) arrives and immediately seeks to persuade the Lady to sleep on the Fixed Land. Ransom must try to prevent it; this is why he has been summoned to Perelandra. In a series of dialogs, the book unfolds the story of how the devil tempts the Lady, how she withstands his temptation, and is able to set Perelandra on a different path than Earth, which experienced the “shameful” Fall of Man.
My favorite dialogs are those between Weston (the devil) and the Lady, with occasional contributions from Ransom. I found many of the dialogs reminiscent of comments in The Screwtape Letters, where Screwtape, a senior devil, is teaching his nephew and junior devil Wormwood the fine art of tempting a human being; the nephew meets with several successes. In Perelandra, the devil has a much harder time convincing the Lady to disobey divine instruction. He goes at the situation from every direction—from telling her how she will gain knowledge and power and be like a god, to asking her if she didn’t think the King would like her to make a decision on her own for a change, rather than bothering him. At each new ploy, the Lady agrees that it sounds good, that the knowledge has made her “older” (meaning “wiser”), but that she needs to think about it. Upon reflection, she finds a flaw in each ploy and resists the temptation. Pondering before acting provides her with safety.
In the beginning, Ransom tries to be an active participant in the dialog between the devil and the Lady. He soon finds, however, that the devil usually casts doubt on his comments, and as Ransom attempts to argue, it only makes the situation worse. This situation was foreshadowed early in the book, when Ransom remarked to a friend on earth: "Don't try to answer them [the devils]. They like drawing you into an interminable argument." On Perelandra, Ransom eventually realizes that he can be more effective in talking with the Lady privately, and staying close during her talks with the devil so he can protect her to the best of his ability.
There were times that I thought the Lady might be persuaded to ignore the divine command not to sleep on the Fixed Land. The devil’s comments made a lot of sense if taken at face value; but then I realized I was looking at things through earthly eyes. The green Lady was different. She was from an unfallen planet. She was innocent. She was ignorant of bad, of pain and suffering, and even of death. She was not wicked, sinful, rebellious or prideful. She knew a great deal about many things, but they were all good and positive; her knowledge and experience did not include human foibles and weaknesses. This is why the devil had to work so hard to tempt her, and why the tactics used so successfully on today’s earthly humans were not effective on Perelandra.
An “Ah-Ha” Moment
Shortly after completing Perelandra, I had an unusual experience that I can only attribute to reading the book. It dawned on me just how much back-story there must have been leading up to Mother Eve’s simple comment, “The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat.” From reading the extensive dialog between the Lady and the devil on Perelandra and how the Lady struggled to understand the decision she was being asked to make, I gained a deeper appreciation of Eve and what she must have gone through in the Garden of Eden. Eve was innocent and ignorant of evil. How difficult it must have been to convince her to eat of the forbidden fruit using the tactics the devil uses today (i.e., power, pride, greed). There must have been much discussion and calculated reasoning that went on before she made her decision to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
This “ah-ha” moment was like a golden thread had been woven into the fabric of my spiritual understanding. It was simple yet profound. Mother Eve’s action took on a deeper, richer meaning. What a noble woman and such a courageous decision she made that “man might be.”
Once again, C.S. Lewis has led me to ponder things that have enriched my life.
Thoughts on Mother Eve
Eve’s role as our first mother has been talked about by several LDS general authorities, including Pres. Joseph Fielding Smith and Elder Dallin H. Oaks:
“One of these days, if I ever get to where I can speak to Mother Eve, I want to thank her for tempting Adam to partake of the fruit. He accepted the temptation, with the result that children came into this world. … If she hadn’t had that influence over Adam, and if Adam had done according to the commandment first given to him, they would still be in the Garden of Eden and we would not be here at all. We wouldn’t have come into this world. So the commentators made a great mistake when they put in the Bible … ‘man’s shameful fall.’”
--President Joseph Fielding Smith, October 1967 LDS General Conference
“Modern revelation shows that our first parents understood the necessity of the Fall. Adam declared, ‘Blessed be the name of God, for because of my transgression my eyes are opened, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God’ (Moses 5:10). Note the different perspective and the special wisdom of Eve, who focused on the purpose and effect of the great plan of happiness: ‘Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient’ (Moses 5:11). In his vision of the redemption of the dead, President Joseph F. Smith saw ‘the great and mighty ones’ assembled to meet the Son of God, and among them was ‘our glorious Mother Eve’ (D&C 138:38–39).”
--Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, November 1993 Ensign