C. S. Lewis View of Venus in Perelandra Andrew Lang and Joe Ninowski Oral Roberts University Science and Science Fiction Conference 2012
Overview1. Novel Summary2. Early Perceptions ofVenus3. Lewis Depiction of Venus4. What We Know Today5. Conclusion
Summary of Perelandra Perelandra (aka Voyage to Venus) is the second installment in C.S. Lewis space trilogy. Published in 1943, the story picks up where Out of the Silent Planet left off and follows the account of Dr. Elwin Ransom as he journeys from Earth to Venus. Upon landing there, Dr. Ransom discovers the planet is a New Eden whose King (Adam) and Queen (Eve) have never known Evil. The reason for his summons is soon revealed in the form of Silent Planets antagonist, Professor Weston, who seeks to corrupt Eve. The novels main momentum evolves as Dr. Ransom must prevent Weston from bringing about a new Fall of Man on this uncorrupted world.
Early Perceptions of Venus: Life on Venus"Venus...in size, in situation, and in density, in the lengthof her seasons, and of her rotation, in the figure of herorbit and in the amount of light and heat she receivesfrom the sun, Venus bears a more striking resemblanceto earth than any other orb within the solar system...[and]on the whole, the evidence we have points very stronglyto Venus as an abode of living creatures not unlike theinhabitants of earth."-Proctor R.A. (1870)from Other Worlds Than Ours: The Plurality of WorldsStudied Under the Light of Recent Scientific Researches
Early Perceptions of Venus: Rotation and Day LengthSchiaparellis observations of Venus over several years ledhim to conclude that its period of rotation was longer than the~23h period suggested by Cassini.In 1890, he was ready to conclude that Venus makes onerotation in 224.7 days, the same as its orbital period. If true, itwould mean that Venus would have one face perpetuallytoward the Sun (like the Moon around the Earth). This viewwas supported later by Lowell.Note: Venus actual sidereal rotation period is -243 days (retrograde)but this wasnt confirmed until the 1960s using Earth-based radarmeasurements.
Early Perceptions of Venus: Atmosphere and Vegetation"We must therefore conclude the everything on Venus isdripping wet...A very great part of Venus is no doubtcovered in swamps...The temperature on Venus is not sohigh as to prevent a luxuriant vegetation. The constantlyuniform climatic conditions which exist everywhere resultin an entire absence of adaptation to changing exteriorconditions. Only low forms of life are thereforerepresented, mostly no doubt belonging to the vegetablekingdom."-Svante Arrhenius, Nobel Prize-winning chemist (1918)
Did Lewis Care About the Science? Lewis: The starting point of the second novel, Perelandra, was my mental picture of the floating islands. The whole of the rest of my labours in a sense consisted of building up a world in which floating islands could exist. And then of course the story about an averted fall developed. Aldiss: But Im surprised that you put it this way round. I would have thought that you constructed Perelandra for the didactic purpose. Lewis: Yes, everyone thinks that. They are quite wrong. -Transcript from Unreal Estates featuring C.S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss "I took a hero once to Mars in a space-ship, but when I knew better I had angels convey him to Venus. Nor need the strange worlds, when we get there, be at all strictly tied to scientific probabilities. It is their wonder, or beauty, or suggestiveness that matter." -Quote from C.S. Lewis On Science Fiction
Lewis Depiction of Venus in Perelandra:Ransoms thoughts before Perelandra: "There’s a man called Schiaparelli who thinks she [Venus] revolves onceon herself in the same time it takes her to go once round Arbol—I mean,the Sun. The other people think she revolves on her own axis once inevery twenty-three hours. That’s one of the things I shall find out.” “If Schiaparelli is right there’d be perpetual day on one side of her andperpetual night on the other?” He nodded, musing. “It’d be a funny frontier,” he said presently. “Justthink of it. You’d come to a country of eternal twilight, getting colder anddarker every mile you went..... Of course if they have a scientific civilisationthey may have diving-suits or things like submarines on wheels for goinginto the Night.” (23)Ransoms thoughts after Perelandra: “That idea of Schiaparelli’s is all wrong,” he shouted. “They have anordinary day and night there..." (27)
Lewis Depiction of Venus in Perelandra: The Atmosphere "The sky was pure, flat gold like the background of a medieval picture. It looked very distant as far off as a cirrus cloud looks from earth." (32) "He had somehow turned on his back. He saw the golden roof of that world quivering with a rapid variation of paler lights as a ceiling quivers at the reflected sunlight from the bath-water when you step into your bath on a summer morning." (32) "The water gleamed, the sky burned with gold, but all was rich and dim, and his eyes fed upon it undazzled and unaching. The very names of green and gold, which he used preforce in describing the scene, are too harsh for the tenderness, the muted iridescence, of that warm, maternal, delicately gorgeous world." (32)
Lewis Depiction of Venus in Perelandra: The Oceans "The ocean was gold too, in the offing, flecked with innumerable shadows. The nearer waves, though golden where their summits caught the light, were green on their slopes: first emerald, and lower down a lustrous bottle green, deepening to blue where they passed beneath the shadow of other waves. All this he saw in a flash; then he was speeding down once more into the trough." (32) "There was a wave ahead of him now so high that it was dreadful. We speak idly in our own world of seas mountain high when they are not much more than mast high. But this was the real thing. If the huge shape had been a hill of land and not of water he might have spent a whole forenoon or longer walking the slope before he reached the summit." (32)
Lewis Depiction of Venus in Perelandra: Vegetation"A horrible crest appeared; jagged and billowy and fantastic shapes,unnatural, even unliquid, in appearance, sprouted from the ridge ... Itwas an irregularly shaped object with many cuves and re-entrants. It wasvariegated in colours like a patch-work quilt - flame-colour, ultramarine,crimson, orange, gamboge, and violet." (32-33)"And that is the nature of the floating islands on Perelandra ... for theyare dry and fruitful like land but their only shape is the inconstant shapeof the water beneath them." (36)"At long last he reached the wooded part. There was an udnergrowth offeathery vegetation, about the heigh of gooseberry bushes, coloured likesea anemones. Above this were the taller growths--strange trees withtube-like trunks of grey and purple spreading rich canopies above hishead, in which orange, silver, and blue were the predominant colors."(37)
What We Know Today About Venus: Exploration HistoryVenera 3 (1966) - Reached Venus but returned no data. First man-made object to land on another planet.Venera 4 (1967) - The descent lasted 93 minutes. The capsule deployedits parachute at an altitude of about 52 km, and started sending data onpressure, temperature and gas composition back to Earth. Thetemperature at 52 km was recorded as 33 °C, and the pressure as lessthan 1 atm. At 26 km, the temperature reached 262 °C and pressureincreased to 22 atm, and the signal transmission terminated.Venera 5 & 6 (1969) - Corroborations of high pressure and temperature,but like Venera 4, both probes stopped sending data before reaching thesurface.
What We Know Today About Venus: Exploration HistoryVenera 7 (1970) - First probe to transmit data from the surface. Lasted23 mins. Surface temperature: 455 C - 475 CFrom 1971-1985 the Russian sent 10 more probes - the longest lasting(Venera 13) for 127 minutes.From 1962-1978 the Americans sent orbiters to Venus during theMariner and Pioneer programs.Magellan 1990 (USA) - Orbiter: returned data for 4 years.Venus Express 2006 (ESA) - Orbiter: still returning data.
What We Know Today About Venus: Basic FactsTerrain: Rocky, terrestrial planet with 80% surface covered withsmooth volcanic plains. There are 167 volcanoes on Venus that are100 km across each.Orbit: 224.65 Earth days around the sun; 243 Earth days around itselfAtmosphere: 95.6% carbon dioxide, 3.5% nitrogenTemperature: Around 860˚F (Hotter than Mercury)Surface Pressure: 92 ATM, or 3000 ft below Earths sea levelRotation: Venus is the only planet to rotate clockwise ("retrograde")
Venus From SpaceVenus’ True Color False Color TopographyImage Created Using Data From Image Created Using Data From Megellan Megellan
Surface of Venus:180˚ Panoramic Pictures from Venera-13 March 1, 1982Complete Panoramic Transmission From Venera-13, Camera IComplete Panoramic Transmission From Venera-13, Camera II Venera-11 Sky Spectra Reading (Color)
Surface of Venus:180˚ Panoramic Pictures from Venera-13 March 1, 1982 "The Venera panoramas are spherical projections. They can be remapped to perspective projections and overlaid to produce views that give a better subjective impression of the Venusian surface." -Don Mitchell (2008)
Surface of Venus:180˚ Panoramic Pictures from Venera-13 AND Venera-11 Sky Spectra (Color) Image Colorized by Bob King (2010)
Conclusion: C.S. Lewis View of Venus in a fantasy epic that immerses the reader into The novel Perelandra is Perelandraa strange, empyreal landscape of C.S. Lewis creation. Frominformation gathered and first hand accounts, its clear that Lewis wascognizant of his periods prevailing postulations of Venus. But instead ofsticking rigidly to those suppositions, Lewis constructed his own WaterWorld, complete with raging oceans, floating islands, and amberatmosphere. In comparison to information scientists have gathered over the last 60years, Lewis depiction of Venus is nothing like the actual conditions ofthe arid planet. In fact, it couldnt be more opposite, for while Lewispersonifies the planet as a tropical Eden devoid of sin, Venusconditions are actually closer to modern depictions of hell: no air tobreath, temperatures above 800˚F, and surface pressure equal to being3000 ft below the ocean. While his predictions were far from accurate, Lewis View of Venusin Perelandra is one of beauty, mystery, and possibilities that brilliantlymerges dated hypothetical notions, true creativity, and spiritual themesto great effect.