C.S. Lewis and The Temptation of Eve

We read in Genesis of the temptation of Eve and Adam and their failing to obey the one and only rule that God gave them, and we wonder how such a thing could have happened when they had everything they needed. C.S.Lewis has written a parallel in his book Perelandra (1943), the second of the three books in his Space Trilogy. In pages 91 through 99 we read an exchange between the evil one and the innocent and we can see just how the expert at disingenuity and fabrication and lies can deceive so appealingly. I think everyone should read this. I include it below without comment. You’ll make sense of who the characters are easily enough.
“It is a great branching out,” it was saying. “This making of story
or poetry about things that might be but are not. If you shrink back
from it, are you not drawing back from the fruit that is offered you?”
“It is not from the making a story that I shrink back, O Stranger,”
she answered, “but from this one story that you have put into my
head. I can make myself stories about my children or the King. I can
make it that the fish fly and the land beasts swim. But if I try to make
the story about living on Fixed Land I do not know how to make it
about Maleldil. For if I make it that He has changed His command,
that will not go. And if I make it that we are living there against His
command, that is like making the sky all black and the water so that
we cannot drink it and the air so that we cannot breathe it. But also,
I do not see what is the pleasure of trying to make these things.”
“To make you wiser, older,” said Weston’s body.
“Do you know for certain that it will do that?” she asked.
“Yes, for certain,” it replied. ‘That is how the women of my world
have become so great and so beautiful.”
“Do not listen to him,” broke in Ransom; “send him away. Do not
hear what he says, do not think of it.”
She turned to Ransom for the first time. There had been some very
slight change in her face since he had last seen her. It was not sad,
nor deeply bewildered, but the hint of something precarious had
increased. On the other hand she was clearly pleased to see him,
though surprised at his interruption; and her first words revealed
that her failure to greet him at his arrival had resulted from her nev-
er having envisaged the possibility of a conversation between more
than two speakers. And throughout the rest of their talk, her igno-
rance of the technique of general conversation gave a curious and
disquieting quality to the whole scene. She had no notion of how
to glance rapidly from one face to another or to disentangle two
remarks at once. Sometimes she listened wholly to Ransom, some-
times wholly to the other, but never to both.
“Why do you start speaking before this man has finished, Piebald?”
she inquired. “How do they do in your world where you are many
and more than two must often be together? Do they not talk in turns,
or have you an art to understand even when all speak together? I am
not old enough for that.”
“I do not want you to hear him at all,” said Ransom. “He is—” and
then he hesitated. ‘Bad’, ‘liar’, ‘enemy’, none of these words would, as
yet, have any meaning for her. Racking his brains he thought of their
previous conversation about the great eldil who had held on to the
old good and refused the new one. Yes; that would be her only ap-
proach to the idea of badness. He was just about to speak but it was
too late. Weston’s voice anticipated him.
“This Piebald,” it said, “does not want you to hear me, because he
wants to keep you young. He does not want you to go on to the new
fruits that you have never tasted before.”
“But how could he want to keep me younger?”
“Have you not seen already,” said Weston’s body, “that Piebald is
one who always shrinks back from the wave that is coming towards
us and would like, if he could, to bring back the wave that is past?
In the very first hour of his talking with you, did he not betray this?
He did not know that all was new since Maleldil became a man and
that now all creatures with reason will be men. You had to teach him
this. And when he had learned it he did not welcome it. He was sor-
ry that there would be no more of the old furry people. He would
bring back that old world if he could. And when you asked him to
teach you Death, he would not. He wanted you to remain young, not
to learn Death. Was it not he who first put into your mind the very
thought that it was possible not to desire the wave that Maleldil was
rolling towards us; to shrink so much that you would cut off your
arms and legs to prevent it coming?”
“You mean he is so young?”
“He is what in my world we call Bad,” said Weston’s body. “One
who rejects the fruit he is given for the sake of the fruit he expected
or the fruit he found last time.”
“We must make him older, then,” said the Lady, and though she
did not look at Ransom, all the Queen and Mother in her were re-
vealed to him and he knew that she wished him, and all things, in-
finitely well. And he — he could do nothing. His weapon had been
knocked out of his hand.
“And will you teach us Death?” said the Lady to Weston’s shape,
where it stood above her.
“Yes,” it said, “it is for this that I came here, that you may have
Death in abundance. But you must be very courageous.”
“Courageous. What is that?”
“It is what makes you to swim on a day when the waves are so
great and swift that something inside you bids you to stay on land.”
“I know. And those are the best days of all for swimming.”
“Yes. But to find Death, and with Death the real oldness and the
strong beauty and the uttermost branching out, you must plunge
into things greater than waves.”
“Go on. Your words are like no other words that I have ever heard.
They are like the bubble breaking on the tree. They make me think
of — of — I do not know what they make me think of.”
“I will speak greater words than these; but I must wait till you are
“Make me older.”
“Lady, Lady,” broke in Ransom, “will not Maleldil make you older in
His own time and His own way, and will not that be far better?” Wes-
ton’s face did not turn in his direction either at this point or at any
other time during the conversation, but his voice, addressed wholly
to the Lady, answered Ransom’s interruption.
“You see?” it said. “He himself, though he did not mean nor wish
to do so, made you see a few days ago that Maleldil is beginning to
teach you to walk by yourself, without holding you by the hand. That
was the first branching out. When you came to know that, you were
becoming really old. And since then Maleldil has let you learn much
— not from His own voice, but from mine. You arc becoming your
own. That is what Maleldil wants you to do. That is why He has let
you be separated from the King and even, in a way, from Himself. His
way of making you older is to make you make yourself older. And yet
this Piebald would have you sit still and wait for Maleldil to do it all.”
“What must we do to Piebald to make him older?” said the Lady.
“I do not think you can help him till you are older yourself,” said
the voice of Weston. “You cannot help anyone yet. You are as a tree
without fruit.”
“It is very true,” said the Lady.
“Go on.”
“Then listen,” said Weston’s body. “Have you understood that to
wait for Maleldil’s voice when Maleldil wishes you to walk on your
own is a kind of disobedience?”
“I think I have.”
“The wrong kind of obeying itself can be a disobeying.”
The Lady thought for a few moments and then clapped her hands.
“I see,” she said, “I see! Oh, how old you make me. Before now I have
chased a beast for mirth. And it has understood and run away from
me. If it had stood still and let me catch it, that would have been a
sort of obeying — but not the best sort.”
“You understand very well. When you are fully grown you will be
even wiser and more beautiful than the women of my own world.
And you see that it might be so with Maleldil’s biddings.”
“I think I do not see quite clearly.”
“Are you certain that He really wishes to be always obeyed?”
“How can we not obey what we love?”
“The beast that ran away loved you.”
“I wonder,” said the Lady, “if that is the same. The beast knows
very well when I mean it to run away and when I want it to come
to me. But Maleldil has never said to us that any word or work of
His was a jest. How could our Beloved need to jest or frolic as we
do? He is all a burning joy and a strength. It is like thinking that He
needed sleep or food.”
“No, it would not be a jest. That is only a thing like it, not the thing
itself. But could the taking away of your hand from His — the full
growing up — the walking in your own way — could that ever be
perfect unless you had, if only once, seemed to disobey Him?”
“How could one seem to disobey?”
“By doing what He only seemed to forbid. There might be a com-
manding which He wished you to break.”
“But if He told us we were to break it, then it would be no com-
mand. And if He did not, how should we know?”
“How wise you are growing, beautiful one,” said Weston’s mouth.
“No. If He told you to break what He commanded, it would be no
true command, as you have seen. For you are right. He makes no
jests. A real disobeying, a real branching out, this is what He secretly
longs for: secretly, because to tell you would spoil all.”
“I begin to wonder,” said the Lady after a pause, “whether you are
so much older than I. Surely what you are saying is like fruit with no
taste! How can I step out of His will save into something that cannot
be wished? Shall I start trying not to love Him — or the King — or
the beasts? It would be like trying to walk on water or swim through
islands. Shall I try not to sleep or to drink or to laugh? I thought your
words had a meaning. But now it seems they have none. To walk out
of His will is to walk into nowhere.”
“That is true of all His commands except one.”
“But can that one be different?”
“Nay, you see of yourself that it is different. These other commands
of His — to love, to sleep, to fill this world with your children —
you see for yourself that they are good. And they are the same in all
worlds. But the command against living on the Fixed Island is not
so. You have already learned that He gave no such command to my
world. And you cannot see where the goodness of it is. No wonder.
If it were really good, must He not have commanded it to all worlds
alike? For how could Maleldil not command what was good? There
is no good in it. Maleldil. Himself is showing you that, this moment,
through your own reason. It is mere command. It is forbidding for
the mere sake of forbidding.”
“But why…?”
“In order that you may break it. What other reason can there be?
It is not good. It is not the same for other worlds. It stands between
you and all settled life, all command of your own days. Is not Maleldil
showing you as plainly as He can that it was set up as a test — as a
great wave you have to go over, that you may become really old, re-
ally separate from Him.”
“But if this concerns me so deeply, why does He put none of this
into my mind? It is all coming from you. Stranger. There is no whis-
per, even, of the Voice saying Yes to your words.”
“But do you not see that there cannot be? He longs — oh, how
greatly He longs to see His creature become fully itself, to stand up
in its own reason and its own courage even against Him. But how
can He tell it to do this? That would spoil all. Whatever it did after
that would only be one more step taken with Him. This is the one
thing of all the things He desires in which He must have no finger.
Do you think He is not weary of seeing nothing but Himself in all
that He has made? If that contented Him, why should He create at
all? To find the Other — the thing whose will is no longer His — that
is Maleldil’s desire.”
“If I could but know this—”
“He must not tell you. He cannot tell you. The nearest He can
come to telling you is to let some other creature tell it for Him. And
behold. He has done so. Is it for nothing, or without His will, that I
have journeyed through Deep Heaven to teach you what He would
have you know but must not teach you Himself?”
“Lady,” said Ransom, “if I speak, will you hear me?”
“Gladly, Piebald.”
“This man has said that the law against living on the Fixed Island
is different from the other Laws, because it is not the same for all
worlds and because we cannot see the goodness in it. And so far he
says well. But then he says that it is thus different in order that you
may disobey it. But there might be another reason.”
“Say it. Piebald.”
“I think He made one law of that kind in order that there might
be obedience. In all these other matters what you call obeying Him
is but doing what seems good in your own eyes also. Is love content
with that? You do them, indeed, because they are His will, but not
only because they are His will. Where can you taste the joy of obey-
ing unless He bids you do something for which His bidding is the
only reason? When we spoke last you said that if you told the beasts
to walk on their heads, they would delight to do so. So I know that
you understand well what I am saying.”
“Oh, brave Piebald,” said the Green Lady, “this is the best you have
said yet. This makes me older far: yet it does not feel like the oldness
this other is giving me. Oh, how well I see it! We cannot walk out of
Maleldil’s will: but He has given us a way to walk out of our will. And
there could be no such way except a command like this. Out of our
own will. It is like passing out through the world’s roof into Deep
Heaven. All beyond is Love Himself. I knew there was joy in looking
upon the Fixed Island and laying down all thought of ever living
there, but I did not till now understand.” Her face was radiant as she
spoke, but then a shade of bewilderment crossed it.
“Piebald,” she said, “if you are so young, as this other says, how do
you know these things?”
“He says I am young, but I say not.” The voice of Weston’s face
spoke suddenly, and it was louder and deeper than before and less
like Weston’s voice. “I am older than he,” it said, “and he dare not
deny it. Before the mothers of the mothers of his mother were con-
ceived, I was already older than he could reckon. I have been with
Maleldil in Deep Heaven where he never came and heard the eter-
nal councils. And in the order of creation I am greater than he, and
before me he is of no account. Is it not so?” The corpse-like face did
not even now turn towards him, but the speaker and the Lady both
seemed to wait for Ransom to reply. The falsehood which sprang to
his mind died on his lips. In that air, even when truth seemed fatal,
only truth would serve. Licking his lips and choking down a feeling
of nausea, he answered:
“In our world to be older is not always to be wiser.”
“Look on him,” said Weston’s body to the Lady; “consider how
white his cheeks have turned and how his forehead is wet. You have
not seen such things before: you will see them more often hereafter.
It is what happens — it is the beginning of what happens — to little
creatures when they set themselves against great ones.”
An exquisite thrill of fear travelled along Ransom’s spine. What
saved him was the face of the Lady. Untouched by the evil so close
to her, removed as it were ten years’ journey deep within the region
of her own innocence, and by that innocence at once so protected
and so endangered, she looked up at the standing Death above her,
puzzled indeed, but not beyond the bounds of cheerful curiosity,
and said: “But he was right. Stranger, about this forbidding. It is you
who need to be made older. Can you not see?”
“I have always seen the whole whereof he sees but the half. It is
most true that Maleldil has given you a way of walking out of your
own will — but out of your deepest will.”
“And what is that?”
“Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him — to be always as
you are now, only His beast or His very young child. The way out
of that is hard. It was made hard that only the very great, the very
wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on — on
out of this smallness in which you now live through the dark wave
of His forbidding, into the real life. Deep Life, with all its joy and
splendour and hardness.”
“Listen, Lady,” said Ransom. “There is something he is not telling
you. All this that we are now talking has been talked before. The
thing he wants you to try has been tried before. Long ago, when our
world began, there was only one man and one woman in it, as you
and the King are in this. And there once before he stood, as he stands
now, talking to the woman. He had found her alone as he has found
you alone. And she listened, and did the thing Maleldil had forbidden
her to do. But no joy and splendour came of it. What came of it I
cannot tell you because you have no image of it in your mind. But all
love was troubled and made cold, and Maleldil’s voice became hard
to hear so that wisdom grew little among them; and the woman was
against the man and the mother against the child; and when they
looked to eat there was no fruit on their trees, and hunting for food
took all their time, so that their life became narrower, not wider.”
“He has hidden the half of what happened,” said Weston’s corpse-
like mouth. “Hardness came out of it but also splendour. They made
with their own hands mountains higher than your Fixed Island. They
made for themselves Floating Islands greater than yours which they
could move at will through the ocean faster than any bird can fly.
Because there was not always food enough, a woman could give the
only fruit to her child or her husband and eat death instead — could
give them all, as you in your little narrow life of playing and kissing
and riding fishes have never done, nor shall do till you break the
commandment. Because knowledge was harder to find, those few
who found it became beautiful and excelled their fellows as you ex-
cel the beasts; and thousands were striving for their love…”
“I think I will go to sleep now,” said the Lady quite suddenly. Up to
this point she had been listening to Weston’s body with open mouth
and wide eyes, but as he spoke of the women with the thousands of
lovers she yawned, with the unconcealed and unpremeditated yawn
of a young cat.
“Not yet,” said the other. “There is more… He has not told you
that it was this breaking of the commandment which brought
Maleldil to our world and because of which He was made man. He
dare not deny it.”
“Do you say this. Piebald?” asked the Lady.
Ransom was sitting with his fingers locked so tightly that his
knuckles were white. The unfairness of it all was wounding him like
barbed wire. Unfair … . unfair. How could Maleldil expect him to
fight against this, to fight with every weapon taken from him, forbid –
den to lie and yet brought to places where truth seemed fatal? It
was unfair! A sudden impulse of hot rebellion arose in him. A second
later, doubt, like a huge wave, came breaking over him. How if the
enemy were right after all? Felix peccatum Adae. Even the Church
would tell him that good came of disobedience in the end. Yes, and
it was true too that he. Ransom, was a timid creature, a man who
shrank back from new and hard things. On which side, after all, did
the temptation lie? Progress passed before his eyes in a great mo-
mentary vision: cities, armies, tall ships, and libraries and fame, and
the grandeur of poetry spurting like a fountain out of the labours
and ambitions of men. Who could be certain that Creative Evolu-
tion was not the deepest truth? From all sorts of secret crannies in
his own mind whose very existence he had never before suspected,
something wild and heady and delicious began to rise, to pour itself
towards the shape of Weston. ‘It is a spirit, it is a spirit,’ said this inner
voice, ‘and you are only a man. It goes on from century to century.
You are only a man…
“Do you say this. Piebald?” asked the Lady a second time. The spell
was broken.
“I will tell you what I say,” answered Ransom, jumping to his feet.
“Of course good came of it. Is Maleldil a beast that we can stop His
path, or a leaf that we can twist His shape? Whatever you do. He will
make good of it. But not the good He had prepared for you if you
had obeyed Him. That is lost for ever. The first King and first Mother
of our world did the forbidden thing, and He brought good of it in
the end. But what they did was not good, and what they lost we
have not seen. And there were some to whom no good came nor 99
ever will come.” He turned to the body of Weston. “You,” he said, “tell
her all. What good came to you? Do you rejoice that Maleldil became
a man? Tell her of your joys, and of what profit you had when you
made Maleldil and death acquainted.”
In the moment that followed this speech two things happened
that were utterly unlike terrestrial experience. The body that had
been Weston’s threw up its head and opened its mouth and gave
a long melancholy howl like a dog; and the Lady lay down, wholly
unconcerned, and closed her eyes and was instantly asleep.

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