I am of the opinion that C.S. Lewis’ book Perelandra is a work of genius. The rich allegory, theological depth, and masterful literary style all combine to make this one of the greatest books I have ever read.
But not all share my opinion. It is not hard to find reviews that, while enjoying the more fanciful features of the story, nevertheless miss the Christian center. And for that my shoulders slump. They do not have, one might dare to say, eyes to see and ears to hear.
There are layers to Perelandra that require a certain measure of Christian maturity to grasp; a certain macro-theological understanding of Scripture is needed to catch its sweet scent. If a person is only familiar with the merely terrestrial, they will miss the allusions. The subtleties will pass them by like a child reading Jane Austen.
After my latest pass through Perelandra, it occurred to me that life is very much like this little volume. Not in the simple sense that Lewis’ book is meant to tell us about reality. It does that splendidly. I have in mind the idea of underestimating. In the same way that people underestimate the book and fail to grasp its genius, so to people underestimate God.
This is because unbelief often assumes that God is a dolt. Power and brightness are attributed to Him well enough, but not sophistication. Not genius. Not subtlety. Unbelief does not look for layers. It does not think there is something deeper to be found in His works. As such, it stands on the “high hill” of pride not realizing that it is perched atop an ant hill situated next to the Himalayas. It looks off in the distance, measures the mountains with its fingers, and then looks at the distance between those fingers and says, “Ah, yes, not so very big.”
The Word of God is a work of genius, but unbelief does not see it.¹ It cannot see it. Not only for want of taste, but because it thinks it is merely the archaic ruminations of farmers and fisherman. The deep currents are missed. The typology is missed. The wonder is missed. The love is missed. And it is missed because there is a grand underestimating at play.
In a brief line towards the end of Perelandra, Lewis makes this very point. He writes with penetrating saliency, “All that is made seems planless to the darkened mind, because there are more plans than it looked for.”
¹To which it should be stressed that sheep are not entirely exempt.