Q. Why would anyone write an album based on an obscure science fiction book by C.S. Lewis?
A very good question. “Perelandra” – as with most of the Space Trilogy that Lewis wrote, including “Out of the Silent Planet” and “That Hideous Strength” – is arguably his most overlooked and under read books of his esteemed canon. I found that even the most ardent Lewis fans had not heard of the book and could only find one other one who had read it, my father, Jack, who recalled it four decades after he read it as, “very weird.” I have described it myself as one of the oddest books you can ever read.
Now, to the music. I imagine the impetus to write this project was planted by a mixture of seeds. I recall reading years ago that someone had written a symphony based on the book when Lewis was still alive. As thrilled as I was to hear this news, I could not discover the symphony. At the same time, the idea lit a fire in me. I could understand the inspiration for composing music inspired by this novel. It is a novel of great visualization, of brilliant colour, of obscure, strange, yet beautiful spiritual and theological themes and of naked and brutal violence as well. And since it takes place on another planet, the paradigms for reality are all shifted. That is where music entered the scene as something of a common denominator. A chance to piece something together accessible from this weird, wild ride of a tome.
I also found the idea very accessible as far as composing music. The book provided a wide open palette per se. There is none of the traditional grand battles which would lend themselves to Bach or Wagnerian-esque marches. There is also very little of the typical Romantic themes of staring at stars, wandering the glade, etc. that one might find typical of works from ambient musicians, Mozart or the less-manic Vivaldi concertos. The bulk of the book is couched in ambiguous and conflicting terms, i.e. the beauty and innocence of the planet, yet with the spirit of the Devil himself walking on its islands, the fact that Ransom must kill the Un-Man not through theological argument, but sheer force, etc. I tried to capture that struggle, the incongruous nature of the book, that conflict of beauty and ugliness.
Other works that acted as inspiration are undoubtedly Gustav Holst’s “The Planets,” a seminal work that still awes me, the subtle soundscapes of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois and the masterful mood creations of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Bill Evans. I also owe quite a bit to the grand concept albums of the late 60s and 70s in particular Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis: Bold as Love,” John Mayall’s “Laurel Canyon Blues” and works by Rush.
Q: How did it begin?
A: I began writing two pieces for it almost four years ago circa 2010. One of them was, “Deep Space” which was inspired by Ransom’s voyage in the casket to Perelandra. I recorded that piece with drummer and producer Clint Meador and it was featured in the indie movie, “Tears of Bankers” which screened at several film festivals in North America. The music was so well received. I said, “Why not write a whole album based on the book?” Before I could get started I broke my arm and was unable to play guitar for over three months. During that time I decided to go ahead and do this. “Life is short, life is tenuous,” I recall telling myself. “And if I get my arm back, I am going to do something more than piddling in the studio.” All in all, I wrote and recorded over a dozen songs, yet cut half of them because they did not fit the theme of the project.
Q: Do I need to read “Perelandra” to understand this LP?
A: No. But, I think it helps. I think as a fan of the book, it enhances the listening experience, but I do not think the music has coded mysteries or music that can only relate to a reader of “Perelandra.” Some pieces, such as “The Fight with the Un-Man” can probably be better interpreted and understood by reading. However, I believe most pieces can stand on their own. A small blurb on each song is at the bottom of this page.
Q: Why have I never head of “Perelandra”?
A: Because it is one of the strangest and oddest books written by C.S. Lewis and perhaps written in the entire canon of space travel fiction between 1900 and 1960. It takes space travel, science fiction, a bit of Wells here, a bit of other influences there and then tosses in a tremendous amount of cosmic theology. I have heard cynical hipsters deride Lewis for “The Chronicles of Narnia” for the transparency in its allegory. One would be hard-pressed to find easy transparencies in parts of this book, especially the last few chapters where the mythic cosmology will even challenge the most unconventional thinkers.
Q: Who are you?
A: I live in Red Clay Country in the American South. I’ve been playing music for over 25 years.. I had a decent run of it semi-professionally in the 90s, garnering radio airplay with two different bands and as a solo act, touring on a limited basis and performing everywhere from festivals, clubs and concert halls to churches and coffee houses. Now, I primarily prefer to record and enjoy collaborating with other musicians, though I do make the occasional visit to perform in church. My composition, “Deep Space” was featured in the indie movie, “Tears of Bankers” which screened in NYC and ATL. II work as a full-time writer, editor and journalist in metro Atlanta and have had my work published in dozens of newspapers, magazines and a handful of literary reviews.
Special thanks to: Allen Bell, Adam Chesney, Jack Hall Maguire, Barry Norman, The Peterson family, Rick Schmidt, Michael Venezia, Clint Meador, Jami, Patrick, Andrew and The Great Mystery, Blessed be He.
1. LIFTOFF: Though Ransom does not technically lift off in this novel – as opposed to “Out of the Silent Planet” when he jettisons out of our atmosphere in a rocket ship – the mere idea of a casket being shot through the skies and atmosphere brought about a feeling of recklessness and excitement. And then, breaking through into space, a sense of Deep Heaven.
2. IN GREEN SEAS, UNDER COPPER SKIES: He lands in a green sea and is immediately overwhelmed by the environment. The mountainous waves. The swirling sea. The moments of relatively peace before another huge wave rises. Then he notices the copper sky. The sea water is sweet. The constant back and forth between calm and chaos. The sweet sea.
3. THE GREEN LADY: As peaceful and as pure as a celestial Eve? I don’t think anyone could compose music to match that ideal. But here is the attempt.
4. THE FIXED LAND: The imperious land. The solid rock. Forbidden. Imposing. Yet inviting and full of mystery, an answer, and more.
5. FIGHT WITH THE UNMAN: One of the longest, most brutally violent pieces in the book. I wanted to capture that. The teeth gnashing. The pain of bone on skin. The pure evil and twisted mind of the UNMAN. And his defeat.
6. JOURNEY THROUGH THE UNDERWORLDS: One of my favorite parts of the book, because Lewis just hints at what could be dozens of other books. As Ransom plods through the caves, he glimpses half-mythological creatures in the distance, is overwhelmed by grand caverns, the ice, the fire, tunnels, water and the walking and walking…
7. REST: After the journey Ransom finds sunlight, then grass, then peace, atop the mountain. Sweet water to drink. Sleep. Recovery.
8. THE CELEBRATION: The Green Lady and The King reunited. The Cosmic Dance. The deed is done. A new world begins. Rejoice!
This project is Autotune and ProTools free.
Note: This work is not sanctioned or affiliated with the C.S. Lewis estate in any form or fashion.
released October 17, 2013
All music written, performed and produced by Mark Wallace Maguire
Mark Wallace Maguire is a guitarist, composer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who lives in Ga. He serves as chief
producer of several music groups and projects, including his latest collaboration with Clint Meador, 'Maguire & Meador" You can read more about his music at www.markwallacemaguire.com...more