Fruit of Knowledge
by Catherine L. Moore

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
Unknown, October 1940

collected in —
The Best of C. L. Moore

March 2005


[Lilith] bent over the pool for one last look at herself, and the pool was a great, dim eye looking back at her, almost sentient, almost aware of her. This was a living Garden. The translucent air quivered with a rhythmic pulsing through the trees; the ground was resilient under her feet; vines drew back to let her pass beneath them.

Lilith, turning away through the swimming air after the cherub, puzzled a little as she walked through the parting trees. The relation was very close between flesh and earth — perhaps her body was so responsive to the beauty of the Garden because it aped so closely flesh that had been a part of the Garden yesterday. And if even she felt that kinship, what must Adam feel, who was himself earth only yesterday?

The Garden was like a vast, half-sentient entity all around her, pulsing subtly with the pulse of the lucent air. Had God drawn from this immense and throbbing fecundity all the life which peopled Eden? Was Adam merely an extension of it, a focus and intensification of the same life which pulsed through the Garden? Creation was too new; she could only guess.

The personalities of Paradise

Catherine L. Moore is one of the most sensuous writers of science fiction or fantasy. In her 1940 novelet "Fruit of Knowledge", published in Unknown (John W. Campbell's fantasy counterpart to Astounding Science Fiction), she delves into the personalities in the Garden of Eden.

Aside from a few cherubs, these personalities are:

  • Lilith, the Queen of Air and Darkness
  • Adam, the first human man
  • Eve, the first human woman
  • Lucifer, the chief fallen angel, as the Serpent
  • Jehovah, the Lord Creator

The coalescence and conflict of these personalities create the hinge event near the very beginning of Mankind's existence according to the Bible. Looking at the account in Genesis 2-3 gives us a narrow-telescope sensation, as with theoretical physicists analyzing the earliest microseconds of the Universe; too much in too little. Just what kind of entities are these in Eden, anyway, and what are they doing?

Lilith is C. L. Moore's main viewpoint character in "Fruit of Knowledge". Lilith is not named in Genesis, perhaps originally a Babylonian storm goddess; in the cabalistic tradition she is Adam's first wife. Since we have so little to go on regarding Lilith — especially in our best-known source, the Bible — modern writers may take a freer hand portraying her without needing to overcome reader resistance.

In Moore's account, Lilith is a demiurge second only to the Lord concerning the persons and events in the Garden of Eden. Hers is the first form of Woman, and her wishes power much of the action. The story is thoughtfully and sensuously developed. Moore delineates the above personalities with care and respect, leaving only the flittering cherubs to provide a leavening of humor.

If you are curious what the Serpent really looked like as a demigod when he talked with Eve — before he was knocked down to be a venomous snake in the grass — Moore gives you an impressive rendering.

The godlike temptation of truth

The Garden of Eden here is itself alive and aware in a way, semi-divine in its own way as are all the characters. A secular descendant of the Eden of "Fruit of Knowledge" would be James H. Schmitz's "Balanced Ecology". But really it is these dawn characters, living and breathing semi-divine people, who are Catherine Moore's triumph. She stands high in an impressive tradition on the intensely personal nature of what we know and why we know it. Geoffrey Chaucer gives the temptation in the Garden to his most respected character, the Parson, to tell of:

... the serpent, that was moost wily of alle othere beestes that God hadde maked, seyde to the womman, "Why comaunded God to yow ye sholde nat eten of every tree in Paradys?"

The womman answerde: "Of the fruyt, " quod she, "of the trees in Paradys we feden us, but soothly, of the fruyt of the tree that is in the myddel of Paradys, God forbad us for to ete, ne nat touchen it, lest per aventure we sholde dyen."

The serpent seyde to the womman, "Nay, nay, ye shul nat dyen of deeth; for sothe, God woot that what day that ye eten therof, youre eyen shul opene and ye shul been as goddes, knowynge good and harm."

Geoffrey Chaucer
"The Parson's Tale", 325-327
The Canterbury Tales

You shall not die; your eyes shall open and you shall be as gods, knowing good and harm. Or as our primary source here says in another context,

... the truth will set you free.

John 8:32
Revised English Bible

Catherine Moore writes beautifully in a short space on the Perfectibility of Man, of promise offered and lost, in the persons of Lilith, Eve, Adam, and Lucifer. She makes it a vivid and personal story, not argued theory although thoughtful, but felt and lived. Yet of course the ramifications are vast, far beyond the boundaries of the personal hopes and tragedies of Genesis 2-3 or of "Fruit of Knowledge". The great philosopher of the Scientific Revolution challenges us, in the very first line of his first Essay:

What is Truth? said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer.

Francis Bacon
"Of Truth"
The Essayes or Counsels, Civil and Morall

Many are the trees of God that grow in Paradise

The Biblical apple of knowledge that Eve and Adam eat bears a family relationship to the Classical golden apple of discord used in the Judgment of Paris which led to the Trojan War. Does knowledge lead to discord and isolation and spiritual-physical stunting? Or does it encourage concord and community and spiritual-physical development and fulfillment?

"Fruit of Knowledge" helps us sense that this remains a living and most vital question.

At the 17th Century dawn of the Scientific Revolution, John Milton's great epic Paradise Lost gives Eve a rather modern view. As Milton imagines the scene leading to the hinge event in Eden, Eve says to Lucifer:

Serpent, thy overpraising leaves in doubt
The virtue of that Fruit, in thee first proved:
But say, where grows the Tree, from hence how far?

For many are the trees of God that grow
In Paradise, and various, yet unknown
To us; in such abundance lies our choice
As leaves a greater store of fruit untoucht,
Still hanging incorruptible, till men
Grow up to their provision, and more hands
Help to disburden Nature of her bearth.

John Milton
Paradise Lost, IX, 615-624

An expansive and forward vision.


© 2005 Robert Wilfred Franson


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