Elwin Ransom

Last updated

Elwin Ransom is the main character in the first two books of C.S. Lewis' The Space Trilogy , namely Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra . In the final book, That Hideous Strength , he is a lesser character (the main characters being Mark and Jane Studdock) in charge of a group that is resisting demons that are trying to take over Earth, and playing the role of a mentor.


Ransom is a linguistics school professor at Cambridge, and a confirmed bachelor. According to several references in Perelandra, Ransom also served in the World War I, similarly to J.R.R. Tolkien, a good friend of C.S. Lewis. Ransom prefers to spend his holidays alone, hence his capture by the antagonists Weston and Devine. When he is captured, Ransom discovers his purpose is to serve as a 'ransom' for the entire human race allowing Weston and Devine to continue their explorations of the planet Malacandra (Mars). By That Hideous Strength, Ransom had been thoroughly changed by his experiences. Ransom's past role of imparting Bible-like occurrences is passed on to the Studdocks.

Many books by C.S Lewis can be considered "Theological Science Fiction" or "Christian Science Fiction". This genre is uncommon, and depicts sci-fi stories with the basic beliefs of Christianity tied into them.

Lewis' concept of Ransom


Some casual references in Perelandra reveal that he had fought in the First World War, that he had been on the Somme and that on one occasion he had to overcome considerable trepidation before accepting - and successfully implementing - an unspecified "very dangerous job". However, it is noted that the horrors Ransom had witnessed on the battlefield did not destroy his sensitivity for suffering, even the suffering of animals.

Accordingly, Ransom's birth has to be placed in 1899 or 1900 at the latest - assuming that he had fought only in 1918 (the war's last year) and had waited to legal age before signing up; if he had already been on the Somme in 1916, he must have been born in 1897 or 1898 at the latest. This fits with the mention of his being "middle aged" during the events of Perelandra in the 1940s. Lewis might have conceived of Ransom as being his own age, i.e., born in 1898; J.R.R. Tolkien, one of Lewis's inspirations for the character, was born in 1892.

It is also mentioned that at some later point in his life he had "to screw up his resolution to go and see a certain man in London and make to him an excessively embarrassing confession which justice demanded"—which Ransom eventually did, and of which no further details are given.

Personal life

He is a confirmed bachelor (as Lewis himself was at the time of writing), and in none of the three books is there any mention of a woman in his life. In That Hideous Strength , Jane Studdock falls in love with him, but there is no question of that love being returned; Ransom kindly but firmly pushes her back into the arms of her wayward husband Mark. Nor does he have many male friends, either; when first introduced, he is in the habit of spending his university holidays hiking alone through the British countryside (which facilitates Weston's kidnapping him). By the end of the series, the wound sustained at Perelandra would preclude his continuing this habit. In the introductory chapters of Perelandra, however, it is revealed that Ransom regularly provides help to a large number of neighbors and acquaintances who have fallen on hard times. It is noteworthy that, though Ransom is very much of Christian believer, with a profound faith and knowledge of the Christian scriptures and theology, there is no mention of his belonging to any organized congregation.


He is a philologist by profession (like Tolkien), taking advantage of a unique aptitude for learning languages. He speculates that this ability is the reason that he is 'chosen' for his role in the first and second books, although he notes in Perelandra that it might as well have been anyone else.

A professor in Cambridge, he is highly regarded (even by his enemies, who in That Hideous Strength mention him as among the topmost in his field, who but for his Christian convictions might have rendered very useful service to their cause).

After his sojourn on Malacandra/Mars, Ransom is mentioned as staying for a prolonged period at a cottage three miles outside "Worchester", having evidently left temporarily or permanently his Cambridge job. From there he sets out on his voyage to Perelandra/Venus.

While on Venus, Ransom becomes in effect a prophet in the Biblical sense—i.e., a person to whom God speaks and on whom a specific Divine command is imposed (and who, like Jonah, strongly resists and makes a considerable effort to avoid, before bowing to the inevitable).

In Hideous Strength Ransom's role is reversed. It is he, acting in effect as God's deputy, who inexorably imposes on the very reluctant Merlin the Divine mission of destroying the Satanic N.I.C.E., whose implementation would entail Merlin's own death.


The permanent wound on his heel resulted from a physical battle with the demonically possessed Professor Weston in the deep caverns of Perelandra. It causes him continuing pain which he feels it is his duty to endure, refusing to relieve it either through medicine or through Merlin's magic.

The wound may refer to Genesis 3:15, where God curses the Snake for his tempting of Eve and causing the Original Sin: "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.(NIV)" The Biblical Snake is commonly considered in Christianity to have been a manifestation of Satan; so was the possessed Professor Weston. Thus, Weston could be considered an "offspring" of the Snake, and as such he did bite the heel of Ransom and got his own head crushed.

This wound is also a possible reference to the unhealing wound of the Fisher King, the ailing Grail King of Arthurian legend, which was a major theme in some of Charles Williams' works, a significant influence to The Space Trilogy: in the third book Ransom has actually taken the name of "Fisher-King".

At some time between the second and third book, Ransom's life was further transformed radically by becoming the secret Pendragon, the latest in an unbroken chain of secret inheritors of King Arthur who, it turns out, had been watching over Britain and helping their country in various crisis points in its history—a role which is crucially important to his relationship with the reawakened wizard Merlin. He establishes a kind of secret community at a big house in St. Anne's, which he heads and which is the polar opposite and center of opposition to the literally Satanic institute of N.I.C.E. which is threatening to take over the world. There, he is in regular contact with the descending planetary "gods" of the Graeco-Roman Pantheon (who are in fact not gods at all, but angels and faithful servants of the true, one and only God).

The third book, unlike the earlier two, is not told through Ransom's own eyes. He has become too much of an august and hieratic personage, seen mainly through the eyes of the book's female protagonist Jane Studdok, who falls in love with him [1] — hopelessly, as she realizes from the start, especially since he is an unwavering upholder of the sanctity of marriage and clearly wants her to be reconciled with her estranged husband. In the final scene, Ransom kisses Jane for the first and last time, even while firmly commanding her to go to the bed of her waiting husband and to "Have no more dreams; have children instead" - which she does, while still feeling his kiss on her lips.

In the end, Ransom's role as a saint or prophet is enhanced by his being taken alive into Heaven (actually, back to Venus/Perelandra), an honour reserved only to a very small handful of particularly deserving Biblical and mythical characters.

Origins and inspiration

As is true with most of Lewis' writing, The Space Trilogy has religious symbolism in which Ransom takes on the role of a prophet preparing for the end times by resisting demonic forces on Earth and Perelandra. Even his last name is meant to be reminiscent of the sacrifice of Jesus.

Elwin Ransom may be based on C. S. Lewis' friend J. R. R. Tolkien ("Elwin" means "Elf friend" in Anglo-Saxon), though he seems to have autobiographical elements. In That Hideous Strength Ransom, with his royal charisma and matter-of-fact breezy acceptance of the supernatural, appears less like Tolkien than like Charles Williams (or some of the heroes in Williams' books). [2]

In the final chapter of the first book, the author flatly states that "Elwin Ransom" is a pseudonym; however, in the second book, great significance is attached to his surname (with a divine voice saying "It is not for nothing that you are named Ransom"), indicating that this is in fact the character's real name. The inconsistency was never explained.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">C. S. Lewis</span> British writer, lay theologian and scholar (1898–1963)

Clive Staples Lewis was a British writer and Anglican lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University and Cambridge University. He is best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, but he is also noted for his other works of fiction, such as The Screwtape Letters and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, including Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

<i>The Lord of the Rings</i> 1954–1955 fantasy novel by J. R. R. Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings is an epic high-fantasy novel by English author and scholar J. R. R. Tolkien. Set in Middle-earth, intended to be Earth at some time in the distant past, the story began as a sequel to Tolkien's 1937 children's book The Hobbit, but eventually developed into a much larger work. Written in stages between 1937 and 1949, The Lord of the Rings is one of the best-selling books ever written, with over 150 million copies sold.

Gandalf is a protagonist in J. R. R. Tolkien's novels The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. He is a wizard, one of the Istari order, and the leader of the Fellowship of the Ring. Tolkien took the name "Gandalf" from the Old Norse "Catalogue of Dwarves" (Dvergatal) in the Völuspá.

Denethor II, son of Ecthelion II, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's novel The Lord of the Rings. He was the 26th ruling Steward of Gondor, committing suicide in the besieged city of Minas Tirith during the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

<i>That Hideous Strength</i> 1945 science-fiction novel by C. S. Lewis

That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups is a 1945 novel by C. S. Lewis, the final book in Lewis's theological science fiction Space Trilogy. The events of this novel follow those of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra and once again feature the philologist Elwin Ransom. Yet unlike the principal events of those two novels, the story takes place on Earth rather than elsewhere in the Solar System. The story involves an ostensibly scientific institute, the N.I.C.E., which is a front for sinister supernatural forces.

Pendragon or Pen Draig literally means "Chief-Dragon" or "Head-Dragon", but in a figurative sense, "chief leader", "chief of warriors", "commander-in-chief", "generalissimo", or "chief governor"). It is the epithet of Uther, father of King Arthur in medieval and modern Arthurian literature and occasionally applied to historical Welsh heroes in medieval Welsh poetry, such as Rhodri ab Owain Gwynedd.

Tuor Eladar and Idril Celebrindal are fictional characters from J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth legendarium. They are the parents of Eärendil the Mariner and grandparents of Elrond Half-elven: through their progeny, they became the ancestors of the Númenoreans and of the King of the Reunited Kingdom Aragorn Elessar. Both characters play a pivotal role in The Fall of Gondolin, one of Tolkien's earliest stories which formed the basis for a section in his later work, The Silmarillion, and later expanded and released as a standalone publication in 2018.

<i>Out of the Silent Planet</i> 1938 novel by C. S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet is a science fiction novel by the British author C. S. Lewis, first published in 1938 by John Lane, The Bodley Head. Two sequels were published in 1943 and 1945, completing the Space Trilogy.

<i>Perelandra</i> 1943 novel by C. S. Lewis

Perelandra is the second book in the Space Trilogy of C. S. Lewis, set on the planet of Perelandra, or Venus. It was first published in 1943.

The Notion Club Papers is an abandoned novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written during 1945 and published posthumously in Sauron Defeated, the 9th volume of The History of Middle-earth. It is a time travel story, written while The Lord of the Rings was being developed. The Notion Club is a fictionalization of Tolkien's own such club, the Inklings.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fisher King</span> Character in Arthurian legend

The mysterious Fisher King is an immortal king in Arthurian legend who is the last in a long line charged with protecting the Holy Grail. However, a wound rendered him incapable of performing his tasks. He is the protector of the lands near hear him, but because of his injury, his lands have become barren. Unable to walk or ride a horse, he is sometimes depicted as spending his time fishing as he awaits a "chosen one" who can heal him.

<i>The Dark Tower</i> (Lewis novel) Incomplete manuscript allegedly written by C. S. Lewis

The Dark Tower is an incomplete manuscript written by C. S. Lewis that appears to be an unfinished sequel to the science fiction novel Out of the Silent Planet, though allegations have been raised about its authenticity. Perelandra instead became the second book of Lewis' Space Trilogy, concluded by That Hideous Strength. Walter Hooper, Lewis' literary executor, titled the fragment and published it in the 1977 collection The Dark Tower and Other Stories. The Lewis scholar Kathryn Lindskoog challenged the authenticity of the work. For convenience, the author of the text is referred to in this article as "Lewis" without qualification.

The Space Trilogy or Cosmic Trilogy is a series of science fiction novels by C. S. Lewis. The trilogy consists of Out of the Silent Planet (1938), Perelandra (1943), and That Hideous Strength (1945). A philologist named Elwin Ransom is the protagonist of the first two novels and an important character in the third.

Professor Weston is a Satanic character in C. S. Lewis's The Space Trilogy. He is introduced in the trilogy's first book, Out of the Silent Planet (1938), as an eminent physicist who has invented space travel. He is defeated by the novel's protagonist Elwin Ransom on Mars. Weston returns in the second book, in an attempt to wreak havoc on Venus (Perelandra), the "new Eden."

<i>The Princess and the Goblin</i> 1872 novel by George MacDonald

The Princess and the Goblin is a children's fantasy novel by George MacDonald. It was published in 1872 by Strahan & Co., with black-and-white illustrations by Arthur Hughes. Strahan had published the story and illustrations as a serial in the monthly magazine Good Words for the Young, beginning November 1870.

Brocéliande Mythical medieval forest

Brocéliande, earlier known as Brécheliant and Brécilien, is a legendary enchanted forest that had a reputation in the medieval European imagination as a place of magic and mystery. Brocéliande is featured in several medieval texts, mostly related to the Arthurian legend and the characters of Merlin, Morgan le Fay, the Lady of the Lake, and some of the Knights of the Round Table. It first appeared in literature in the Roman de Rou chronicle by Wace in 1160 and today is most commonly identified as Paimpont forest in Brittany, France.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">J. R. R. Tolkien's influences</span> Sources of Tolkiens fiction

J. R. R. Tolkien's fantasy books on Middle-earth, especially The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, drew on a wide array of influences including language, Christianity, mythology, archaeology, ancient and modern literature, and personal experience. He was inspired primarily by his profession, philology; his work centred on the study of Old English literature, especially Beowulf, and he acknowledged its importance to his writings.

Frodo Baggins is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, and one of the protagonists in The Lord of the Rings. Frodo is a hobbit of the Shire who inherits the One Ring from his cousin, described familiarly as "uncle", Bilbo Baggins and undertakes the quest to destroy it in the fires of Mount Doom in Mordor. He is mentioned in Tolkien's posthumously published works, The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales.

Christianity is a central theme in J. R. R. Tolkien's fictional works about Middle-earth, but always a hidden one. This allows the book to be read at different levels, and its meaning to be applied by the reader, rather than forcing a single meaning on the reader.

Women in <i>The Lord of the Rings</i> Role of women in Tolkiens fantasy

The roles of women in The Lord of the Rings have often been assessed as insignificant, or important only in relation to male characters in a story about men for boys. Meanwhile, other commentators have noted the empowerment of the three major women characters, Galadriel, Éowyn, and Arwen, and provided in-depth analysis of their roles within the narrative of The Lord of the Rings.


  1. The word "love" is never explicitly written, but rather implied - for example, in Ch.10, when "The Director" (Ransom) leads his followers into a highly dangerous venture, Jane "would have felt terror but for the joy of following him"
  2. Sammons, Martha C. (2000). A Far-off Country: A Guide to C.S. Lewis's Fantasy Fiction. Lanham, Maryland: University Press of America. p. 343. ISBN   0761815872.