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Elwin Ransom is the prominent character from C. S. Lewis's Space Trilogy series. He is the main character in the books Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, which are told almost entirely from his point of view. He is also a major character in the third book, That Hideous Strength, in which he plays a director of an organization resisting the demonic take-over of the world, though his role is that of mentor in the book, with the main characters arguably being Mark and Jane Studdock.
Lewis' books belong to the unique genre which can be characterized as "Theological science fiction" or "Christian science fiction", i. e., they assume the basic tenets of Christianity are factually true: God exists and He created the Universe and watches over everybody; Adam and Eve were real persons, the ancestors of everybody, and they were tempted by The Serpent/Satan to disobey God - with very serious consequences; Jesus really is the Son of God and He truly died on the cross in order to redeem Humanity; Satan is present, trying all the time to tempt people into selling him their souls, and those who are so tempted suffer a very terrible Perdition; and so on. With the tenets of Christianity being accepted as fact, the story then moves on to various sci-fi tropes within that framework.
The factual veracity of all this is a basic premise on which the books' plot depends - though the reader is introduced to this premise gradually. In the first book, only hints are given which the reader must decode; but by the second part God, Satan and various Angels all step onstage and take a direct, visible and substantial part in the unfolding plot.
The character of Dr. Elwin Ransom is fundamental in conveying Lewis' message - i.e., to tell his 20th Century British reader that the Bible is not about things which happened to exotic people in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Rather, such things are equally real and could equally happen in the here-and-now - in token of which Lewis proceeds to show in detail how they do happen to an ordinary Englishman of the middle Twentieth Century, a Cambridge don who is likable but a very fallible human being.
By the third book, Ransom has been transformed by his experiences into an awe-inspiring Prophet or Saint, who is seen from the outside. The role of conveying to the reader that supernatural Bible-like things can happen to ordinary people in the here-and-now is transferred to a couple of younger and even more fallible scholars from whose point of view the story is then told.
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; 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.
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. 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.
He is a philologist by profession (like Tolkien), which gives him 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 to 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).
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 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 Anfortas, 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.
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 "gods" of the Greaco-Roman Pantheon (who are in fact no gods at all, but angels and faithful servant 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, who falls in love with him - hopelessly, as she realizes from the start, especially since he is a firm upholder of the sanctity of marriage and firmly wants her to be reconciled with her estranged husband.
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).
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.