Ransom’s Rebirth in the Cosmos

Christiane Tan (First Year Category)

Ransom’s Rebirth in the Cosmos

                C.S. Lewis’ novel Out of the Silent Planet invites the reader to witness a space journey of a simpleton Cambridge Don, Elwin Ransom, who is taken unexpectedly and against his will to travel to Malacandra (Mars) with Weston and Devine, the two antagonists of the story whose sole motive is to conquer and exploit the said planet. The story continues its focus on Ransom’s character development as he interacts with and learns from the inhabitants, self-labeled as the hnau, of Malacandra. The reader is consequently exposed to the various philosophical and character challenges that Ransom undergoes; these growth-enabling trials are inevitable and push Ransom into spiritual maturity. Lewis effectively illustrates the Christian’s ever-enduring spiritual pilgrimage by showing how Ransom’s vulnerability, integration into the extra-terrestrial community, and obedience enable his flourishment in courage and purpose.

                Vulnerability is one of the three major factors that facilitate Ransom’s growth, specifically his outlook on himself and on life. To prove his growth, however, a brief characterization of the protagonist is necessary; as described in the novel’s first chapter, Ransom is portrayed as withdrawn and meek, a stranger to the world, essentially. This man enjoys walking tours because it is the one place where one is “absolutely detached” (Lewis 17; ch. 2). Consequently, he has few connections to any particular community as Devine extracts from Ransom: “. . . a don in the middle of long vacation is almost a non-existent creature, as you ought to remember. College neither knows nor cares where he is, and certainly no none else does” (Lewis 17; ch. 2). In essence, Lewis introduces Ransom’s initial humble and timid composure that undergoes a deep character growth.

            Ransom then endures an unwarranted adventure, which exposes his infantile fearfulness. David Downing notes that Ransom is “a man who, though in his middle years, is in his soul’s childhood” (104). This child-like temper is a central focus of Ransom’s character, because this area exposes the dynamics of his personality. His timidity and child-like demeanor are evident when he is rendered vulnerable on Malacandra – he consoles himself after escaping from the hands of his captors by entering a fetal position: “he drew his knees up and hugged himself” (Lewis 56; ch. 8). The fear that he is experiencing is the result of being stranded on a strange planet populated with fearsome creatures. The sorns in particular inflict terror into Ransom’s mind, as it resembles his childhood fears of “giants – ogres – ghosts – skeletons” (Lewis 53; ch. 8). The peculiar environment combined with Ransom’s helplessness exposes his inner child. His fearfulness and anxiety are his sins – which are the same sins for the Christian because it leads to distrust in the LORD –, but vulnerability and community help him overcome these weaknesses.

           His child-like wonder, however, is a trait that benefits him in the end because it allows himself to become aware of the hidden realities of Malacandra. One must consider how vulnerability is a crucial aspect of enlightenment, since only the sensitive, self-aware ones are receptive to growth. His childish vulnerability also translates to childish wonder that leads to new perspectives; after observing and taking in the sights of outer space from the spaceship, he quickly realizes that it is not a void vacuous area, but “the womb of the worlds,” further recognizing that is it indeed “the heavens” (Lewis 35; ch. 5). As George Musacchio comments, his innocent wonder makes him “aware of a ‘spiritual cause for his progressive enlightening and exultation of heart’ [Lewis 32; ch. 5]” (16). Furthermore, once he made it on the planet, he was able to see that “Malacandra was beautiful” (Lewis 47; ch. 7). This is the environment that invites Ransom to explore and discover hidden wonders. He is unlike Weston who disregards the unique value and creative landscape of this planet. In regards to spirituality, the Christian is called to assume a child-like faith in God’s presence and goodness. As Jesus teaches, the Christian must “become like children” to be part of God’s perfect community (English Standard Bible, Matt. 18.2b). Lewis parallels this to Ransom’s openness to wonder, treating it as an essential factor that allows Ransom to discover what this world has to offer him (examples: community, adventure, self-revelation).

            The second factor for Ransom’s personal progress is how the community on Malacandra further enables him to become enlightened. After overcoming his hesitation of interacting with the creatures of Malacandra, the growth in awareness and mindset is inevitable as Ransom integrates himself into the hrossa society. This is when Ransom goes “from radical isolation to deep community” (Brown 39). His time with the hrossa culture is where his “fundamental views about life will be challenged and subsequently changed, and one of the most important changes will be his view about the importance of community” (Brown 41). The hrossa especially are the most relatable and least intimidating to Ransom, since they are the “poets and musicians of the planet: rational, gentle, charitable creatures” (Schakel 2). They invite Ransom into their rhythm of life, their life philosophy, and their relationships. By asking questions about the social and political relations of Malacandra, Ransom learns that this world is unique. The Malacandra morale and social dynamics contrast with Thulacandra’s (Earth’s), so much so that the hrossa are not familiar with the concept of war. It is a fact that “[t]hey live in perfect peace and cooperativeness with two other rational species, the sorns (scientists and philosophers) and the pfifltriggi (craftsmen and artists)” (Shakel 2). Ransom, however, assumes that the hrossa are the “domestic animals of the sorns, in which case the latter would be superintelligent” and, therefore would claim superiority over the planet; this is radically false (Lewis 67; ch. 10). Slowly and surely, “[o]f the community in general his earlier impressions were all gradually being corrected” as he learns more from the culture (Lewis 75; ch. 11). Additionally, this community acts as a foil that highlights the corruptness and fallenness of the systems on Earth. Indeed, they end up telling him more about Earth and its orientation in the universe than Ransom thought he knew. “[Ransom] was told that [his planet] was Thulcandra – the silent world or planet,” which alludes to its corrupt and rejected state (Lewis 77; ch. 11). This realization softens his heart and strengthens his desire for wholeness on Earth. This is overall a very humbling experience, but nevertheless beneficial for Ransom as it causes him to be proactive and to take responsible agency in his life. Similarly, community for the Christian acts as a mirror that reveals the truths of the person – the good and bad. A wholesome community, such as one like the hrossa group, however, provides the necessary support for addressing the weaknesses of oneself. Ransom’s transformation commences once becoming “a member of a tightly interdependent community whose bonds are broad and intimate” (Brown 44).

               Consequently, Ransom’s relationships with the hrossa lead to his growth into maturity and courage. This growth is most evident during the hnakra hunt. This honorable hunt is done as a means to protect and to maintain the community’s integrity by making sure that they do not permit the hnakra, an evil shark-like creature, to “let him get so near” to them (Lewis 86; ch. 12). Therefore, Ransom understands the weight of this invitation, since he knows that “they were making him the noblest offer in their power” (Lewis 89; ch. 13). The hrossa uphold their innate nature of inclusion by bringing Ransom along, which enables Ransom to practice and develop his courage. This hunting event is noteworthy, for “nothing would have seemed more impossible to Ransom than to accept the post of honour and danger in an attack upon an unknown but certainly deadly aquatic monster” since arriving on this planet; moreover, it is true that “it would hardly have been in his power to do what he was intending to do today” if it were not for the support of the hrossa (Lewis 89; ch. 13). His motivation was so strong and dominating that “he felt unwonted assurance” that he could do the hunt (Lewis 89; ch. 13). Ransom, the man with a child’s soul, is now intentionally engaging in a risky activity with this new courage that he has developed. The hrossa are able to support and stimulate the bravery needed in Ransom. In addition to this surge of confidence, he is overwhelmed with purpose. He intends to prove that “the human species also were hnau” (moral sentient beings) to the hrossa, for he believed that “this was necessary, and the necessary was always possible” (Lewis 89; ch. 13). The ideal Christian community that permits vulnerability, while also promoting responsibility, is embedded in Ransom’s relationship to the hrossa. The fostering culture of the hrossa in combination with his openness and vulnerability results in this transformation. As Lewis states, something “in the society of the hrossa. . . had begun to work a change in him” – a change that entails fresh courage and drive. The success of the hunt concludes with this new realization: “[Ransom] had grown up” (Lewis 89; ch. 13).

           The last factor that truly serves Ransom in his maturity is his willingness to obey. Contrastive to Weston and Devine who strive to disregard the sentient life of Malacandra, Ransom decidedly responds in a humble manner to Oyarsa, the ruler of Malacandra. The story provides various examples in which Ransom has the choice to obey advice; the first example is during the hnakra hunt, which tells of his defiant and infant-like character because he protests to being put back on the shore when instructed by an eldil, a formless and ever-present guardian of Malacandra. Ransom is instead driven by his arrogance and desire to “hold on to his new-found manhood” (Lewis 92; ch. 13). The consequence of such rebellion leads to his mourning of his friend, Hyoi, who is killed by the two other humans. This remorse prompts Ransom to return to a position of humility of obedience, so he does as he is told to journey to Oyarsa right after this hunt. Initially having great fear of the intimidating creatures such as the sorns, Ransom faces this anxiety instead of shying away from it, which is another sign of his maturity. In meeting with Oyarsa, Ransom admits that “[b]ent creatures are full of fears;” despite his condition of fear, he volunteers to be vulnerable and receptive to Oyarsa by stating, “I am here now and ready to know your will with me” (Lewis 142; ch 19). This posture of compliancy can be biblically interpreted as the type of posture a Christian must adopt – a posture first modeled by Jesus Christ in His prayer “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (English Standard Version, Matt. 6.10b-c). This is an incredible piece of evidence of Ransom’s maturity, especially when he is compared to Weston and Devine. It is apparent during Weston and Devine’s trial with Oyarsa that they are not receptive nor willing to cooperate with Oyarsa. Besides, their ignorance and lack of consideration does not even allow them to fully see Oyarsa’s form the same way Ransom can. This is because Ransom has been enlightened and responsive to the wisdom and instruction that this planet’s inhabitants have offered to him. Ransom continues his endeavor into spiritual formation with the help of Oyarsa. Oyarsa counsels Ransom, saying to him, “You are guilty of no evil . . . except a little fearfulness” (Lewis 166; ch. 21). He once again tests Ransom’s submissiveness by commanding that he “must watch this Weston and this Devine in Thulcandra;” this mission, if Ransom chooses to obey, is a journey that “is [his] pain, and perhaps [his cure]; for [he] must be either mad or brave before it is ended” (Lewis 166; ch. 21). The Christian life is of similar nature, for the Christian must abandon his/her old life in order to embrace the redeemed life offered to him/her by Jesus – a life that entails painful pruning of personal sin in order to produce new growth.

            What Lewis effectively “smuggles into Out of the Silent Planet is Christian spirituality” in the character of Ransom by showing how he grows out of his enfance into confidence by means of vulnerability, connection to community, and obedience (Schakel 4). The trials of life either cause the individual to develop resiliency or cause the individual to quiver under the challenges. The Christian makes the responsible choice to take challenges as opportunities for growth – that may be in leadership, discernment, courage, selflessness, or obedience. This spiritual progression is the framework in which Ransom’s character is developed. His pilgrimage begins when he is rendered vulnerable; from there, he is capable of learning and becomes informed of the cosmic realities between the planets. The transition into an accountable community also enables his maturity in mindset, courage, and responsibility by providing support and important insight. The knowledge and enlightenment that he acquires make him accountable to act responsibly – to act in obedience, essentially. Ransom’s rebirth in the cosmos thus contributes toward the phenomenon of the Christian’s endeavor in producing perseverance in his/her spiritual journey.

Works Cited

Brown, Devin. “From Isolation to Community: Ransom’s Spiritual Odyssey.” Mythlore, vol. 22, no. 4, 2000, pp. 39-47.

Downing, David C. Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy. University of Massachusetts Press, 1992.

Lewis, C. S. Out of the Silent Planet. London, Pan Books Ltd, 1952.

Musacchio, George. “Elwin Ransom: The Pilgrimage Begins.” Mythlore, vol. 13, no. 4 (50), 1987, p. 15-17.

Schakel, Peter J. “Hidden Images of Christ in the Fiction of C. S. Lewis.” Studies in the Literary Imagination, no. 2, 2013, p. 1-16.

The English Standard Version Bible. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.