c.s. lewis, characters, earnest hemingway, elwin ransom, f. scott fitzgerald, out of the silent planet, perelandra, story dynamics, that hideous strength, the lost generation, the space trilogy
Okay, so not as obscure as some I could’ve picked, but it counts as obscure, since everyone seems to have forgotten that Lewis didn’t just write for children. *glares at stereotypes in general*
Disclaimer: I don’t think that all atheists write depressing things. As a Christian, however, I tend to find atheistic beliefs very depressing. I don’t intend to offend; this is simply how I read it.
Okay, so first for some background.
Dr. Elwin Ransom is the central or viewpoint character in C.S. Lewis’ novels Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and an important character (though no longer a viewpoint character) in That Hideous Strength. He was also featured in the unfinished story The Dark Tower. These novels were written as part of a dare between Lewis and fellow Inkling J.R.R. Tolkien. Lewis was supposed to write a science-fiction story, while Tolkien was going to try a time-travel novel. (Tolkien’s side of the dare is sadly incomplete.) From the three completed books and parts of The Dark Tower, you can gather some important information about the hero’s personal history.
- Dr. Elwin Ransom is a philologist. Basically, he studies languages, probably those of the British Isles especially, given that he understands that his name isn’t actually anything to do with the act of ransoming, but is a corruption of the Scandanavian “Ranulf’s Son” (Perelandra.)
- He fought in the First World War. I don’t recall where he was in action or if it was even mentioned which unit he was in, but he did see action.
- He teaches at a university (I don’t remember, but I think it was Cambridge.)
I wish he was my teacher.
Ransom is a pretty likeable character to begin with. He feels frustration with himself and his somewhat-impulsive side, much like Horatio Hornblower (in the books, not so much the movies), but he is very generous all the same, even when it makes things awkward (ahh, awkwardness… Lewis took the chance to poke fun at it… I can’t even come close to telling you how hilarious it is. Seriously, read the book. X-D)
But the truly ironic thing about Ransom is that he’s one of the Lost Generation.
The Lost Generation is a term used to refer to the men who fought in the First World War and came home disillusioned, with war, with themselves, and with the values of the previous generation.
Lewis, along with F. Scott Fitzgerald and Earnest Hemingway (and Ransom!), was a member of the Lost Generation and fought in the First World War.
While some people lost their way, Lewis is a good example of how bad things can either press people to disillusionment or to hope.
Ransom’s character arc is very unique compared to many fantasy and science fiction heroes. Instead of being a high-fantasy hero or a wizard or an Asgardian or whatever, he’s a human with human doubts and human struggles. These books aren’t man against nature or man against his fellow man: they are man against himself, and have perhaps the most powerful conflict of any books I have ever read as a result (with the exception of The Lord of the Rings, which similarly deals with the protagonist fighting with himself.)
The only other characters I can think of at the moment who have the same struggle (in a visible and vital capacity; sorry, Obi-Wan, Lucas really shortchanged us all when he decided to give you less screen time!) are Horatio Hornblower (written by an atheist and therefore depressing) and the Doctor (who is a telepathic, possibly immortal, time-travelling alien, for goodness’ sake.)
The thing about Lewis, however, is that, while he powerfully conveys the agony that is doubt and interior struggle, he is also absolutely brilliant at writing that moment of clarity that ends all doubt and pours new life into the soul. When the reader reaches that moment of resolution, it is a cleansing and rejuvenating experience for him or her as well as for Ransom.
Reading C.S. Lewis is like doing spring-cleaning in your head. C.S. Lewis is a whole new level of metafiction.
Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength are essentially metafiction on the Bible. Seriously, do you need any more reasons why you should go and read them?!
(Afterword: Stick with That Hideous Strength, no matter how hard it gets. There’s discourse on the Arthurian legends, so it is so worth the time.)
Thanks for reading, and God Bless!