Six Degrees: From Arthur Dent to Elwin Ransom
Ah, feel that lovely, refreshing breeze wafting in through your Tuesday window? Not only is it bringing you the smell of Fall, it’s carrying with it another installment of the enchanting enigma tour which is Six Degrees of Kool Books.
Last week Jenelle introduced us to the gut-busting, galaxy galavanting series The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by way of one of its more memorable character’s, Ford Prefect (I love that name, by the way, it just rolls off the tongue). But the main character of that series is Arthur Dent, and he’ll be our galactic jumping off point for today’s continuation of the Six Degrees thread.
Arthur Dent was described as “your typical, everyday sort of guy” who really wasn’t up for an adventure, but got dragged into one anyway by Ford. He’s “unheroic” and “wanders around in a perpetual daze” throughout the story. Though I’ve never read the books myself, I did a little research and found out that he is also a bachelor and somewhat uncomfortable around women in his life in England before being swept off into his outer space journey.
These Alien names are…well, alien
Before Dent was whisked away due to the impending destruction of earth, there was another fictional character who suffered a similar fate in the form of Elwin Ransom, the main character from Out of the Silent Planet (and Perelandra as well). Also a bachelor, Ransom may have been a bit better educated than Dent (he is apparently a very accomplished philologist), but though he wasn’t rescued from earth’s destruction by a friend, he was whisked off to space unwittingly and taken onto a space ship for an unusual journey.
(A little side note here: Apparently Ransoms first name, Elwin, means “elf friend”. This, and the fact that he was also a philologist as was Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, have led some to believe that Ransom was inspired in part by the author of The Lord of the Rings, but there is no sound evidence to that claim that I am aware of beyond these superficial details.)
Since Ransom was essentially kidnapped and only travels to Mars, their journey’s take on quite a different form, but they are similar in how they start out and in the way in which they are forced to constantly rethink how the universe works as they encounter aliens and strange new environments on seemingly every other page.
Though there are several species of aliens which Ransom comes into contact with, the one he spends the most time with is the hross. These seal-like men live near the river. Hyoi is the first of these creatures which he befriends. The kind-hearted alien becomes something of a guide for Ransom, teaching him the ways of the hross and their planet. Like others of his race, the seal man has a strong appreciation for poetry and contemplating the mysteries of life. Though Ransom is understandably distressed at having been dragged to this strange planet, Hyoi sees a great deal of possibility in his appearance, always hoping for the best.
The sorns or seroni are one of the other races Ransom meets. These extremely tall creatures are covered in thick feathers. They are much more well studied than the hross, possessing advanced scientific knowledge. One of the sorns, the noble and kind Augray ends up saving Ransom’s life when he is trapped on a freezing cold mountain. The sorn astronomer goes out of his way to help the stranded human. Augray demonstrates a keen analytical mind, deducing many facts about Ransom the first time they meet, based on pure observation and reason.
The other human representatives in the story are not nearly as exemplary as their alien counterparts. Dr. Weston is the worst of the lot. A brutal, elitist sort of man, he believes himself above common moral restraints like all true tyrants. He claims that his ability to travel to other planets sets him apart from others and thus doesn’t think twice about using Ransom or the aliens for his purposes. In that sense, he is very reminiscent of another of Lewis’ characters, Uncle Andrew from The Magician’s Nephew (I’m not dropping any hints here as we’ve already featured a character from The Chronicles of Narnia in another post).
Weston’s assistant is Dick Devine, a “power-hungry” man who willingly supports Weston’s plans for inter planetary dominance. He appears to be motivated by the prospect of financial gain and lacks even the high-sounding pretensions of Ransom. He is a materialist in the strictist sense of the word.
So there you have it, another turn of the Six Degree wheel. Though this time we stuck to a very similar genre, I think the differences between this story and the last one are rather pronounced. But then again, Hitchhiker is a comedic work and Lewis’ tale aims for much deeper waters. It just goes to show how “vast” the world of science fiction can be.