Having abused and misconstrued the word “gender,” we moderns have succeeded in obscuring its meaning entirely. Gender can apply to a quality that we are born with, or more recently, an attribute we can choose — a recent report gives us seventy-one gender options and counting.[1]  Gender and sex are often used interchangeably, blurring the line between the two. The term “sex” directs our thinking to physical acts rather than the identification of male or female. In order to have a proper perspective on the deeper meaning, it is essential to back up and break down the idea of gender into the more defined terms of masculine and feminine rather than male and female. In the Ransom Trilogy, C.S. Lewis presents gender as masculine and feminine and its necessity in the creation balance of the cosmos. The trilogy demonstrates that we must know femininity to truly understand masculinity; likewise, masculinity needs femininity to temper it. We should note that these terms, particularly in Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy, are not interchangeable with male and female and therein lies the challenge in understanding the depth of meaning in these three texts.

Gender is deeper than the definitions of male, female, or sex. Lewis’s treatment of the idea of gender makes the case for the purpose and necessity of the creation of both. Strength needs humility, power needs gentleness, action needs insight, battles need peace, and masculine needs feminine — these are qualities that are bigger than the concepts of sex or male and female. He introduces us to the core ideas of masculinity in Out of the Silent Planet, femininity in Perelandra, and how they both function together (or not) in That Hideous Strength.

C.S. Lewis introduces the idea of gender, specifically masculinity, in Out of the Silent Planet. He defines gender as a quality of creation, not limited to a descriptive to label people or animals. Gender is a quality of living and nonliving aspects of the planet. The masculine theme isn’t overt; rather it is the staging and setting for the story. He begins with focusing the story on the planet Mars, or Malacandra. A close read offers several examples of masculinity.

Mars has historically been the planet in cosmology associated with a martial nature of war, wisdom, and strength. The three male characters — Weston, Devine, and their victim, the kidnapped Ransom — fly in a spacecraft from earth to Malacandra, returning for reasons that fall under a masculine influence. Like prospectors in a western movie, Weston and Devine want Malacandran gold. They’ve kidnapped and brought a sacrifice to the Malacandrians, and they wish to elicit goodwill from the society that they someday hope to exterminate.

Malacandra’s landscape is hard-edged with towering mountains, sharp angularity, and gigantic plants. The peaked waves of water reminded Ransom of the “water that he had seen shooting up under the impact of shells in pictures of naval battles…like something he had read in one of those modern poets about a sea rising in ‘turreted walls.’”[2] The cliffs reach to the heavens like spears driven into the ground.

Even the Malacandrian inhabitants have masculine features and talents, but not to the point of male bravado. All three races living on the planet embody some manner of classical characteristics of masculinity — philosophers, historians, scientists, hunters, miners, artisans, and theologians. As Ransom sees the Sorn for the first time, “his first idea was that they were images of men, the work of savage artists; he had seen things like them in books of archaeology.”[3] Later, Ransom learns that the Sorn are wise philosophers. The Hrossa, black-furred, tall, and endowed with complex language, are hunters and fishermen, but also write poetry and sing. The third culture, the frog-like Pfifltriggi, are gifted metalworkers. The only characters on this martial planet who exhibit any signs of ugly machismo are Weston and Devine, the interlopers from earth. Armed with guns and what they believe to be their own superior intelligence, their ignorance is their undoing.

The Hrossa of Malacandra hunt with spears, weapons symbolic of Mars, reflecting the sharp lines of the planet’s landscape. When Ransom reports his sighting of a hnakra, a sharp-toothed monster living in the waters, the hrossa form a hunting party and begin preparing the boats and weapons.  Ransom noted that “The war-like nature of their preparations suggested many questions.”[4] He was curious to find out if the seroni, hrossa, and pfifltriggi “ever go out like this, with weapons, against each other?” The idea was alien to them — why would they fight each other? Their masculinity is purposed to benefit their world.

Even the idea of procreation is elevated above mere lust. Hyoi explains that the begetting of young is a pleasure, “this is what we call love.”[5] In fact, Hyoi describes it as not just a momentary act, but something that takes his whole life to attain. He explains, “When he is young he has to look for his mate; and then he has to court her; then he begets young; then he rears them; then he remembers all this and boils it inside him and makes it into poems and wisdom.”[6]  The pleasure and the memory join as one thing. He tells of an old poem about a hrossa who was greedy and wanted two of everything, even a mate. Hyoi thinks this idea is outlandish. Ransom reflects on his own human race, seeing that “the instincts of the hrossa so closely resembled the unattained ideals of that far-divided species Man whose instincts were so deplorably different.”[7]  The male hrossa embody good and holy masculinity that is a struggle for a human male to understand.

Perelandra, the second book in the trilogy, is the feminine counterpoint to Malacandra in Out of the Silent Planet. It is interesting to note that we do not realize the degree of masculinity of Malacandra until we compare it with the femininity of Perelandra. As Lewis tells us in Out of the Silent Planet, “He [Ransom] knew nothing yet well enough to see it: you cannot see things till you know roughly what they are.”[8] In order to comprehend masculinity, we must know femininity.

In contrast to the sharp angularity of Malacandra, Perelandra (or Venus) is a warm, sensuous atmosphere that envelopes Ransom from the moment he lands on the planet. He is bathed in “a delicious coolness over every part of him except his head” and rides “the foamless swell of an ocean…warm by earthly standards.”[9] [10] Ransom is immersed in bliss as the sea soothes his body and fills his mouth, giving him a drink of “quite astonishing pleasure. It was almost like meeting Pleasure itself for the first time.”[11] Perelandra filled Ransom from the inside out, nourishing and overwhelming his senses with heightened colors, flavors, and sounds.

Perelandra is almost playful in its intense femininity, nearly like a fairy-tale setting. The sky doesn’t just bring rain, it also mixes in “preternaturally airy and graceful frogs — sublimated frogs — and had the colour of dragon-flies.”[12] Ransom heard thunder, but it was different than what he knew from earth, with a “different timbre from terrestrial thunder, more resonance, and even, when distant, a kind of tinkling. It is the laugh, rather than the roar, of heaven.”[13]

Something nearly like sensory overload awakens Ransom during his first days of exploring the planet. After crawling onto a floating island, he falls into the grass, and a “blessed relaxation of the strain in which he had been living since his arrival dissolved him into weak laughter. He rolled to and fro on the soft fragrant surface in a real schoolboy fit of the giggles.”[14] As he walks toward the wooded area, “the smells in the forest were beyond all that he had ever conceived. To say that they made him feel hungry and thirsty would be misleading; almost, they created a new kind of hunger and thirst, a longing that seemed to flow over from the body into the soul and which was a heaven to feel.”[15] Ransom finds trees bearing yellow fruit, tastes the juice and “it was so different from every other taste that it seemed mere pedantry to call it a taste at all. It was like the discovery of a totally new genus of pleasures, something unheard of among men, out of all reckoning, beyond all covenant. For one draught of this on earth wars would be fought and nations betrayed. It could not be classified.”[16] It would be tempting to claim that Ransom was overstating the joy of the experience, but it was as if he was a child experiencing every sense for the very first time.

He desired to keep experiencing the tastes of the fruit, but “something seemed opposed to this ‘reason.’” Perhaps it was the memory of Ransom’s long-ago conversation with Hyoi about the begetting of children. Like love or any other pleasure, “repetition would be a vulgarity — like asking to hear the same symphony twice in a day.”[17] He also considered his decisions on earth. How many times had he “reiterated pleasures not through desire, but in the teeth of desire and in obedience to a spurious rationalism.”[18] His attraction to the sensuous and feminine balances with the masculine ideal of the hrossa.

When Ransom meets the Green Lady, he first communicates with her as if she is just another human woman; however, she exudes femininity beyond humanity: grace, purity, simplicity, innocence, and philosophical intelligence. She is “myth coming out into the world of fact”[19] and more complex than he first realized. He remembers the creatures on Malacandra “who were not even remotely human in form but who had turned out, on further acquaintance, to be rational and friendly.”[20] Ransom realizes “that the word ‘human’ refers to something more than the bodily form or even to the rational mind…but this creature was not of his race; no windings, however intricate, of any genealogical tree, could ever establish a connection between himself and her. In that sense, not one drop in her veins was ‘human.’”[21] She was wonderfully feminine, more so than any woman he had met before. Even meeting her naked, “embarrassment and desire were both a thousand miles away from his experience.”[22] He felt ugly in comparison, with his white skin and horrid sunburn, while she was green, “beautiful and fitting”[23] in her world. Ransom asks her why, if she’s living on another planet, she does not have a different appearance. He observes, “You are shaped like the women of my own kind. I had not expected that. I have been in one other world beside my own [Malacandra]. But the creatures there are not at all like you and me.”[24] She explains that the Hrossa and Sorns are from an older world and Ransom’s world is new. Surprised that Ransom doesn’t understand why she is shaped like a woman from his world, she explains, “In your world Maleldil first took Himself this form, the form of your race and mine.” They were both created in Maleldil’s image — feminine and masculine and “since our Beloved became a man, how should Reason in any world take on another form?” [25]

That Hideous Strength takes place on our imperfect earth and focuses on the failing marriage of Mark and Jane Studdock. Now the genders are as confused as language at the Tower of Babel. Mark is dissatisfied with life, disinterested in his marriage, and “intellectually preoccupied” with the busywork of his position at the College.[26] He is living in an autopilot-like, diluted masculinity. Jane is restless and feels isolated. She views marriage as “the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do into something like solitary confinement.”[27] Jane intended on keeping her scholarly career after marriage and decided against having children. Even her appearance, “she liked her clothes to be rather severe and in colours that were really good on serious aesthetic grounds,”[28] belied her femininity. Conversation with her friend, Mother Dimble, “was strictly feminine in the old-fashioned sense,” but Jane “preserved a certain sense of superiority.”[29] She fights against a feminine role, but desires it at the same time. The gender roles of both are weakened.

There are two conflicting forces at play in That Hideous Strength. The evil N.I.C.E. organization, posturing as masculinity, is in the process of being created. Its purpose is to use science and pure objectivity to achieve mental perfection. They lured Mark in with talk of employment, status, a good income, and all of the hallmarks of a successful man. The men of N.I.C.E. could be termed as a fallen and clichéd version of masculinity — slugging back whiskey, moving between various inane and pointless committees, gathering together in well-appointed meeting rooms, viewing the poor and working classes with derision, and plotting takeovers. The sole N.I.C.E. woman, Fairy Hardcastle, bears no resemblance to anything feminine; in fact, she is sexually attracted to women. At the corporation’s final banquet, she is nearly drunk and “had expected and intended to be so: she knew that later on in the evening she would go down to the cells and do things. There was a new prisoner there — a little fluffy girl of the kind the Fairy enjoyed — with whom she could pass an agreeable hour.”[30] Femininity is mocked and masculinity is exaggerated with talk of violence, torture, killing, and power.

Contrast this to St. Anne’s where there is heroism, love, and community with masculinity and femininity working side-by-side. Dr. and Mother Dimble demonstrate what a harmonious marriage looks like, the stern but honest Miss Ironwood shares insightful wisdom, and Ivy Maggs is devoted to her jailed husband. There is harmony in their society and a feminine aura about St. Anne’s.

Gender themes in Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy introduce the idea of masculinity on the Martial planet of Malacandra, femininity in the Venus of Perelandra, and the culmination of both genders on earth. Looking below the surface narrative, there is a greater story to tell. In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom meets ancient races who embody masculine traits without the evil complications familiar to the newer world that Ransom lives in. The Martial essence of the physical planet is masculine with rectilinear landscapes and vegetation reaching to the sky above. Femininity is not a large influence on Malacandra, but it adds a balancing complement by way of the female creatures.

Perelandra is wide-sweeping, lush, fertile, and sensual —  filled with feminine elements with the Green Lady, Tinidril, as its ideal embodiment. Ransom enters her world, sent by Maleldil, to save Perelandra from “the black archon — our own bent Oyarsa.”[31] A possessed Weston, the Un-man, makes a vain attempt to lure femininity into darkness that would lead to the destruction of Venus, Queen Tinidril, and King Tor. Ransom, bringing true masculinity and a martial attitude to battle the Un-man, is victorious and ensures the continued reign of Perelandra. Essentially, we have the idealized feminine, but “bent” (evil) masculinity has invaded to destroy it. Martial masculinity is sent to fight evil and is victorious over it.

When we come to the third story, That Hideous Strength, we find that masculinity and femininity have been scrambled. Mark and Jane Studdock are unhappily married and growing apart. N.I.C.E. makes a mockery of the masculinity that we saw in Malacandra. Mark participates in this pseudo-science project without ever making any headway. Jane bears no resemblance of femininity that we see in the Green Lady of Perelandra. They are hollow people.

Mark must learn masculinity again, which he did through an unlikely man, the tramp who was held at Belbury. He was set in charge of the vagrant, and by eating together in a “continual picnic”  Mark was “carried back into the realm of childhood which we enjoyed before nicety began” and “intimacy grew between them” in the absence of vanity and power.[32] He had found his “circle” that he had longed for. Jane also became reacquainted with femininity through a conversation with Ransom. He helps her see that her pride has caused her anger directed at not just maleness and indirectly at Mark, but also masculinity; however, the highest form of masculinity is God — ultimately, she has been fighting against and rejecting Him.

In the end, the dark powers of N.I.C.E. are destroyed. Balance is restored. St. Anne’s is filled with harmony. In the final chapter, masculinity and femininity are reunited as one, literally and figuratively. The married couples go their way to unite in connubial bliss, and gender balance has been restored. That Hideous Strength begins with division and confusion of gender, which influences relationships between people as well as between them and God. Gender is deeper than male and female — it defines the necessary complement in creation. Ransom tells Jane, “The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.”[33] We have been created in the likeness of God, “male and female, He created them.”[34]  We have both genders because each has its own purpose with the definitive masculinity of God above all. Not only humanity, but also all living things, would cease to exist if there was one gender without the other.

An amusing point on the apologetic value of the Ransom Trilogy is the very fact that Lewis, a Christian author, digs into the topic of gender and sex —  both an integral part of our world. Christians live under a long-standing prejudice by many that they embody prudish views, avoiding any talk of gender issues and sexuality. Lewis wrote an entire trilogy illustrating those controversial topics, not shying away from nudity, sexual themes, and gender qualities, showing the importance of Christian insights on the topic of gender.

In these days when gender equality is a hot and messy topic to explore, C.S. Lewis reminds us that we are not equal as men and women, but we are equally important in creation. We have complicated the terms of gender, sexuality, and what it is to be male and female. Masculinity means nothing without femininity to compare it with — a world structured around the idea that all is equal would be like creating a painting with only grey tones. We need bold colors of bravery, joy, passion, and love, and softer tones of humility, hospitality, laughter, and generosity. All are important, just as masculinity and femininity are separate but equally important. This gives us another invaluable point of apologetic meaning. The Ransom Trilogy demonstrates that we were created to embody uniqueness, bringing completion to the universe. We should glory in knowing this and revel in the uniqueness of each of us. Genesis 1:27 tells us that “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”[35] Scrutinized word-by-word, we see that each of us reflects His image, not one or another or one above the other. That is confirmation of purpose in creation, and it should be celebrated.

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Citation Information

Annie Nardone, “Gender, Not Sex: Presentation of Gender Roles in Lewis’s The Ransom Trilogy,” An Unexpected Journal 3, no. 2. (Summer 2020), 55-72.

Direct Link: https://anunexpectedjournal.com/gender-not-sex-presentation-of-gender-roles-in-lewiss-the-ransom-trilogy/


[1] Rhiannon Williams, “Facebook’s 71 gender options come to UK users,” The Telegraph, June 27, 2014, accessed June 4, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/facebook/10930654/Facebooks-71-gender-options-come-to-UK-users.html

[2] C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, (New York: Scribner, 2003), 44.

[3] Ibid., 46.

[4] Ibid., 73.

[5] Ibid., 74.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 75.

[8] Ibid., 43.

[9] C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (New York: Scribner, 2003), 31.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 32.

[12] Ibid., 34.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 36.

[15] Ibid., 37.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 38.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid., 48.

[20] Ibid., 49.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 52.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 53.

[25] Ibid., 54.

[26] C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (New York: Signet, 2003), 12.

[27] Ibid., 12.

[28] Ibid., 26.

[29] Ibid., 28.

[30] Ibid., 344.

[31] Lewis, Perelandra, 21.

[32] Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 310.

[33] Ibid., 313.

[34] Genesis 1:27, ESV.

[35] Genesis 1:27, ESV.

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