Chapter 1 - Dr. Ransom, a philologist, is wandering streets, looking for a place to stay when a woman sees him, and calls to him - mistaking him for her son, Harry. After a conversation, and in half pity for the woman, half desire to find a place to stay, Ransom goes to retrieve Harry from his place of work, a farm called "The Rise". After sneaking into the back yard, Ransom finds two men holding the boy in the Professor's house - he calls out and they approach him. The men are Mr. Devine, who was a school mate of Ransom, and Professor Weston, and physicist. The men claim to be putting Harry in the washhouse because he's become hysterical, Harry claims that they are forcing him into Weston's laboratory. Because of Ransom's relationship to Devine, the arrangements are made for Ransom to take a rest, then to take Harry home, and finally return to the house to sleep. Devine seems overly accepting, Weston is not happy about Ransom, and Ransom is very suspicious and uneasy about all of it - but is too tired to care.
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Chapter 2 - Devine brings out a bottle of champagne, and quizzes Ransom about his life. Ransom was in the army, and now has only a married sister in India. No one knows or cares where he is. Devine eventually begins to fill the glasses, his own first, and realizes he is out of champagne. He asks if Ransom would like water, and Ransom accepts. Minutes later, Devine returns. Ransom drinks it, and minutes later fades into unconsciousness. He has a dream about the two men and himself climbing a wall to a dark side with queer beings. He wakes up, still foggy, and hears the two talking of using him as an experimental subject, or not using the boy - Harry. Devine leaves, and Ransom throws himself at Weston's feet, knocking him over. Ransom runs, and opens the front door, but is hit in the head, and dragged back inside the house.
Chapter 3 - Ransom wakes up in a bed, with a skylight above him. He believes the moon is lighting his room from it. He looks at the walls, and believes they are going outwards, making the room larger, but he then also believe they are all perpendicular. He realizes the walls are metal, that there is a mechanical vibration, and that there are small irregular things hitting the room from above - because of this, Ransom decides he's in an airship. He realizes the moon is far too big, and becomes panicked. Just then, a naked Weston enters. Ransom, more concerned with where he is, sobbing, asks Weston what it is, it can't be the moon. Weston says it is the Earth.
Chapter 4 - Ransom is horrified, and demands answers of Weston. He asks how the ship works, and why he was kidnapped. Weston says he will not say how it works, because Ransom wouldn't understand, and even if he did he wouldn't be told. All Weston will say is that it is powered by solar radiation. Weston says they are going to Malacandra, a planet it our solar system. Malacandra is its real name, not the one we named it. Weston knows this as he claims to have contact with its inhabitants, he claims to have been to this planet before. As far as kidnapping, and Ransom's purpose, Weston has no idea - he says he is following orders. When Ransom asks who's, Weston changes subject to breakfast. Once outside his room, Ransom strips naked and puts on a weighted harness. He then has breakfast with Weston, and Weston tells him there is not enough oxygen on the ship for Ransom to ask so many questions. Weston then exits through an unknown door.
Chapter 5 - Ransom takes on the duty of steward and cook on the ship, doing what he can. He explores the ship as far as he is allowed, but is never allowed into what he assumes is the control room - Devine and Weston take shifts in there. Ransom begins to feel happy, invigorated. Weston explains it as getting sun rays that never reach Earth, but Ransom suspects it's because the nightmare he imagined space to be, it is not. About two weeks into the journey, Ransom returns to finish some preparations in the galley late at night, and hears the two men discussing him as a human sacrifice. Ransom decides suicide would be better than this, gets a knife, and brings it back to his bed.
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Chapter 6 - Ransom feels invigorated once again by the adventure, and the threat of death. He is sure he could face it if the time came. The ship begins to get pulled in by Malacandra's gravity, and the walls become floors as the center of gravity on the ship shifts. Ransom, with Devine and Weston, moves things to compensate for this. The ship is starting to land, and the light dims. Ransom hates this, seeing this destination as a negative. He thinks of how he believed planets were the centers of life, little "earths", and he now believes they subtract from space, not add to it.
Chapter 7 - The ship lands and the three men get off the ship, and go to the hut Devine and Weston built on a previous journey, which Ransom thought was built by the aliens. Ransom realizes the ship and hut are on a peninsula of sorts in a lake. After lunch, Ransom and the men see six elongated creatures, two or three times the height of men. In chapter 8, Ransoms decides these are sorns. Devine and Weston attempt to push Ransom into the water with them, deciding the creatures wanted them to go across. Suddenly, Weston fires his revolver at something, a black torpedo creature coming toward the men. Weston releases Ransom as he fire, and Ransom runs. He sees Devine groan, jaws snapping, and Devine collapsing into the water. He hears Weston's pistol fire again and again as Ransom runs away into a forest of unknown vegetation.
Chapter 8 - Ransom walks through the forest, tired and full. He takes in the landscape - odd vegetation, small red creatures, and warm water streams lighter in color than the lake. He realizes the water is warm and fizzy. Next to the warm, heating water, Ransom lays down - promising only a short rest, as he fears the black creatures may be in the water. He falls asleep.
Chapter 9 - Ransom wakes up convinced he will meet Ransom, convincing himself he is Ransom, and then talking himself out of it. He contemplates whether or not he is mad, and maybe he is in an asylum on Earth and is imagining the whole thing. Ransom then sees a herd of giraffe like creatures - they are taller and skinnier - that eat the leafs on the "trees". It calms him, until he sees close behind a sorn. He runs in fright, and ends up by more water. A black, seal like creature emerges from the water. It is covered in a black hairy coat, and is around seven feet tall and very skinny. It begins to talk an unknown language to itself, and Ransom gets its attention. They stare at each other in fright for a moment, until the seal thing begins to walk away. In English, he calls it back and it comes. Through gestures, they communicate, and he learns it is a hross, and it speaks its own hross language, which it attempts to teach him. With gestures, the hross gives him food and drink.
Chapter 10 - Ransom travels with the hross all day long on the boat, on choppy waters that cause him to vomit. He realizes that handramit is lowland, handra is land, and harandra is highland. He also realizes that the earth itself is not the same, valleys are not formed by mountains, but by cracks or separations in the planet itself. Ransom is taken by the hross to a fire, where there are many hrossa, and baby hrossa as well. Ransom is content, and falls asleep.
Chapter 11 - Hyoi is the hross Ransom first met. Ransom has spent weeks with the hross, and he sees them as "old stone age" creatures. They have bare necessities, and nothing else. Clumsy, improvised pots and tools. Besides this, all they have is a poetry/music art, which each group of 4 hrossa practices. Eventually, Ransom comes to form habits, begin to understand the language, and become part of the group. He comes to find out they understand astronomy, as he learns language from the elder hross, Hnohra. Hnohra points out Thulcandra (silent planet). As to why it is silent, "only the seroni know".
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When Ransom tells of Weston and Devine, the hrossa agree he should see the ruler of Malacandra - Oyarsa. Ransom also learns that the hrossa have a religion, in which Maledil the Young had created everything, and resides with the Old One. Ransom learns of the other intelligent races of Malacandra - The seroni, who lived in highlands in caves, were the intelligent ones, educated in astronomy, history, and overall science - but helpless in practicality. The pfifltriggi lived in a broad, open space. They mined gold and made things of it, and were frog - looking. When he asks which race rules, they say they are equal, only Oyarsa rules. Ransom tells them of earth, and they write poems. When he tells them of the small black creature, they agree it is a hnakra. The hross hunt these, but have not seen one for years. They all prepare to hunt it, as Hyoi does with Ransom, they prepare the boat. On the way, Ransom asks a hross who is talking to himself why he is doing that, he tells Ransom he is talking to an eldil. Ransom doesn't see anything, a shock to the hross.
Chapter 12 - Hyoi explains that the hross are monogamous, only mating and in love for 1-2 years of their life, they treasure memories over events. A good memory brews into poetry, and makes life more special. Hyoi explains the pride, honor in killing or being killed by a hnakra. He says they are our enemy, but also our beloved. They seems to respect and admire them, but also take pride in hunting them. Ransom asks Hyoi about the day they met, who was Hyoi talking to? Hyoi says it was an eldil, a messenger of Oyarsa. He explains them as wanting to be seen or not, light passes through them. Hyoi is surprised there are none on earth, and doesn't know if Ransom can see them at all.
Chapter 13 - All of the hross begin the hunt, and a eldil appears to Hyoi. Ransom can hear, but not see it. It says that Ransom must go see Oyarsa, as two men are hunting him, and he is in danger. Despite Ransom's protests, Hyoi turns the boat of himself, Ransom, and another hross, Whin, back to shore. Just then, a hnakra attacks the boat, and the three kill it. Elated, Hyoi says it is all he has ever wanted, and Ransom feels he has proven himself. A shot breaks the joy, and Hyoi has been shot by an English rifle. Ransom says the humans are evil, he attempts to apologize. Hyoi calls him a hnakra-slayer, a show of respect, forgiveness enough. Whin convinces Ransom that he must go immediately to Oyarsa, or bad things will continue to happen. Out of guilt, he complies.
Chapter 14 - Ransom wants to give himself over to the men, but fights the urge. He wonders where he was told, and as he starts to go up to higher ground, where the sorn live, the altitude takes its toll on Ransom. He cannot think straight, and is searching for Augray's tower, as he was told. He stumbles upon a light source, which he follows into a cave, where a fire burns. A sorn is in the cave.
Chapter 15 - The sorn, Ransom finds out, is Augray. Augray invites Ransom in, and feeds him vegetation and "cheese". This comes from yellowish grazing herd animals. Ransom realizes that the giraffe creatures were these, and the sorn he saw chasing was simply a shepherd, not a threat to Ransom. Still suspicious about the social structure, Ransom asks if the sorn rule over the other groups. Augray says only Oyarsa rules, and they are all equal, just as the hrossa said. Ransom asks more about Oyarsa, and Augray explains that Oyarsa is everywhere at once, using light as an example. We do not see light, we see the things slower than it that are lit by it. Ransom says that there is not Oyarsa in his world, and Augray says this is yet more proof Ransom is of Thulcandra, the silent planet. Augray shows him Thulcandra, and Ransom says it is Earth. He feels bleak and depressed.
Chapter 16 - Ransom feels relieved that he has met a sorn, and they are not evil. The sorn is carrying Ransom to Meldilom on his shoulders, and to counter act the thin air, Augray gives Ransom an oxygen tank, the sorn thought of and the pfifltriggi made. Augray tells him all about extinct species that used to live in the harandra. Augray stops for the night at an older sorn's house, that has students in it. They ask Ransom all about Earth - geography, history, languages, politics, arts, etc. When he tells them of war, slavery, and prostitution, they conclude that it is because Earth has no Oyarsa.
Chapter 17 - Augray brings Ransom to the edge of the lake surrounding Meldilorn. A hross mans the ferry, and will not bring Augray across because he has not been called by Oyarsa. As payment, Ransom offers his watch to Augray. Augray declines the gift, telling Ransom to give it to the pfifltriggi instead. Ransom is told by the ferrying hross that all three races Malacandra sent assistants to Meldilorn, and the hross run the ferry, as they are boat experts. The hross tells him the are eldila all over the island, and once he gets on to the island, Ransom sees little flashes around him, confirming this. After a snack, a nap, and some watching of the sorns, Ransom discovers stone etchings of what he decides is the solar system. As he studied it, all the planets had a flame like figure above them, except Earth. Earth's flame depiction had been removed, chiseled out. He also discovers that Malacandra is Mars. He hears a tapping, a discovers a pfifltriggi making a full body portrait of him in stone. He discovers that each race has its own language, but they all use the hross language as common tongue. The pfifltriggi, named Kanakaberaka, also speaks of gold - sun's blood - and the way that females rule in that race.
Chapter 18 - Ransom spends the night in a guest house with all three races, he understands words but doesn't see the humor in any of their jokes. The next morning, he is woken up by an eldil summoning him to Oyarsa. He went to the summit of the island, where he and all creatures, including all the eldila, stood still and silent for quite a while. Later, Oyarsa came to meet him. Ransom is clearly nervous, and Oyarsa asks him why. He replies that it is because of Oyarsa, and Oyarsa says that Ransom was afraid of him before he got to Malacandra. Oyarsa says that he sent for a human to be taken to Malacandra. He also says that Earth used to have an Oyarsa, but he became bent, before life, and almost destroyed Malacandra. There was a war, and Oyarsa of Earth was banished to Earth, where he remains today. Oyarsa is told that Earth is still very bend. Oyarsa tells of how the men came 4 human years ago, taking sun's blood (gold) without learning the language, saying no to seeing Oyarsa, and only taking gold. Oyarsa told them, like cubs, that if they didn't bring a human, they would not be allowed to take any more gold. Just as Ransom is beginning to tell Oyarsa all about Earth, a procession of hrossa carrying something.
Chapter 19 - The hrossa carry 3 dead hross, and have the two men captive. Hyoi's brother explains that two were killed while capturing the men, but Hyoi was killed with a coward's weapon. Osyarsa asks why they have killed the hrossa. Weston thinks it is a trick, ventriquism. He believes it is coming from a sleeping elder hross. He addresses, yells at the hross. He threatens the crowd with "Pouf! Bang!" but they don't understand. Finally, he pulls out a necklace and shows them it like they're incredibly stupid. They begin laughing, which Weston mistakes for stupidity. Oyarsa asks Ransom if the men are mentally hurt, and he says that they don't believe Oyarsa is real. Ransom warns the men that they better pay attention, as Oyarsa is real. The sleeping elder leaves, and Weston stands dumbfounded when Oyarsa speaks. Oyarsa had some hrossa take him to dunk his head in cold water. Oyarsa and the rest have a "funeral" for the dead hrossa. They sing an honor song. A pfifltriggi touches each of the bodies with a glass/crystal object, and they disappear in a flash of light with wind. Just then, Weston returns.
Chapter 20 - Oyarsa yells at Weston, for disrespecting him and his hnaus the first visit, for killing his hnaus, and for kidnapping Ransom. Oyarsa doesn't want to kill Weston because he is not one of his hnaus. Oyarsa gives Weston the chance to speak, and he says that he is prepared to die. Devine stands up and tries to say that Weston is just stupid, but Oyarsa silences this. Weston continues, with Ransom translating, that even if he is killed, the humans are so smart, strong, and advanced that they will take over the planet eventually. Oyarsa understands his nobility in regards to his race being the best. But he says that "The Lord of the Silent Planet" has made him bent, and made him think that his is the only race that deserves to live. Weston says maybe that's true, but at least he's a lord of action, not just words. Oyarsa says that the men will not be killed, but that they must leave the next day, (Oyarsa will provide 90 days of food, drink, and oxygen for them, after 90 days it will self destruct) and until then Ransom will stay to talk of Earth. The men are led away, and Ransom stays.
Chapter 21 - Ransom stays, and talks to Oyarsa about Earth. Oyarsa thanks Ransom, and tells him to watch the dangers of the bent ones, with the help of Maledil. Oyarsa also has all the weapons removed from the ship, except one for Ransom. Oyarsa also sends an eldil to watch over Ransom. The three make their way through crowds the next morning, and take off. Ransom begins to make notes for a dictionary on the Malacandian language. In order to make it in 90 days, Weston plots a course that is dangerous, taking them insanely close to the sun. They all become extremely dehydrated, but survive. However, when they become extremely close to a clean landing, the moon is going to intersect them. They have no choice but to go around, and they will never make it in time. Accepting death, Ransom retreats to his chamber and falls asleep. He wakes up to the sound of rain. The others have abandoned ship, but Ransom finds his way out in the dark. He walks for 30 minutes before he sees a bright light behind him, the ship has self destructed. He walks to a local bar and orders "a pint of bitter (ale)".
Chapter 22 - The narrator speaks directly to us, saying that he got the story from a professor he knew, who's name is not Ransom. The story came up when our narrator contacted Ransom regarding an unknown Latin word - "Oyarses". Ransom invited the narrator to his house and told him the story. The narrator and Ransom are worried about "'Weston', or the forces behind Weston". The evil needs to be stopped, but the world wouldn't listen, they'd laugh, if this was presented as fact. Ransom came up with the idea to write it as fiction, so people would be more accepting, and it would be more widely spread. The narrator is concerned, however, that no one will ever take it as reality. Ransom says the the very few who go beyond fiction, who are ready to fight, will easily find them, and find Weston, and how to stop the evil.