David Malouf

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Ransom Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on David Malouf's Ransom. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of David Malouf

David Malouf is of mixed Lebanese and Jewish ancestry, and grew up in Queensland, Australia, where he also attended university. After graduating, he divided his time between Australia and Europe, teaching English in a number of secondary and post-secondary institutions. His first breakthrough as a writer came midway through his teaching career, with the 1962 publication of Four Poets—a volume of poetry. Although he largely shifted his focus to novel-writing in the mid-1970s, many critics (as well as Malouf himself) consider his early experiences as a poet key to his compact and lyrical style as a writer of prose. In 1978, Malouf published his second novel—the widely acclaimed An Imaginary Life—and subsequently resigned from his position at the University of Sydney to pursue writing full-time. In all, Malouf has written nine novels, ten volumes of poetry, and multiple other works, including short story collections, essays, and even the librettos for several operas.
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Historical Context of Ransom

There is considerable debate over whether a real historical conflict resembling the Trojan War ever took place. Ruins of an ancient city founded in the 3rd millennium BCE and rebuilt several times do exist in modern-day Turkey, but it is difficult to know how much this historical Troy resembled its fictional counterpart; the Iliad was not set down in written form until the 8th century BCE, which was likely four or five centuries after the events it described. That said, Malouf traces his own affinity for the story of Troy to his childhood memories of World War II, since he first heard about the Trojan War in 1930s Brisbane—a staging ground for the war in the Pacific.

Other Books Related to Ransom

The plot of Ransom derives from a single episode in The Iliad—an epic poem by Homer that covers a few weeks of the ten-year Trojan War. Where the Iliad traces a path from Achilles’ argument with Agamemnon through Hector’s slaying of Patroclus to Hector’s death, Ransom refers to these events only briefly and in flashback, focusing instead on King Priam’s efforts to win back the body of his son from Achilles. This links Malouf’s novel to other contemporary works that expand on scenes or characters from classic literature—particularly novels like John Gardner’s Grendel, Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia, and Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, which are all reworkings of epic poems (Beowulf, the The Aeneid, and The Odyssey, respectively).
Key Facts about Ransom
  • Full Title: Ransom
  • Where Written: Sydney, Australia
  • When Published: 2009
  • Literary Period: Postmodernism
  • Genre: Novel, Historical Fiction
  • Setting: Troy (legendary and quasi-historical city on the coast of modern-day Turkey), the Bronze Age
  • Climax: Priam pleads with Achilles for Hector’s body, and Achilles agrees to return it.
  • Antagonist: Fate
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Ransom

Recommended Reading. Malouf considers the Iliad the greatest literary work in existence, but he also reserves special praise for writers like Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare. As far as his fellow Australians go, he cites Patrick White as a particular source of inspiration.

An Eye for an Eye…or a Heel. As Ransom hints, Achilles would not survive the Trojan War either. While Achilles’ death is not part of the Iliad, but the most popular version of the story of the war names Paris—Hector’s brother—as his killer. According to legend, Paris shot Achilles in his only weak spot: the heel his mother Thetis held onto while dipping him in the River Styx to make him otherwise invulnerable.