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A Voyage to Arcturus (1920)

by David Lindsay

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,0873114,321 (3.42)60
A Voyage to Arcturus is a novel by Scottish writer David Lindsay, first published in 1920. An interstellar voyage is the framework for a narrative of a journey through fantastic landscapes. The story is set at Tormance, an imaginary planet orbiting Arcturus, which, in the novel (but not in reality) is a double star system, consisting of stars Branchspell and Alppain. The lands through which the characters travel represent philosophical systems or states of mind, through which the main character, Maskull, passes on his search for the meaning of life. The novel combines fantasy, philosophy, and science fiction in an exploration of the nature of good and evil and their relationship with existence. It has been described by critic and philosopher Colin Wilson as the "greatest novel of the twentieth century" and was a central influence on C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. J. R. R. Tolkien said he read the book "with avidity". Clive Barker has stated "A Voyage to Arcturus is a masterpiece" and called it "an extraordinary work . . . quite magnificent." TRT (Total Running Time): 11 hours, 15 min. David Lindsay (1876-1945) was a Scottish author now best remembered for the philosophical science fiction novel A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Other novels by Lindsay include: The Haunted Woman (1922), Sphinx (1923), Adventures of Monsieur de Mailly (1926) [UK]; A Blade for Sale (1927) [US], Devil's Tor (1932), The Violet Apple and The Witch (1976) and A Christmas Play (2003). [Elib]… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
David Lindsay's visionary first novel A Voyage to Arcturus was influential among writers of twentieth-century fantasy, although its metaphysical preoccupations and sheer strangeness have barred it from a wide readership. Michael Moorcock called the book "one of the great originals," but it clearly has roots in Blake and the Romantics. In particular, "Klingsohr's Fairy Tale" by Novalis tells of a series of adventures leading to the reunion of the heavenly court of Arcturus with the terrestrial household of humanity, and the triumph of Eternity over Time, and it seems to have been an influence for Lindsay. But Lindsay's Arcturian tale involves a more pessimistic gnosis, in which the wrong of the beginning is continually expressed in conflicts and obscurities.

My copy of the book is the 1985 Citadel Press edition, to which is prefaced "David Lindsay and the Quest for Muspel-fire" by Galad Elflandsson. Aside from a biographical sketch of Lindsay and a short bibliography, this essay mostly consists of plot spoilers and debatable interpretations, despite Elflandsson's professed intention to "eliminate some of the confusion one would normally find upon reading it 'cold'" (9). I recommend leaving it for after reading the novel.

The apparent protagonist of A Voyage to Arcturus is Maskull, a name that is never supplemented or fully explained, although a start is made by the character Panawe, who draws on his intuition to ask, "Has there been a man in your world who stole something from the Maker of the universe, in order to ennoble his fellow creatures?" (58). This particular characterization of the Prometheus myth does seem on some level to underlie the action of the larger book.

The story begins with a bourgeois séance in London, carefully introducing a large set of persons who become entirely irrelevant after the first chapter. Maskull, along with Nightspore and Krag, characters who are pivotal to the novel, are late arrivals here for what turns out to be a debacle. These three then go to Scotland, in order to embark in a "torpedo of crystal" (43) to the planet Tormance, which is in the double-stellar system of Arcturus. Maskull loses consciousness during the trip (projected to take nineteen hours), and awakes on Tormance with no trace of the ship or his companions.

Maskull's adventures across Tormance take up the bulk of the book. He travels from place to place, in each encountering one or two figures with whom he develops relationships that involve affection, hostility, inspiration, and instruction. A peculiar feature of his journey is that his physiognomy is repeatedly altered, particularly by the growth and attenuation of new sensory organs in his forehead and his breast. The people he encounters often have similar or related features. He moves northwards throughout, at first in a sort of aimless way, but with a mounting determination towards the end of the tale. In addition to its people, Tormance features bizarre life-forms that transgress boundaries among animal, vegetable, and mineral; colors unknown on earth; and surpassingly strange landscapes.

The level of enigma and exotic adventure in this book is off the charts, and the best comparandum for these features may be Lloyd's Etidorhpa. (In fact, the books complement each other: Arcturus can be read as the ouranian sequel to the chthonic Etidorhpa.) Why did René Laloux die without making this story into an animated feature? The injustice of the universe is adequately demonstrated.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Aug 8, 2021 |
Star Maker was practically normal compared to this, easily the weirdest sci-fi book I've ever read, and at 1920 one of the oldest apart from the foundational H.G. Wells/Jules Verne stuff. In fact it's so weird that it's not really science fiction at all, more like a series of crypto-parables about gnostic mysticism (the author was apparently a strange variety of Scottish Calvinist, but I don't think John Calvin would have approved of a lot of what goes on in the book) that just happens to be set on an alien planet but might as well be in Wonderland or Narnia. I'm not really sure what to say about it - the main character Maskull visits a seance, meets some odd people, and takes a really strange journey across the planet Tormance, orbiting Arcturus, to solve the "mystery" of why some corpses acquire a strange grin after rigor mortis sets in. The whole thing has a vaguely dream-logic air to it, but it gets even hazier once Maskull is shape-changing and soul-stealing his way across an alien planet and meeting various characters. All the various ethical tests Maskull has to go through as he makes his way from the arrival point to the Demiurge's cave and then back to Earth are supposedly intended to illustrate Lindsay's own feelings on religion, but if so then he might as well not be a Christian at all. As a work of pure fantasy it reminded me somewhat of H. P. Lovecraft's The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but once I got to the end I had one of those "what did I just read?" feelings and I'm not sure what exactly I took away from the book. ( )
  aaronarnold | May 11, 2021 |
Having seen the madness of WWI, David Lindsay wrote this novel, which is a fantasy rather than Science fiction. The book delves into some serious questions of identity and what makes behaviour, and information. In conclusion, I found this book rather creepy to my Western European mind. It was originally published by Methuen in 1920, but maintains its tone rather well to this day. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jul 28, 2019 |
This book is the most meaningful thing to ever happen to me. If anyone knows of other books similar to it, please
Let me know ( )
  michaeladams1979 | Oct 11, 2018 |
Handsome edition, with articles by Alan Moore and Colin Wilson
  stevholt | Nov 19, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Lindsay, Davidprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Brumm, WalterTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Delville, JeanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Eiseley, LorenIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Holitzka, KlausCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pepper, BobCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peterka, JohannIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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On a March evening, at eight o'clock, Backhouse, the medium - a fast-rising star in the psychic world - was ushered into the study at 'Prolands', the Hampstead residence of Montague Faull.
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A Voyage to Arcturus is a novel by Scottish writer David Lindsay, first published in 1920. An interstellar voyage is the framework for a narrative of a journey through fantastic landscapes. The story is set at Tormance, an imaginary planet orbiting Arcturus, which, in the novel (but not in reality) is a double star system, consisting of stars Branchspell and Alppain. The lands through which the characters travel represent philosophical systems or states of mind, through which the main character, Maskull, passes on his search for the meaning of life. The novel combines fantasy, philosophy, and science fiction in an exploration of the nature of good and evil and their relationship with existence. It has been described by critic and philosopher Colin Wilson as the "greatest novel of the twentieth century" and was a central influence on C. S. Lewis' Space Trilogy. J. R. R. Tolkien said he read the book "with avidity". Clive Barker has stated "A Voyage to Arcturus is a masterpiece" and called it "an extraordinary work . . . quite magnificent." TRT (Total Running Time): 11 hours, 15 min. David Lindsay (1876-1945) was a Scottish author now best remembered for the philosophical science fiction novel A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Other novels by Lindsay include: The Haunted Woman (1922), Sphinx (1923), Adventures of Monsieur de Mailly (1926) [UK]; A Blade for Sale (1927) [US], Devil's Tor (1932), The Violet Apple and The Witch (1976) and A Christmas Play (2003). [Elib]

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