A Voyage To Arcturus (David Lindsay)

“You may be sure that a question which requires music for an answer can’t be put into words.” Wish I’d written that! The Scottish writer David Lindsay died in 1945. He is usually regarded as a fantasy writer. While he wrote a great deal, most of his works have been hard to find, out-of-print, neglected. Voyage to Arcturus is the exception, having become a bit of a cult classic and reprinted again and again in paperback editions. Everything follows a dream-logic, which is to say no recognizable logic at all, but one that nevertheless begins to feel internally consistent. More than a parable, the entire novel feels like a transcribed dream.

Nothing follows from the immediate past, everything is disjointed and interrupted. New things continually present themselves from nowhere, or better yet from places that we can’t fathom because they’re buried too deep within us. Just as in a dream you often forget what you needed to do one minute ago because there is a new obstacle before you. I even began to wonder if all of the typos, a ridiculous amount really, were added intentionally in service to this disturbing, surreal, “off” feel that the book exudes from the very beginning.

What I thought at first was a science fiction novel (based solely on its title) turned out to be a spiritual quest that is just happens to be set on a distant planet named Tormance that circles Arcturus, which in the book is a double star consisting of Branchspell and Alppain. With two companions, Krag and Nightspore, the hero Maskull takes a voyage to the distant star, where he is deposited in the middle of a red desert with no one else in sight.

For the remainder of the book, Maskull travels from south to north on Tormance, going through several lands, and having strange encounters with a wide variety of natives, who all seem to live in isolated pockets spread across the different lands. On his quest, which takes five days, Maskull finds love, murder, adventure, religion, and death:

He was a naked stranger in a huge, foreign, mystical world, and whichever way he turned, unknown and threatening forces were glaring at him. The gigantic, white, withering Branchspell, the awful, body-changing Alppain, the beautiful, deadly, treacherous sea, the dark and eerie Swaylone’s Island, the spirit-crushing forest out of which he had just escaped — to all these mighty powers, surrounding him on every side, what resources had he, a feeble, ignorant traveller from a tiny planet on the other side of space, to oppose, to avoid being totally destroyed? … Then he smiled to himself, “I’ve already been here two days, and still I survive. I have luck — and with that one can balance the universe.”

We have a curious protagonist offered a chance to visit a strange planet orbiting a distant binary star system. He eagerly takes up on the voyage and is transported to the other realm; what ensues is a fantastic philosophical debate on the nature of good and evil, the role of existence, and the true nature of man. When our hero wakes on the planet, he is alone and has inexplicably gained the function of several new appendages.

As he progresses through the various continents and countries, he meets characters, seemingly more knowledgeable than the last, each directing him forward, compelling him closer to what he seeks (which is the creator of the planet or what he has associated as God on Earth but in truth neither is or isn’t). His appendages either gain new functions or fall off completely. And invariably, many of his hosts perish through his actions.

What is the relation of what we feel to what actually is? This book is a “more than human” flight of fancy. Further Conclusion: David Lindsay was obviously not a man of this world.


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