A Voyage to Arcturus
Today’s release: David Lindsay’s novel A Voyage to Arcturus. It’s a rather odd book which I first heard of via C. S. Lewis. I’ll let him tell you about it (these are from his collected letters):
To Arthur Greeves on 26 Dec 1934:
I wish you had told me a little more about Voyage to Arcturus. Even if you can’t describe it, you could at least give me some idea what it is about: at least whether it is about a voyage to Arcturus or not. I haven’t come across the book yet, but will certainly read it if I do.
To Arthur Greeves on 7 Dec 1935:
I have tried in vain to buy Voyage to Arcturus but it is out of print.
To Roger Lancelyn Green on 28 Dec 1938:
You are obviously much better informed than I about this type of literature and the only one I can add to your list is Voyage to Arcturus by David Lyndsay (Methuen) wh. is out of print but a good bookseller will prob. get you a copy for about 5 to 6 shillings. It is entirely on the imaginative and not at all on the scientific wing.
To Eliza Marian Butler on 18 Aug 1940:
If you don’t know David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus (Methuen. Out of print, but not hard to get) you might find it very interesting. It is mere ‘popular’ fiction, but this kind of writing (like religion on the one hand and pornography on the other) cuts across the ordinary stratifications.
To E. R. Eddison on 19 Dec 1942 (apparently Lewis and Eddison wrote this way to each other, and yes, the macrons are supposed to look like that):
Mary, as for yo¯ hono¯s metaphysick mistresses, beatificall bona robas, hyper-uranian whoores, and transcendentall trulls, not oonlie my complexioun little delighteth in them but my ripe and more constant ivdgement reiecteth, esteeming them in truth no more but what Geo: Macdonald bringeth us in as Lilith in his nobly inuented but ill-languaged romans of the same name, or David Lyndesay of late, under the name Sullenbode, in his notable Voiage and Travell to Arctur¯.
To Charles A. Brady on 29 Oct 1944:
Space-and-time fiction: but oddly enough not Rice-Burroughs. But this is probably a mere chance and the guess was a sound one. The real father of my planet books is David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus, which you also will revel in if you don’t know it. I had grown up on Well’s stories of that kind: it was Lindsay who first gave me the idea that the ‘scientifiction’ appeal could be combined with the ‘supernatural’ appeal — suggested the ‘Cross’ (in biological sense). His own spiritual outlook is detestable, almost diabolist I think, and his style crude: but he showed me what a bang you cd. get from mixing these two elements.
To Ruth Pitter on 4 Jan 1947:
No, I have yet another humiliation to undergo. Can you bear the truth? — Voyage to Arcturus is not the parody of Perelandra but its father. It was published, a dead failure, about 25 years ago. Now that the author is dead it is suddenly leaping into fame: but I’m one of the old guard who had a treasured second hand copy before anyone had heard of it. From Lyndsay I first learned what other planets in fiction are really good for: for spiritual adventures. Only they can satisfy the craving which sends our imaginations off the earth. Or putting it another way, in him I first saw the terrific results produced by the union of two kinds of fiction hitherto kept apart: the Novalis, G. Macdonald, James Stephens sort and the H. G. Wells, Jules Verne sort. My debt to him is very great: tho’ I’m a little alarmed to find it so obvious that the affinity came through to you even from a talk about Lyndsay!
For the rest, Voyage to A is on the borderline of the diabolical: i.e. the philosophy expressed is so Manichaean as to be almost Satanic. Secondly, the style is often laughably crude. Thirdly, the proper names (Polecrab, Blodsombre, Wombflash, Tydomin, Sullenbode) are superb and perhaps Screwtape owes something to them. Fourthly, you must read it. You will have a disquieting but not-to-be-missed experience.
To William Kinter on 28 Mar 1953:
My real model was David Lyndsay’s Voyage to Arcturus wh. first suggested to me that the form of ‘science fiction’ cd. be filled by spiritual experiences.
To Joy Gresham on 22 Dec 1953:
As far as I can remember you were non-committal about Childhood’s End: I suppose you were afraid that you might raise my expectations too high and lead to disappointment. If that was your aim, it has succeeded, for I came to it expecting nothing in particular and have been thoroughly bowled over. It is quite out of range of the common space-and-time writers; away up near Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus and Wells’s First Men in the Moon. It is better than any of Stapleton’s. It hasn’t got Ray Bradbury’s delicacy, but then it has ten times his emotional power, and far more mythopoeia.
To Ruth Pitter on 9 Jul 1956:
Thank you for the Voyage returned. I felt pretty sure you couldn’t think it vulgar once you read it: diabolical, mad, childishly ill-written in places — almost anything you like rather than vulgar.
To Alan Hindle on 31 Jan 1960:
Voyage to Arcturus was reprinted by Messrs Faber and Faber within the last 20 years. The original edition (I forget who published it) is still sometimes obtainable. Rogers of Newcastle on Tyne is quite as good a bookseller for hunting out old books as any London or Oxford firm, and usually charges less. The author, David Lindsay, is dead. If you get the book, I shd. think twice before introducing it to the young. It is very strong meat indeed and the philosophy behind it is that of Schopenhauer or the Manichaeans. A youngster unless in perfect psychological health (and what youngster is?) cd. damage himself with it a good deal.
To Robin Anstey on 2 Nov 1960:
You probably know David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus (Faber)? If not, don’t overlook it. This is the fullest example of what I mean — tho’ the message he is putting over is a v. horrible one — Schopenhauer if not Manes himself.
To Joan Lancaster on 27 Mar 1963:
So you are, like me, in love with syllables? Good. Sheldar is a boss word. So are Tolkien’s Tinuviel and Silmaril. And David Lindsay’s Tormance in Voyage to Arcturus. And Northumberland is glorious; but best of all, if only it meant something more interesting, is silver salver.
To Father Peter Milward SJ on 27 Jun 1963:
My stories were not influenced by any of the authors you mention. The first impulse came, I believe, from H. G. Wells. More important was David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus.
To Joan Lancaster on 11 Jul 1963:
I think the poetry is developing alright. You’ll be enchanted with imaginary names for a bit and probably go too far, but that will do you no harm. Like having had measles. I don’t think Joyce is as good at them as David Lindsay (Voyage to Arcturus) or E. R. Eddison in The Worm Ouroboros.
A Voyage to Arcturus is available to read online or download in EPUB or Kindle formats.