20 12 2012

David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus

by Camilla Stein

The fact of life is, that we see same things differently at different stages of our growth. Nearly twenty years ago, A Voyage to Arcturus meant almost nothing to me. It was the type of book that I dismissed from its first pages. Why? Oh well… where do I start…

Now, decades later, the book is in my hands again, and I am enjoying its language, its picturesque descriptions and details the author crafted out so many years ago. I cannot put the book down till I’m done with its last page. There’s just so much in it that resonates with my own perspective on things that matter. But let me first divulge why this book is a must read for seekers.

Nearly a hundred years ago, David Lindsay transports three people from Earth to an alien planet far away in a distant Galaxy, near a distant star Arcturus. Pure science fiction. There’s a high-tech device in place to facilitate the maneuver, and some good thinking – respective of the time – put into the science of it all.

The plot is centered around three men seeking a resolution to an incident that occurred on Earth and leads them to believe that something great, grandiose in fact, is happening behind the screen.

And then it gets really corky.

Maskull, the novel’s main character, is separated from his companions and travels through the alien country alone, meeting alien creatures of various kinds, including humanoid species of local population, learning things from them, teaching things to them… but mostly learning.

Maskull is first embraced by the alien race of very benign and loveable nature, insightful and wise, who kill no living creature for their own use, not even plants. They live on nutritious water, and their part of land is welcoming and abundant.

But then, Maskull’s journey needs to continue and he crosses into another part of this alien world. There, he is confronted with a terrible choice, and he commits incomprehensible acts.

“Attach yourself to truth, not to me. For I may die before you, but the truth will accompany you to your death.”

― David Lindsay in A Voyage to Arcturus, 1920.

The author clearly bases his plot on the exploration of good and evil, the eternal dualism that torments humans on Earth – and, so it appears, also on an alien planet. The eternal conflict and the necessity to choose, sometimes being in impossible situations, is according to David Lindsay the biggest problem of mankind. Seeking absolution, Maskull embraces his higher purpose, but then also has to confront his animalistic carnal nature, and in the end it’s this eternal conflict that causes him more harm than the outside elements he’s exposed to on this harsh, unfriendly part of the planet.

He’s learning what it’s like to become attached to a being and ruin the other with his actions. He’s encountering the Maker and is attempting to comprehend the nature of the Universe and all in it, and he learns that things aren’t always what they seem.

David Lindsay also explores a creative source instilled in humans – by way of reflection in an alien creature. Lindsay talks about narcissism that he explains in an agressive alien rite called ‘sorbing’, a way of discontinuing  another being by force, ending the life of another to incorporate the victim’s life essence into their own. And then, the author throws at reader the sweetness of death, habitual, acceptable, very near, an integral part of life.

A Voyage to Arcturus is a science fiction novel, riddled with mysticism and existential questions – and answers – at times deliberately confusing, but also filled with deep meaningful quotes.

The novel is considered impossible to film, due to its bizarre innovative canvas, setting and descriptions that cannot be reproduced on screen. Though attempts were made some fourty years ago, and parts of this story were adapted for a short film production by William J. Holloway that managed to deliver the gist of author’s intention with this book.

The novel ends with a remarkable resolution to the main character’s journey. It seems like an unhappy ending, but in truth it’s not. The conclusion the author makes is simple – there’s more to life than life itself.

I may not have gotten everything out of this by far strangest of books this time, and I look forward to another twenty years to revisit A Voyage to Arcturus.

Copyright Camilla Stein ©2012. All rights reserved.


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