A Voyage to Arcturus Analysis
by David Lindsay

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A Voyage to Arcturus Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

David Lindsay, almost unknown during his lifetime, is now regarded as an important influence on modern fantasy, including the works of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. He brought new themes to the genre when he explored reality and spiritual evolution in his first novel, A Voyage to Arcturus. The public generally was unreceptive, not only to this first effort but also to subsequent works that shared its themes.

Critics were only slightly more enthused about A Voyage to Arcturus. Their main objection was directed at his prose style, which struck many as amateurish and crude, with its stilted language and rambling narrative. His lack of grace, his long passages of explanation, and odd statements such as “The cliffs were climbed up” caused many, including C. S. Lewis, to label Lindsay’s style as appalling. A few critics have argued that this awkward style was purposeful, meant to confuse the reader in the same way that Maskull is confused, to present ambiguities in writing that match the ambiguities in life.

The book has been saved from complete obscurity not by its style but by the ideas presented in it. Lindsay was influenced by Plato, German philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, Scottish essayist Thomas Carlyle, and the English aesthetic movement headed by Walter Pater. Under Plato’s influence, Lindsay contrasted two worlds (the real and the ideal) and explored the traps of the tangible world, the hope for recovery of divine origin, and current longing for this earlier existence.

From Schopenhauer, he acquired the idea of a sublime reality, a state of heightened spiritual, moral, and intellectual awareness that an extraordinary person could attain through bravery and sacrifice. His main character, Maskull, becomes a Prometheus figure who goes through tremendous suffering to find a deeper life. Maskull searches for this sublime life, and during his quest he discovers...

(The entire section is 469 words.)