Many thanks to everyone who attended our event to celebrate the centenary of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus on 19th November. We are pleased to share the opening remarks by our panelists Douglas A. Anderson and Nina Allan, who have both kindly made them available in their respective blogs:
Douglas A. Anderson – Arcturus centenary opening remarks
Nina Allan – Arcturus centenary opening remarks
We are also delighted to share a report on our event by English and Scottish Literature Honours student (and President of the University’s Scottish Literature Society) Domenico Di Rosa (who tweets at https://twitter.com/_domenico98).
A Voyage to Arcturus: David Lindsay’s legacy across a century
By Domenico Di Rosa
On the occasion of the 100th year since the first publication of Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, the Centre For Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow held a commemoration and discussion of this science fiction novel in partnership with the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national celebration of the humanities (beinghumanfestival.org). Delving into several philosophical and spiritual interrogations, the novel follows Maskull’s interstellar journey from an observatory situated in Scotland to an unknown world across space, where the protagonist creates an extensively comprehensive imaginary planet.
The event’s host, Dr Dimitra Fimi, started the discussion with an introductory presentation of the novel’s several editions, remarking how, although the book’s initial publication in 1920 was unsuccessful in capturing the readers’ attention, Lindsay still managed to emerge as a tremendous influence to renowned authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and Philip Pullman.
American scholar Douglas A. Anderson, who has worked first-hand with Lindsay’s materials, offered a brief account of the writer’s life as well as some aspects about the origins and inspirations behind A Voyage to Arcturus. It was particularly the imaginative powers of Lindsay’s worldbuilding that influenced C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy, as well as the novel’s treatment of philosophy and religion which pushed Tolkien to read it ‘with avidity’. Ultimately, Anderson pins down the novel’s leitmotiv, namely that ‘Our visible primary world is a sham, and the real spiritual world, occasionally visible or recognised, lies underneath the sham’. It is arguably the universality of such search for answers to convoluted existential questions around spirituality which allowed Lindsay’s novel to gradually become more recognised towards the late twentieth-century. Moreover, in conjunction with the flourishing of science-fiction literature, A Voyage to Arcturus also starts to be acknowledged as a classic of Scottish fantasy and, in many ways, as a precursor of many science-fiction trends.
The second panellist, Robert Davis, Professor of Religious and Cultural Education at Glasgow University, focused his discussion around the spiritual and philosophical dimensions of the novel. In particular, Gnosticism seems to have had a relevant influence on Lindsay’s writing, even though the only references to it until 1945 were found in some citations of works written by the early Church. A Voyage to Arcturus might be considered as a ‘gnostic romance’ as Davis depicts gnostic theology as ‘confused, fragmentary, sometimes impenetrable’. Overall a revision of Judeo-Christian religious orthodoxy, Gnosticism depicts the God of the Old Testament as a demonic impostor whose disastrous work of creation is deliberately malevolent. The book is imprinted with these notions that were, similarly, perennial themes in the work of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, whom Lindsay knew well. Evident is, for Davis, the link with Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, a ‘deeply antichristian work’ that follows the lines of Milton, Shelley and Blake in its gnostic rebellion against authority.
The final panellist, award-winning British author Nina Allan, centred her discussion around Lindsay’s novel in contemporary science fiction. She notes some of the aspects that link Arcturus to her novel The Rift (2017), particularly the ‘poetic synchronicity’ between the two stories and the ambiguity or lack of closure around the narrated events which makes it a frustrating yet rewarding experience for the reader. She also mentions those elements that relate Lindsay’s work to current waves of SF writing as well as those aspects which make it distant from it. On the one hand, A Voyage to Arcturus may be one of the first science-fiction voyages in interspace, highly imaginative in its description of alien landscapes that seem almost ‘incandescent’, which could have been shockingly outlandish for the readers of the time. On the other hand, the novel takes inspiration from older influences such as Stevenson and Verne, and takes its philosophical underpinnings from universal questions such as ‘What makes human existence meaningful?’ and ‘How do we bear the existential nihilism of our world where death and suffering are all around?’. Ultimately, Allan suggests the novel is about a transcendent experience that invites us to connect with the universe, thereby setting our spirit free and exhibiting the best side of ourselves.
Overall, the event reached its purpose in remembering the legacy of A Voyage to Arcturus and in determining David Lindsay as one of the forefathers of Scottish fantasy. Tracing a quest for knowledge and higher learning while providing an unparalleled vision of imaginary worlds, Lindsay’s novel certainly proves to be worthy of further investigation.
If you missed this event, our YouTube recording is available here: