Celebrating the Centenary of A Voyage to Arcturus – Report and Video Recording

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:

Christmas Hauntings: Ghost Stories for Midwinter

An evening of chilling tales of ghosts and hauntings. 

Nothing satisfies us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.  

— Jerome K. Jerome 

As the year settles firmly into winter, we are delighted to invite you to celebrate these long, dark nights with some bone-chilling tales of ghosts and hauntings at our midwinter event!  

Join us on the 16th of December at 5 PM GMT for an evening of Christmas chills and winter wonder. We will enjoy an introduction to the tradition of the Christmas ghost story by Dr Derek Johnston of Queens University Belfast.  We will explore midwinter’s association with gothic and occult in our discussion panel with Dr Tiffany Angus (Anglia Ruskin University), Professor Christine Ferguson (University of Stirling) and Dr Derek Johnson (QUB). 

About our presenters: 

Dr Tiffani Angus is a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing and Publishing at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge (UK) and the General Director of the Anglia Centre for Science Fiction & Fantasy. A graduate of Clarion, she’s also published short fiction in a variety of genres and her debut novel Threading the Labyrinth (about 400 years in a haunted garden) came out in mid-2020. Her research interests include apocalyptic fiction, horticultural history, and time travel narratives.  

Prof. Christine Ferguson is a Professor in English studies at the University of Stirling. Her research focuses on the entwined histories of the literary gothic and the British occult revival in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She is on the board of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism and the editorial boards for the Journal of Victorian CultureVictorian ReviewVictoriographies, the Cambridge Elements in Magic, and the Oxford Studies in Western Esotericism series. Her major publications include Determined Spirits: Eugenics, Heredity, and Racial Regeneration in Anglo-American Spiritualist Writing 1848-1930 (2012) and Language, Science, and Popular Fiction in the Victorian Fin de Siècle (2006). She is at work on a new project on the popular fiction networks and periodical culture of the Victorian occult revival. 

Dr Derek Johnston is a Lecturer in Broadcast at Queen’s University Belfast, where he teaches the history and analysis of broadcast media. His research engages with fantastic genres such as science fiction and horror, typically placing media texts in their cultural and social context, and frequently considering their connections to issues of national identity. His monograph on broadcast seasonal horror traditions is titled Haunted Seasons: Television Ghost Stories for Christmas and Horror for Halloween. He is also author of a number of articles and book chapters, including the ‘Ghosts and Television’ chapter for The Routledge Handbook to the Ghost Story, and the chapter on ‘Gothic Television’ for the forthcoming Cambridge History of the Gothic Volume 3

The event is free but ticketed. Please book your ticket here.

This event is presented by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic via the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow.

A Voyage to Arcturus: An Illustration Gallery

We are really excited for our event to celebrate the centenary of David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus later on this week. In anticipation of a rich discussion on this extraordinary Scottish SFF novel, we have put together a gallery of illustrations by various artists! Enjoy!

First of all, here are the two images most readers will know: the iconic cover of the Ballantine edition of A Voyage to Arcturus (third printing, 1973) and Dorothea Breby’s bespoke illustration for Radio Times, published on 22 June 1956, two days before the radio serialization of the novel begun.

By kind permission, we are delighted to share this spectacular illustration of Maskull and Oceaxe riding the shrowk, a favourite scene for illustrators (the Ballantine 1973 cover depicts the same scene), by Joel Fletcher:

Maskull and Oceaxe riding the shrowk, Joel Fletcher, 1975.

Fletcher has really captured very well Lindsay’s vivid description of colour. The shrowks are described in this way:

They were not birds, but creatures with long, snakelike bodies, and ten reptilian legs apiece, terminating in fins which acted as wings. The bodies were of bright blue, the legs and fins were yellow. They were flying, without haste, but in a somewhat ominous fashion, straight toward them. [Maskull] could make out a long, thin spike projecting from each of the heads.

(David Lindsay, A Voyage to Arcturus, Chapter 9: Oceaxe)

Artist Nicolas Geffroy has completed a number of illustrations for A Voyage to Arcturus (you can find the entire series here) and we are delighted to share two of them:

Starkness Observatory, somewhere “on the north-east coast of Scotland” (Chapter 2: In the Street), from where Maskull, Nightspore, and Krag set off for Arcturus:

Starkness Observatory by Nicolas Geffroy

And Leehallfae and Maskull in Threal:

Leehallfae and Maskull in Threal, by Nicolas Geffroy

Last but certainly not least, this illustration pictures the startled Maskull as he awakes on Tormance and finds out that he has grown “fleshy protuberances” on his forehead and neck, and, perhaps more memorably, a “breve”, a tentacle which has budded “from the region of his heart” which is described “as long as his arm, but thin, like whipcord, and soft and flexible” . Later on Joiwind tells him that “by means of it we read one another’s thoughts” (Chapter 6: Joiwind). This illustration is by Monica Burns, a comic artist from Scotland, and was first published in issue 3 of Scottish SF magazine Shoreline of Infinity:

Maskull in Tormance, by Monica Burns

Join us on 19th November to celebrate the 100th anniversary if this influential book! For details about our guests and to book a (free) ticket, see here: https://fantasy.glasgow.ac.uk/index.php/2020/10/15/celebrating-the-centenary-of-a-voyage-to-arcturus/

And here is our “trailer” for the event!

Celebrating the Centenary of A Voyage to Arcturus

2020 marks 100 years since the publication of A Voyage to Arcturus, a science fiction (or perhaps science fantasy) novel by Scottish author David Lindsay. We will celebrate the centenary of this Scottish cult classic on 19 November, 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm via Zoom webinar.

Join the conversation as Lindsay specialists and enthusiasts celebrate the novel and its major influence on key fantasy authors of our time, including C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip Pullman. A Voyage to Arcturus takes its protagonist from an observatory in Scotland to a new world across space, and explores philosophical and spiritual questions while creating a fully-fledged imaginary planet.

We will be joined by:

Douglas A. Anderson, a Lindsay and Tolkien scholar, who has worked extensively with Lindsay’s manuscripts and is currently preparing a new edition of A Voyage to Arcturus. He blogs at: http://tolkienandfantasy.blogspot.com/.

Nina Allan, award-winning speculative fiction author, whose recent novel The Rift won both the British Science Fiction Association Award and the Red Tentacle Award for Best Novel and references A Voyage to Arcturus.

Professor Robert Davis, Professor of Religious and Cultural Education, who has written extensively on speculative fiction and has corresponded with Philip Pullman on A Voyage to Arcturus.

The event is free but ticketed. Please book your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/celebrating-the-centenary-of-a-voyage-to-arcturus-tickets-117744000475

This event is presented by the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic via the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow as part of the Being Human festival, the UK’s only national festival of the humanities, taking place 12–22 November. For further information please see beinghumanfestival.org.

Join us for a talk on Halloween folklore and traditions!

Halloween: Folklore Traditions and Global Reach

A talk by Dr Juliette Wood, Cardiff University

Join us on 28th October 2020 at 5pm via Zoom webinar for a thoroughly spooky lecture on the folklore and traditions of Halloween and associated festivals, such as Día de los Muertos, with world-renowned folklorist, author, and broadcaster Dr Juliette Wood, followed by Q&A.

To participate in the Zoom webinar, book your ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/halloween-folklore-traditions-and-global-reach-tickets-123318672469

We are also planning to stream this event via our YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv3mkKQUDyZ_OcP-uLqJTMA/

Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic Launch: Report and Reactions

It’s already been almost two weeks since the launch event for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, and we’re still receiving so many messages welcoming this new development at the University of Glasgow, and reactions in mainstream and social media. We are listing links to press reports on the Centre further below, but we’d like to share with all of our members and followers a wonderful report from the launch event by our PhD student Grace Worm. Grace is working on the YA fantasy novels of Tamora Pierce, and is in the second year of the PhD. She tweets at https://twitter.com/dressandsword.

Fantasy and the Fantastic

By Grace Worm

On good days as a research student, it feels exciting to know that you’re contributing to something new within your field. But then days go by in front of a computer, working on the same introduction sentence for four hours, and no matter how helpful your supervisors are, it can feel like you’re all alone in a race to an impossible feat of writing.

This last year was my first as a research student. I came in so excited – seeking opportunities all over campus to discuss and evolve my research and status as an emerging scholar. Then of course COVID and lockdown happened, which left me feeling alone and questioning why my research on gender and social equality in fantasy worlds was important in a global climate of panic, fear, and a growing distrust in science and research—how could my seemingly esoteric research be meaningful now?

This last week, I attended the UofG’s launch for the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic and for the first time in months, I felt that I and my research were important. At the event, I got to listen to authors Dr Brian Attebery, Terri Windling, Ellen Kushner, and our own professors Dr Dimitra Fimi, Dr Matthew Sangster, Dr Rhys Williams, Dr Robert Maslen, Dr Laura Martin, Dr Maureen Farrell, and Dr Matthew Barr discussing fantasy and our university on the forefront of something that has never been done before.

In my research field and the general public, these people are legends, celebrities, people who built the building blocks of the research we’re all following now and they were talking about my university, my research, and a new age for Fantasy studies at the University of Glasgow.

In online fan communities unrelated to the university, I saw people posting about the event beforehand with captions like “Don’t you wish you were in Glasgow now?” or “A real-life place for magic” and I felt a bubbling sense of excitement and pride that we were changing the future of my field forever.

The event was for the University of Glasgow to become the first dedicated centre for fantasy studies throughout the world but it was also a declaration that we will not stop or slow down, no matter how separated we may be.

In the event chat, academics and fans alike posted where they were attending from – all over the UK and US, Europe, Asia, South America, Australia etc. If this had happened in a world without COVID, how many people could have travelled to attend the event? Would it have been recorded or published? Now it was an event for anyone who was dedicated to the fantastic.

Before lockdown, I would have been happy my university was leading the world, but now, as I watched these people discuss the future of fantasy through a Zoom call, it filled me with hope and a sense of comradery, as we, the unshown audience, shared our outfits on twitter, told others where we joined from, and asked questions from distinguished speakers.

We were together, despite everything, and in these uncertain times. We were full of life, ideas, and hope for a future we were making happen. We were celebrating Glasgow becoming the leader in fantasy studies, but now we were also leaders in how to navigate meaningful.

Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic – Video and Media reactions

Our launch event was recorded and is available to watch via our YouTube channel:

Press stories about the Centre launch:

STV News: University to launch world’s first fantasy research centre

The Herald: Scottish university which featured in TV show Outlander to officially launch fantasy centre with author Ellen Kushner

The Sunday Post: Game of Thrones and The Hobbit worlds researched by academics in new specialist centre

INews: University of Glasgow launches world’s first ‘centre for fantasy’

MuggleNet: University of Glasgow Launches Brand-New Groundbreaking Fantasy Research Center

Lonely Planet: Why the University of Glasgow is the new hotspot for fantasy fans

Launching the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic, University of Glasgow

Jessie Marion King, The Frog Prince, 1913

The Eventbrite tickets for the launch webinar are now SOLD OUT, but the event will be live-streamed via our YouTube channel so please bookmark or subscribe to https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCv3mkKQUDyZ_OcP-uLqJTMA/ and access it on Wed 16 Sep at 18:00 BST.

We are delighted to launch the Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic at the University of Glasgow with a lecture by acclaimed fantasy author Ellen Kushner, and a discussion panel on fantasy with Terri Windling, Professor Brian Attebery, and Dr Robert Maslen.

Join us on Wednesday 16th September, at 18:00 via Zoom webinar. Tickets are free. Please book your ticket to receive the Zoom link on the day of the event and have the opportunity to take part in the Q&A with our speakers.

Acclaimed fantasy author Ellen Kushner will speak about her creative practice and her engagement with Scottish folklore via her retelling of Thomas the Rhymer in her eponymous award-winning novel, and will answer questions from attendees.

Her talk will be followed by a discussion panel on the affordances and futures of fantasy, featuring:

Terri Windling, award-winning fantasy author, artist and editor

Professor Brian Attebery, Professor of English at Idaho State University, and Leverhulme Visiting Professor in Fantasy at the University of Glasgow (2019)

Dr Robert Maslen, Senior Lecturer and founder of the Fantasy MLitt, University of Glasgow

Book your ticket via this link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/launching-the-centre-for-fantasy-and-the-fantastic-university-of-glasgow-tickets-117998060375

Header image credit: Jessie Marion King, The Frog Prince, 1913