A Voyage to Arcturus (1968)

What the hell did I just read?

This is A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, originally published in 1920. This is the 1968 Ballantine edition, with a cover by Bob Pepper than has nothing to do with the actual story.

So, while wrapped in a cloak of fantasy and science fiction, this is really more a philosophical novel that questions the meaning of existence and the role of a Creator in it. It apparently had a powerful effect on C.S. Lewis, who recommended it to Tolkien, but I can’t say I detect much of Lindsay in Middle Earth. The whole thing is infused with a sort of psychedelia that makes me think Michael Moorcock probably appreciated it. I don’t honestly know why this is one of the books in Appendix N, though – aside of the casual use of murder to achieve one’s goals, there doesn’t seem to be much of Lindsay in D&D either. Maybe in how the people in it live their philosophy so stridently plays into alignment?

Very briefly: A guy shows up at a séance, encounters some strange people (one of which is super terrifying – the séance bit is best part of the book) and winds up traveling in a crystal ship to a planet orbiting Arcturus. There, he grows a couple extra organs – a third eye and a chest tentacle – and proceeds to travel along, meeting and often murdering the inhabitants. Eventually, he dies too, and it is revealed he is actually also another guy, who continues on to witness the Demiurge perverting the entirety of Creation – by doing this, He feels joy while all other living things experience suffering. And then…that’s kind of it? I suspect you could file it under “novels reckoning with the trauma of World War I.”

It is damned strange. Like, unrelentingly so. Every landscape and person is weird. But the narration is so…matter of fact? As if the writer doesn’t recognize the strangeness, which just makes it stranger. While it took me months to read, I never stopped. I think it was good?    

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