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Comparisons with A Voyage to Arcturus

Every commentator on A Voyage to Arcturus finds a book to compare it with:

Colin Wilson

...says that "A Voyage to Arcturus is... like a series of confidence tricks, each designed to mislead the reader... The only similar book I can think of is The Man Who Was Thursday [by G K Chesterton]."

Gary Wolfe

...mentions "the fourteenth-century English treatise The Cloud of Unknowing. In this work, as in A Voyage to Arcturus, all the faculties of perception — the senses, imagination, reason, intellect — stand between man and the Divine Spirit and in fact bombard man with various illusions."

Wolfe also quotes this passage from Nietzsche:

"As in the realm of stars an orbit of a planet is in some cases determined by two suns; as in certain cases suns of different colours shine near a single planet, sometimes with red light, sometimes with green light, and then occasionally illuminating the planet at the same time and flooding it with colours — so we modern men are determined, thanks to the complicated mechanics of our 'starry sky' by different moralities; our actions shine alternatively in different colours, they are rarely univocal..."

Beyond Good and Evil, trans Walter Kaufmann p.145-146

Interestingly, the image of twin suns, one red one green, was used to great effect in William Hope Hodgson's fantasy, The House on the Borderland.

Harold Bloom

...has this to say of Arcturus: "...[It is] nothing less than the most Sublime and spiritually terrifying death-march in all of fantastic literature, in some respects even overgoing similar journeys from Dante on to Browning's Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."

He also compares its wild invention to Lewis Carroll, "though what emerges as purified wonder in Carroll manifests itself as horror and torment in Lindsay. ... Through the Looking Glass as it might have been written by Thomas Carlyle..."

Bloom finds counterparts to the main characters in Arcturus in the work of other writers:

Blake Shelley (Prometheus Unbound) Yeats
(A Vision)
Freud
Krag/Surtur Los What Prometheus will become when unbound Creative Mind The Achieved Ego (ie, in touch with the reality principle)
Crystalman/Shaping Urizen
(Satan)
Jupiter Will Super-Ego
Maskull
 
Orc Prometheus The Mask Libido
Nightspore Tharmas (the driving instinctual force) Demogorgon The Body of Fate Id

Bloom also places Arcturus culturally, saying that "This demiurgic shadow [Crystalman]...can be identified with the Aesthetic Movement in England (circa 1870-1900)." Walter Pater, the Aesthetic Movement's figurehead essayist and critic, called the artist a "crystal man", transparent and apollonian, more than human in his perfection. Against this, Bloom sets Carlyle "perhaps [the] unconscious model for the god or demi-god Krag", saying that "In Sartor Resartus, the post-Calvinist Lindsay found most of the ingredients of his Gnostic myth..."

Alan Moore

It's only in the ledgers of the similarly marginalized, in the annals of the British revelatory tradition that he finds true fellowship. The School of Night. Dee, Machen, Blake, Dunsany, Hodgson, Bunyan, the Duchess of Newcastle [author of The Blazing World]. Stenographers of the apocalypse.

— "Prism and Pentecost: David Lindsay and the British Apocalypse", A Voyage to Arcturus (Savoy Books), p.XX
Bernard Sellin

Lindsay is very familiar with John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress. Perhaps he was inspired by it. Parallels are not lacking between Bunyan's hero, Christian, and Maskull. The straight and narrow path of the Gosepl certainly exists in Lindsay, too.

The Life & Words of David Lindsay p. 161
E H Visiak

...(the weakest commentator on Arcturus, in my opinion) reads the book as a Christian allegory, even though he admits that "Lindsay himself would have disliked, and probably rebutted, the assertion".

For him, Muspel represents God, Crystalman is Satan ("the Divider" or "Separator" are the Hebrew meanings of the word, which fits) and Krag is the Redeemer. The "only difference" between Arcturus and Christian dogma, he claims, is that Krag is against beauty, whereas Christ "appreciated the 'lilies of the field'".

But, in his introduction to the Gollancz edition of Arcturus, Visiak says that "Muspel in its aspect of Deity is not omnipotent, but is 'fighting for its life against all that is most shameful and frightful'". And goes on to admit that "In fact, the resemblance of the Arcturan to the Buddhistic teleology goes further..."

In his essay, "Lindsay as I Knew Him", Visiak mentions that, in conversation with Lindsay, he once compared A Voyage to Arcturus to Kafka's The Castle; Lindsay blushed.

© Murray Ewing 2017