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Lindsay, David

Entry updated 24 October 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1876-1945) UK author, younger brother of Alexander Crawford, in military service 1916-1918; not to be confused with David T Lindsay. He is remembered today almost entirely for his first novel, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), a tale whose apocalyptic intensity – and whose refusal of any balm or loving-kindness as its protagonist scours an alien world in search of a savage Transcendence – marks it as a work written in the aftermath of World War One; the last word spoken in the book, the true name of the deformed Virgil figure who goads the protagonist to the stars, is Pain (see Horror in SF). The story may be called sf, or Scientific Romance, because there is little point in describing a tale involving a Spaceship and a Fantastic Voyage to another planet of well-described Archipelagos filled with ever-changing beings (see Evolution; Life on Other Worlds) as fantasy. However, it is superficially modelled on the fantasy novels of George MacDonald. It is of course sf of a very remote sort, and its response to Aftermath does not much resemble the Dystopian arraignments of (among others) Milo Hastings or Aldous Huxley. It does not seem that H P Lovecraft knew A Voyage to Arcturus – understandably, as the 1920 printing of the book was tiny, and it was not published in the US until long after his death – but the abyssal Gnosticism of Lindsay's work can readily be understood as being consanguinous with Lovecraft's Cosmic Horror. It is also philosophically akin to Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. For many decades the main influence of the novel on works of the fantastic seems to have been – understandably, given his early advocacy of Lindsay – upon C S Lewis, whose Cosmic Trilogy similarly treats reality as a scrim that ultimately mimes the Eschatological script (or abyss) within. There is one distinction of importance: Lindsay gives no sense that he understands the underlying purpose of the universe in Christian terms.

On Earth the protagonist, Maskull, attends a seance and witnesses the "murder" of an apparition by a figure named Krag, who entices him and his double to travel to the planet Tormance (which is to say Torment plus Romance). Here, Maskull interrogates a range of autochthones, who embody the Evolutionary possibilities of life (all inadequate), and who express various philosophies (all wrong), and brushes them aside, sometimes brutally. Slowly it becomes clear that Tormance and its inhabitants are exemplary, and that Maskull's traversal of the lures and allures offered has been part of a Godgame. The god who vastates may be Maskull himself; certainly, the torments of the physical embodiment of soul in matter are eternal. The name of this universe is Pain.

Also of sf interest is Sphinx (1923), in which the Invention of a machine capable of recording dreams engages the young Scientist responsible more deeply in the tangled social life of middle-class Britain than he can cope with; the effect of his death, soon after that of his beloved, is lessened when the machine indites a message promising Transcendence for both. The dreams of the heroine represent the sublime realm which is represented in various ways in most of Lindsay's works. The Haunted Woman (1922) is a more conventional Fantasy set in a house with the sublime realm represented by a hidden floor that exists only in an Alternate World centuries adrift from now. The Adventures of M. de Mailly (1926; vt A Blade for Sale 1927) is a historical novel; but the far more complex Devil's Tor (1932) can be read as punning Equipoise of a high order: the eponymous tor conceals the grave of a giant woman, who may simultaneously be seen as a chthonic Earth Mother figure (see She) and as an Extraterrestrial Forerunner from the stars responsible for Uplifting Earth hominids into full sentience. The plot follows the simultaneous joining together of a new Adam and Eve and the reuniting to two halves of a talisman of great power, which gives visions of an almost unfathomably life-enhancing future. The two tales assembled as The Violet Apple & The Witch (coll 1975; cut vt The Violet Apple 1978) are fantasy. [JC/LW]

see also: Conceptual Breakthrough; Dime-Novel SF; Gods and Demons; History of SF; Mythology; Perception.

David Lindsay

born Lewisham, Kent [now London]: 3 March 1876

died Hove, Sussex: 16 July 1945


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