Remarkable to behold and difficult to understand

I know there’s something happening in David Lindsay’s 1920 novel A Voyage to Arcturus, but I don’t know what it is. Maskull travels (by improbably means) to a remote planet, a young and wild world where the local Creator and Devil still walks about, and the landscape changes by the minute. People’s bodies correspond to their different personalities, and Maskull’s body and worldview changes to match the people he meet. Compassionate people have extra organs to sense the emotions of others, while cruel people have an extra eye that projects pure will-power. He meets a sort of buddhist, a musician who plays ugly-beautiful music that kills people, and a person of a third sex. David Lindsay’s purpose is philosophy, not satire as in many such stories of fantastic journeys, but I have no idea what he’s trying to say. It’s like an ambitious art film: Someone clearly put a lot of thought into it, but don’t ask me what the scene where the clown shoots Jesus means. A Voyage to Arcturus is an unfathomable allegory of something-or-other, and that’s not for me. I like it less because I have Jurgen by James Branch Cabell to compare it to. Jurgen was published at about the same time, and walks in more or less the same territory, but is one of my favourite novels. Jurgen is a hard-hitting classic of philosophical fantasy, (and read also Cabell’s The Silver Stallion.) A Voyage of Arcturus is only imaginative.

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