Wednesday, November 25, 2020


So, I've been reading (or more accurately re-reading) a number of books by  David Lindsay, whose first and most famous book, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS, celebrates its centenary this year. And I was struck by something I had previously passed over without its drawing my attention: a striking parallel between  Lindsay's book and Lewis's THE DARK TOWER. Lewis openly confessed his debt to Lindsay, particularly to OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, but I don't think I've seen anyone extend the influence to include the final, unfinished fourth book of the Ransom series. 

I'm all tied up with other projects right now, but if I were going to write this up I'd focus on one of the most striking things in A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. Lindsay's work is famous for the way his protagonist grows new organs and appendages once he enters the alien world, the first of which is a breve, described as "something hard on his forehead . . . a fleshy protuberance, the size of a small plum, having a cavity in the middle, of which he could not feel the bottom" (VtA.44) 

This is strongly paralleled by what happens to Lewis's hero:  when Scudamour jumps through the chronoscope, switches places with his double, and arrives in the Otherworld, he acquires a sting growing out of his forehead: "It was broad at the base and narrowed quickly to its point, so that its total shape was rather like that of a thorn on a rose-branch . . . It was hard and horny, but not like bone . . . and . . . [d]ripping with poison" (DT.33). But where Maskull's breve granted him telepathy, The Stingerman's sting converts those he attacks with it into automatons. 

In addition to this major point of the appearance of otherworldly organs on the forehead, three other paralleled elements between Lewis's unfinished work and Lindsay's odd masterpiece might be worth exploring.

First,  the seance that opens Lindsay's book, along with the materialization of a being from the other world into our own, parallels the projection of images from another world that opens Lewis's. MacPhee even has an exchange with Orfieu about the validity or otherwise of psychical research.  

Second, there's the image of the Tower that so dominates Lewis's story, while a similar tower frames Lindsay's work, appearing first as the Observatory early in the book, then reappearing as Krag's tower at the story's climax, containing the long sought for route into the true world, Muspel. 

Third, it might be worthwhile to do something with the theme of doubles: Maskull and Nightspore in Lindsay's book (so that one cannot appear until the other is gone) and Scudamour/the Stingerman in Lewis's.

As I said, I'm too absorbed in something else to write this up and develop the argument. And besides, I've already had my say about THE DARK TOWER in my essay on the interrelations between Lewis's Ransom books, esp the first and fourth one) and Tolkien's two time travel stories.* And I've also already said pretty much what I had to say about A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS.**

On the other hand, if anybody has explored / developed the DARK TOWER / VOYAGE  TO ARCTURUS parallels and I just missed teir piece,*** I'd be happy if someone points me to it.

--John R.

*this appeared in TOLKIEN'S LEGENDARIUM, an unofficial festschrift for Christopher Tolkien (2000)

**in my online monthly column CLASSICS OF FANTASY: Lindsay's strange masterpiece was the focus of the sixth essay (January 2003). It's no longer up on the Wizard's site but can still be found online with a bit of internet searching

***I think I've read all the scholarship on DARK TOWER, but you never know

No comments: