First off, I sincerely apologise for the lateness of this posting. I've been absolutely rushed off me feet this month and had pushed this to the back of my mind. One of the reasons it probably slipped down my priority listings was because I was dreading writing it, it was quite an intense session which split opinions on major matters (such as actually liking the book) unlike any book that has come before. Nonetheless, here is the tardy write up of the session for December.
After attending a seance, Maskull, a restless and rootless man, finds himself embarking on a journey to the planet Tormance, which orbits Arcturus. Alone, he wanders the startling landscape, open to a bewildering range of experiences from love to ritual murder, encountering new monsters at every turn, metamorphosing, constantly seeking the truth about the divinity known as Shaping, Surtur and Crystalman.
What Did We Think?
Published in 1920 by Scottish author David Lindsey, A Voyage to Arcturus is a Science Fantasy novel with extensive philosophical metaphors. Having written that, so divisive was the novel that half those in attendance would probably argue even these points.
The Science Fantasy elements of the novel were seen by some as in the Romantic tradition of the grand voyage of enlightenment, comparable to John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress, although very much a journey through Philosophy rather than Religion.
Other readers found the Science Fantasy element to be a major flaw, weakening the text. The framing of what is clearly a Fantasy journey with Science Fiction-like space journeys and technobabble suggested a credibility the author could not support. These readers argued that if the science had been abandoned in favour of a more dream-like spirit world instead of a physical location (the planet Tormance) then the novel would have worked better.
Further points of contention were readily found with the protagonist Maskull. Maskull, abandoned in a strange land wanders across the alien globe. As he wanders he is affected by something and sprouts new organs (third arms or multiple eyes for example) which affect his perceptions of reality and of the people he encounters. These altered perceptions are contemplated and philosophised over, normally representing an aspect of human emotion or character. Each chapter contains a new perception/philosophy and each is discarded by Maskull by the beginning of the subsequent chapter, normally resulting in the death of its proponent.
The new idea, new idea, new idea format which Lindsey adopts is another aspect which caused some readers to find flaw. The majority of the middle chapters could have been arranged in any order, or cut completely, with little impact on the opening or conclusion of the narrative. Other readers found the chameleon nature of Maskull intriguing and admired the nuance that Maskull was changed so absolutely (both physically and mentally) that, from within, he could not perceive the change.
Maskull himself is presented as a completely passive, yet ultimately destructive, force. This presents both problems and opportunities. His passivity allows a different character, or rather a different aspect of Maskull's character, to appear in each chapter; this however presents a protagonist who is hard to "root for", difficult to empathise with thus difficult to follow through the novel.
Regardless of the overall verdict for A Voyage to Arcturus, Lindsey's novel provoked intense debate and also caused multiple references, influences, descendents and comparisons to be drawn into the fray from the aformentioned Pilgrim's Progress to Homeric Myths, C. S. Lewis and Phillip Pullman, to Nietzsche and Judeo-Christian imagery.
Votes: 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
The range of scores awarded in this discussion illustrate the varied reception of the novel. The sheer spread of them, rather than complete polarisation show that many people can get many different things out of such a novel and, to me at least, underline the value of such discussion groups.