Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A Book I'm (Re)Reading

Right now I am in the process of reading, for the unteenth time, a book that is considered a cult classic (ie a small smattering of very devoted readers not a cultish book). That book is David Lindsay's A Voyage to Arcturus. In spite of its weirdness, it is one of my favorite books ever. I have given away close to a dozen copies of it to people and the vast majority of them are fascinated and amazed by this book.

David Lindsay, like another favorite - HP Lovecraft, was a man who rejected religion and in the end found insanity. However, also like Lovecraft, he was a man of great intelligence and deep insight, though somewhat clumsy as a writer. When he died, his mind was so far gone that he died of blood poisoning caused by his own rotting teeth!!

It is a story of a man seeking for meaning in the universe and in the end finding only despair. (If you read the entire series of Douglas Addams' Hitchiker series, it is basically the same philosophical journey, though Addams wrote with humor and irony instead of mind-boggling visions and open philosophical discussion of Lindsay's writings.) What fascinates me about this book is the Lindsay did it. Maskull, the protagonist in the story, is taken to the planet Tormance (torments?) where he is left alone and wanders the planet seeking some word of God. Each country he visits, and he visits several, has different laws of physics and biology that reflect the philosophy of the people who live there; in that land the philosophy is the truth. Along the way he learns that while most of the natives think they are serving God they are in fact serving the Devil and the true God is further back than we can see and is unknowable.

A Christian would agree, to a point, with that assessment except for one small problem. Lindsay considered our God evil and there was Something greater and truly good beyond Him. In this regard he is much like some of the ancient Gnostics with a bit of Buddhism thrown in. I believe that he was mostly right, but failed to follow his own advice. If he would have looked a little further and understood a little more, he would have seen that the world did indeed misunderstand God and that the God of Bible is not the God of popular culture. His failure to see this cost him dearly, as it ultimately cost him his mind and life.

As it is now public domain, it can be downloaded as an E-book from project Gutenberg. Here is a LINK that leads directly to it.

Among the people who loved the book was CS Lewis who said it partly inspired his book Perelandra ( which was initially called A Voyage to Venus and was written partly as an answer to Lindsay) and gave him some ideas for The Screwtape letters. Lewis had the same opinion of the man as I did, that his theology was diabolical because he hadn't followed his thoughts to their logical conclusion, which Lewis and I both agree, would have led him to God.

In spite of the man's problems, I consider the book to be quite worthwhile. As far as some of its content goes, you need to realize the book was written in 1920.


Blogger Lone Pony said...

SR - I've never read A Voyage to Arcturus, but with this description, I might. I've yet to be disappointed when reading a book that someone I admire recommended. I like hearing the story behind the story. Thanks.

9:26 PM  
Blogger ABFreedom said...

I'll have to keep this in mind for when I can get a chance to sit down and enjoy a book ... :(

9:43 PM  

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