Dysmey Post > Essays > Books > A Voyage To Arcturus

A Voyage To Arcturus

A journey into the heart of existence

Don't you understand, Maskull,
that you are only an instrument,
to be used and then broken?
Nightspore is asleep now,
but when he wakes you must die.
You will go, but he will return.

Chapters · People · Places · Things


David Lindsey's best known novel — and since it is rather obscure, you can imagine how little-known his other four novels are — provides images of a wondrous landscape on an ever-fluid natural world.

This is a summary of the book's chapters and of all the people, places and objects that fill this fascinating science-fiction (or, more accurately, philosophy-fiction) novel.

About The Author

David Lindsey was born in Scotland in 1878 and spent the early part of his career as an insurance broker before World War I found him in the army. After the war he married a woman eighteen years younger, abandonned his insurance career, and moved to Cornwall to become a novelist.

A Voyage to Arcturus, Lindsey's first novel, was published in 1920. It was not exactly a best-seller, but at least one person — C.S. Lewis — bought and read it, because on this novel Lewis based the naming and feeding habits of his demons in The Screwtape Letters.

Lindsey produced six more books — two unpublished — over the next twenty years, but none of them were as good as the first. Lindsey became a recluse towards the end of his life; he died from an untreated dental abscess in 1945. Voyage has been reissued several times since his death, starting in 1946.

Top · People · Places · Things

Summary of Chapters

The Seance
The wealthy merchant Montague Faull has brought the medium Backhouse to entertain his guests, including a couple of late additions: Maskull and Nightspore. The apparition Backhouse brings forth astounds even the medium himself — but not as astounding as the uncouth fellow who crashes the party and breaks the spirit's neck.
In the Street
The party-crasher, Krag, reveals to Maskull and Nightspore, that the spirit came from Tormance, a planet orbiting Arcturus. He invites them to Starkness Observatory, from where they will journey to this world.
Maskull and Nightspore arrive at Starkness, a derelict tower and house in northernmost Scotland, where they wait for Krag. There Maskull finds the bottles of "backrays", light which returns to its source.
The Voice
After a visit to a cove where he first hears mysterious drumbeats, Maskull enters the tower. The gravity inside is so great, that he only makes it to the lowest windows, through which he sees a close-up of the Arcturian system. As he views this, Maskull hears the quote above.
The Night of Departure
Krag arrives and prepares his guests for the journey to Arcturus, which will be in a crystal torpedo-shaped ship whose nose is filled with Arcturian backrays. Maskull falls asleep during the trip.
Maskull awakens on Tormance to find himself alone and with new sense organs on his person. He also meets Joiwind, a most kind and noble woman, who helps Maskull adjust to life on Tormance and teaches him about this world.
In Poolingdred, Maskull meets Joiwind's husband Panawe, to tells Maskull the story of his young life and the three people who made the greatest impression on him.
The Lusion Plain
Bidding Joiwind and Panawe farewell, Maskull travels through the Lusion plain, has a vision of Surtur, and comes across the Ifdawn woman Oceaxe.
Transformed into an Ifdawner, Maskull accompanies Oceaxe into the Ifdawn Marest, a land of ever-changing high mountains and deep chasms. They came upon Crimtyphon; and Maskull, reacting to Crimtyphon's cruelty to an absorbed victim, kills him.
Crimtyphon's wife, Tydomin, wills Oceaxe to her death and forces Maskull to carry the corpse to her home in Disscourn. Along the way, Maskull is forced to absorb Digrung, the brother of Joiwind, to silence him lest he tell Joiwind what Maskull has become. After Tydomin and Maskull dispose of Crimtyphon's body in a lava pool, Tydomin tries to take over Maskull's body but fails.
On Disscourn
Maskull tries to kill Tydomin, but a vision of Joiwind stays his hand. The two then travel to the border of Sant. There they meet Spadevil, a heretic philosopher who proclaims the path of duty as the only right one. He makes Maskull and Tydomin his first disciples.
Spadevil tells the story of Hator to his new disciples while they journey to meet Catice, the leader of Hator's present-day followers. Catice makes Maskull see Spadevil's words as folly and compels him to kill Spadevil and Tydomin. Catice then shows Maskull the way to the Wombflash forest.
The Wombflash Forest
In the forest Maskull meets Dreamsinter, a three-eyed wise man, who shows him a vision of the drumbeats: Maskull walks side by side with Nightspore; Krag kills Maskull; Nightspore walks on. Maskull wakes up and finds Polecrab fishing on the shore of the Sinking Sea.
Polecrab takes Maskull to his home and entertains him. When Maskull expresses a desire to go to Swaylone's Island, Polecrab's wife Gleameil demands to take him there. She wants to experience the music that is played there.
Swaylone's Island
On the island, Maskull and Gleameil meet Earthrid the musician. Using a metallic lake as an instrument, Earthrid plays the most tortuous music. Only a couple of notes kills Gleameil instantly. Maskull plays the lake with such force as to destroy it, shatter the island and kill Earthrid in agony.
Maskull finds a floating tree-animal and rides it to Matterplay, where every conceivable form of life comes into existence and where Maskull fears being overcome by Digrung, who lived here. Maskull meets Leehallfae, human in form but with a gender of aer own.
Maskull helps Leehallfae seek the fated land of Threal, but when they find it, ae dies. Maskull then meets Corpang, who leads him to Muspel fire. In the light of this fire, he hears a prophesy of his own death. Emboldened, Maskull leads Corpang on a journey to discover Surtur.
Maskull and Corpang meet Haunte on his hoverraft at the foot of the Lichstorm Mountains. Haunte takes them to his house and feeds them (arguing with Corpang often) and then takes them to Sullenbode. The passion she radiates kills Haunte instantly.
Maskull resists Sullenbode, and in graditude she joins him and Corpang to the temple of Adage, where Muspel fire is said to be. When they arrive, Corpang enters at once, but Maskull and Sullenbode continue to Barey. When Maskull hears the drumbeats again, he forgets Sullenbode, and she collapses.
After burying Sullenbode, Maskull enters Barey, where he meets up with Krag. He also meets Gangnet, an affable young man who is in fact Crystalman's emissary. All three sail on a raft into Surtur's Ocean. There Gangnet is destroyed and, in the light of Alppain, Maskull dies a quiet death, leaving only Krag and Nightspore.
Krag takes Nightspore to a tower, where Nightspore slowly and painfully ascends. He views from one tower window to the next the nature of creation, where all things are the remains of Muspel light after it is digested by Crystalman. At the top of the tower, Nightspore expects to see Muspel, but….

A Spoiler

Of that which is real, there are only four: Muspel, Crystalman, Krag/Surtur and Nightspore. Maskull is only Nightspore's physical, carnal self. Everything and everyone else are what Crystalman creates — or excretes, your choice — after it has digested the light of Muspel. (Hmm, I suppose the tower through which Nightspore views the truth makes five.)

Top · Chapters · Places · Things


A medium ("channeler" as we would call him today) whose seance at the mansion Prolands brought forth the image of Crystalman that Krag killed.
The wisest man in Tormance, to whom Panawe was brought by his parents when there was doubt which sex he would become. He died under the light of Alppain shortly after Panawe's visit.
The leader of Sant, a stoutish old man with only one probe in his forehead. He gouged out one of Maskull's probes, making him see his viewpoint, and then convinced him to execute Spadevil and Tydomin. Yet Catice realized that Spadevil was right in proclaiming that the hatred of pleasure is a pleasure itself.
An ascetic who lives in the underground land of Threal. For most of his life, Corpang sought Thire, the third and higher of the divine triad of Faceny, Amfuse and Thire. When a shining of Muspel light revealed the trinity to be false illusions of Crystalman, Corpang chose to accompany Maskull out of Threal to his destination. Corpang fought with Haunte during his stay in the Lichstorm Mountains, and accompanied Maskull and Sullenbode to Adage. There he entered the stone temple and was seen no more.
A young indolent Ifdawn man who is consort to both Oceaxe and Tydomin. Maskull, outraged to see Crimtyphon slowly and painfully turning the sorbed Sature into a tree, breaks his neck. Tydomin forced Maskull to carry Crimtyphon's corpse to Disscourn, where it was thrown over the edge in a lake of lava.
The great deceptive being. As an amorphous shadow before Muspel, Crystalman consumes the light of Muspel, bring great pleasure to itself, and excretes as byproducts white swirls of pleasure-seeking will and fragments of Muspel light which escaped digestion. The union of the swirls and their captured fragments become life on Tormance and Earth.

Crystalman is also called Shaping and (by the phaens) Faceny, and is confused with Surtur by most of its creations.

Crystalman first appears on Earth as a ghostly youth during the seance at Prolands; then as a young man claiming to be Surtur to Maskull in the Lusion plain; finally as Gangnet, the emissary of Crystalman during Maskull's final hours.
Joiwind's brother, who has lived in the ever-fertile region of Matterplay for so long that he has lost his breve, poigns and magn for eight diverse eyes in his forehead and an active mind. Digrung has not lost his Poolingdred penchant for total honesty, however, and that cost him his life. Maskull was carrying the corpse of Crimtyphon when he met Digrung; when Digrung refused to keep Maskull's act of bloodshed to himself, Maskull sorbed him.
One of the wise men of the Wombflash forest, a three-eyed giant whom Maskull met after he left the region of Sant and who revealed to him in a vision the reason for his journey through Tormance.
The last of the Swaylone musicians, who played on Irontick a fearful music that killed all who heard it, the last being Gleameil. He died in excruciating pain when Maskull played Irontick.
Crystalman as it is known to the phaens.
Montague Faull, a wealthy South American merchant, whose party at his mansion, Prolands, had Backhouse as the entertainment; Maskull and Nightspore among the guests; and Krag crashing the party just as Backhouse brought up the spectral image of Crystalman.
A handsome, androgynous affable young lad who is Crystalman's emissary as Surtur/Krag is Muspel's. He accompanies Krag and Maskull on their trip to the Ocean of Surtur. The fire of Muspel destroyed Gangnet just before Maskull died.
The wife of Polecrab, who longed to listen to Earthrid's music and chose to accompany Maskull to Slaylone's Island. Listening to that music, she died.
A prophet of Muspel who founded Sant thousands of years ago. While at Ifdawn, Hator resisted the blanishments of Shaping. The Sant men are his disciples, who follow his renunciation of pleasure. Hator's symbol is the trifork.
A Lichstorm man who ferried Maskull and Corpang in a hoverraft to his mountain home, and then led them to the cave of Sullenbode. There Sullenbode killed him with her passion.
The gentle telepathic woman of Poolingdred, who is the first person Maskull meets on Tormance. She helps Maskull adapt to the Tormantic environment. Maskull is touched by her sweetness and kindness, and his efforts to be worthy of her color his actions early on.
A crude and crusty traveller, an old acquaintance of Nightspore, who takes Maskull and Nightspore to Tormance. Krag did this to bring Nightspore to the truth about himself.

To the inhabitants of Tormance, at least those who love pleasure, Krag is a devil who dogs Shaping's steps, tearing down what Shaping builds up. But some (e.g., Greameil) understand, that one cannot truly comprehend truth and beauty without stripping them of the pleasure they bring, and Krag exists to do just that.
An ancient creature, the last of the phaens (tall creatures whose sex is neither male nor female), who calls Matterplay home. Ae (yes, this pronoun is used for a phaen) sought Threal; Maskull found it for aer, but when Leehallfae entered it, ae died almost instantly.
A traveller whom Haunte once met. Lodd sought the Muspel light and travelled to Adage to find it.
The chief character of this tale. A tall and bearded but otherwise ordinary man, Maskull accepts Krag's invitation to travel to Tormance in search of adventure. In fact, Maskull is the physical aspect of Nightspore and no better than the Tormantic peoples he encounters. After a journey full of bloodshed, Maskull reaches the Ocean of Surtur, where he dies in the light of Alppain. After his death, Krag reveals that Maskull, in the grip of Crystalman, was meant to die that Nightspore may be free.
An Ifdawn man who lost a bout with Nuclamp, his rival, and was sorbed by him. Nuclamp willed that Muremaker hang in mid-air over a thousand-foot abyss, and that was where Panawe found him. Although helpless, Muremaker was still monstrous, and Panawe promptly fled him.
The supreme being of Tormance, who emanates life and light. Its true nature is masked by Crystalman, yet is sought by a few (e.g., the followers of Hator) and its freedom is fought for by its emissary Surtur (Krag).
Maskull's friend and travelling companion, a restless soul with no thirst for adventure, who travelled to Tormance with Maskull and Krag because he felt he needed to go. His feeling was right, because Nightspore is Maskull's spiritual self, whom Krag successfully sought to free from the grip of Crystalman.
An Ifdawn woman who is the first of her kind that Maskull meets. Indifferent to him at first, Oceaxe finds Maskull attractive after he changes into an Ifdawn man. Oceaxe takes Maskull to Ifdawn, where she stands idly by while Maskull kills her mate Crimtyphon. Blaming Oceaxe for his death, Tydomin lures her over the edge of a cliff to her doom.
Joiwind's husband, a wise and accomplished man who helped Maskull understand the nature of the planet Maskull is on, mostly by telling Maskull the story of his encounters with Bloodviol, Slofork and Muremaker.
A fisherman whom Maskull met on the coast of the Wombflash forest and enjoyed his hospitality at his hut. Polecrab and his wife Gleameil have three sons.
A sorbed victim of Crimtyphon, who was slowly changing him into a tree. Sature was either freed or (more likely) killed at Crimtyphon's death.
Another name for Crystalman.
The first musician of Tormance, who came to the island that bears his name and played lovely pleasant music — until Krag peppered it with discords such, that anyone who heard it died at once. Swaylone was the first of a long line of such musicians of which the most recent is Earthrid.
A sorceror … well, he's called that because of his marvelous ability to grow new limbs and organs at will. Slofork did this in his search for the country where pleasure, pain and love are not known — the realm of Muspel. Failing that, after a short talk with Panawe, Slofork committed suicide.
The heretic of the Sant people, who held that the hatred of pleasure (an attribute of his people) brings pride, which is itself a pleasure. Duty — right action — is the true path to Surtur. Spadevil, who has two probes on his forehead instead of the single probe of his people, imparts two probes each to Maskull and Tydomin as he teaches them the way of duty. He was slain by Maskull at Catice's urging.
A woman of the Lichstorm, whose face is bearly formed except her lips but who exudes the most painful sexual passion. Maskull survives this passion, winning her respect and her guidance through the wilderness to Adage. She lived as long as Maskull thought of her, but when Maskull saw the Muspel light and heard the drumbeats, he forgot Sullenbode, and she died.
The emissary who does the work of Muspel on in the world of Crystalman. Confused for Crystalman by the inhabitants of Tormance, Surtur is in fact Crystalman's opposite, seeking to free the Muspel-light from the bondage of will and pleasure.
A much older Ifdawn woman — women in Ifdawn generally live only twenty-five years, and Tydomin is ten years older — who takes control of Maskull after she destroys Oceaxe for the death of her husband Crimtyphon. She make Maskull take the corpse of Crimtyphon to Disscourn, her home, for disposal. Tydomin intended to take over Maskull's body, but she loses control of him after he sees an image of Krag. Tydomin and Maskull meet Spadevil and become his disciples. Tydomin is so loyal to Spadevil, that she joins him in death when Maskull slays her at Catice's urging.

Top · Chapters · People · Things


The highest of the Lichstorm mountains, at the top of which is a stone temple where the Muspel light is said to dwell. Corpang is last seen entering this temple.
A land beyond the Lichstorm mountains, from which Maskull's makes his final journey to the Ocean of Surtur.
The highest mountain in Ifdawn, a tall pyramidal peak in whose interior Tydomin lives. In the lake of lava to its north Crimtyphon's body was thrown.
Ifdawn Marest
An unstable highland region of high mountains, deep chasms and vast plateaus, where the Ifdawn people dwell. Its highest mountain is Disscourn.
A lake of metallic liquid in the center of Swaylone's island, which is the instrument Earthrid plays. When Irontick is played in the light of Teargeld, one can brings one's deepest thoughts into reality. When Maskull played Irontick, the music he played on it shattered the island, killed Earthrid and destroyed the lake.
Lichstorm Mountains
Fantasically shaped mountains that lie between Threal and Barey, whose odd forms are held together by passion, and from which lich-wind blows. Here sexual passion is a form of pain.
Lusion Plain
A forested region between Poolingdred and Ifdawn. Here the Ifdawn people often go when they want a decent night's sleep.
A land, on the northern shore of the Sinking Sea, where life is extremely fertile and diverse and a race of non-male non-female people, the phaens, dwelled. Digrung lived there for most of his life, acquiring eight eyes through which he could see these transformations of Shaping at work.
Mornstab Pass
The lowest point between Sarclash and Adage in the Lichstorm Mountains, out of which Barey lies.
A cup-shaped mountain with a deep gnawl-water lake in its hollow, whose caves are the home of Joiwind and Panawe and their people.
The mansion of Montague Faull, and the start of Maskull's journey. Here took place the seance revealing the ghostly image of Crystalman.
A region between Ifdawn and the Wombflash forest, where live an ascetic race whose members are Catice and (until his heresy) Spadevil.
The second highest of the Lichstorm Mountains, where Haunte lives.
Shaping's Causeway
A great natural bridge over the Lusion Plain from Poolingdred to Ifdawn. Panawe once crossed it.
Sinking Sea
The beautiful but treacherous opalescent sea through which Maskull sailed from the Wombflash forest, first to Swaylone's Island and then to Matterplay.
Swaylone's Island
The home of Earthrid the musician, in the Sinking Sea.
The observatory on the eastern Scottish coast from which Krag, Maskull and Nightspore leave the Earth for Tormance.
An underground land beyond Matterplay, in which all phaens sought to gaze at Faceny (Crystalman) to their doom. The home of the mystic ascetic Corpang.
Wombflash Forest
A wood along the Sinking Sea, where wise men dwell. Panawe was taken there as a child, and Maskull passed through it and met Dreamsinter and Polecrab.

Top · Chapters · People · Places


The smaller of the two Arcturan suns. In the light of this jale sun enlightenment comes — an enlightenment which to Maskull means death.
A binary star in the constellation Boötes, around which Tormance orbits. Its takes over a hundred years, according to Krag, for light to travel from Arcturus to Earth. [Actually, Arcturus is a single red giant star whose light takes about forty-four years to reach us. Recent research raises the possibility of a companion star, however.]
A six-legged seal-like dog used by Polecrab for fishing.
Light that travels to its source rather than away from it. The backrays that flow to Arcturus consist of the fragments of Muspel light trying to return to Muspel. Krag uses these backrays to transport Maskull and Nightspore to Tormance in the fantastic space of nineteen hours.
The four hours of the Tormantic day, when Branchspell is so unbearably hot, that the planet's people must retreat to their homes for the duration.
The larger of the two Arcturan suns. This yellow sun supplies Tormance with its heat and light.
A protrudance in the forehead, with which a Poolingdred person can read the thoughts of others. In other words, a telepathic organ.
In Tormance there are two sets of three primary colors, but since these sets have blue in common, there are five primary colors in all.

Branchspell, the greater sun, generates one set: Red, yellow and blue, like our sun. Alppain, the smaller sun, generates the other: Blue, ulfire and jale. Lindsey offers this analogy to the nature of these colors:

Colors on Arcturus

bluedelicate and mysterious
yellowclear and unsubtle
redsanguine and passionate
ulfirewild and painful
jaledreamlike, feverish and voluptuous

Ulfire and jale form secondary colors with blue. For example, dolm, the color of Haunte's skin, is a blend of ulfire and blue.

IMHO, ulfire could be an infrared (heat) color and jale an ultraviolet one, and that Maskull's eyes have had their spectral acuity widened such that he can see them.
Crystalman's face
The facial expression, with its sordid chilling bestial grin, first seen on the ghostly youth at the Prolands seance after Krag kills him. It is the expression on the faces of all Tormantic people after death (unless they have been sorbed).
An egg-sized stone with a hot red glow. Used by Maskull as a catalyst to transform his breve and magn and by Oceaxe for cooking.
Maskull first encountered the rhythmic beatings at the Gap of Sorgie, near Starkness Observatory, as 'The Drum-Taps of Sorgie'. He hears the beatings periodically during his journey through Tormance. The 'drumbeats' are the sound the Muspel-light fragments make trying to force their way back to Muspel.
A bubbling exhilarating water which is the sole source of nourishment for the people of Poolingdred.
One of the two extra primary colors found on Tormance. See colors.
A foehn that blows from the Lichstorm Mountains, whose winds excite sexual passion in the lowlands but anguish and insanity in the mountains themselves.
A limb as long as an arm and extending from the chest. In the Poolingdred people it is a tentacle, which they use to demonstrate their love for others. In the Ifdawners it is a third arm (complete with hand) which incites strong desire for whomever it holds.
In Lichstorm physics, the planet gives off female particles which the male parts of rocks and living bodies are continually trying to reach, resulting in gravity. If one plays two male-stones off one another, one can create an anti-gravity effect. Haunte does this with his raft, leaving only the bow effected by gravity in order to propel the raft.
Two round organs, one under each ear, with which a Poolingdred person perceives the internal nature of an object.
One or two flat organs on the forehead, which have no function in themselves but which alter the perceptions of the other senses.
a long snakelike airborne reptile with ten legs, a thick mane, and two hugh fins that let it fly. The shrowk also has a spike in its head to impale its victims, whose blood it then sucks away. (It feeds like the skewer creature from the 2005 Discovery Channel show Alien Planet.) The Ifdawn people use them for transport.
A third eye in the forehead of an Ifdawn person, through which they can perceive the will of others and force their own will. Also, as a verb, to merge the will of a weaker being into one's own.
Tormance's only moon.
The sole inhabited planet of the Arcturus system, to which Maskull and Nightspore travelled. The source of all life (Muspel), and of all death (Crystalman) are here.
The symbol of Hator and his disciples. Its stem is the hatred of pleasure; the first prong is disentanglement from the sweetness of the world; the second prong is power over those who still writhe in the nets of illusion; and the third is the healthy glow of those, who step into ice-cold water.
One of the two extra primary colors found on Tormance. See colors.
A sheeplike creature of Matterplay, used as food by the Lichstorm people.

Top · Chapters · People · Places · Things

Copyright © 2008 by Andy West. First written 15 January 2003. Updated 17 February 2009.