Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Lindsay, David

(1876-1945) UK writer. Forced by penury to shelve academic ambitions, DL became a successful businessman but, after serving in WWI he settled down with his wife of two years – 20 years his junior and for whom he had jilted a previous fiancée of 14 years' standing – to be a writer. His A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) is a masterpiece of allegorical fantasy (> Allegory) whose hero is taken to Tormance, a planet of Arcturus, where he encounters many strange beings and undergoes a series of painful Metamorphoses while struggling to comprehend the creative force of Shaping and its crucial relationship to the symbolic figures of Crystalman and Surtur; the metaphysics thus elaborated applies a harsh metaphorical Darwinism to the processes of personal development. The novel sold badly, and DL spent the rest of his career trying to find more commercially acceptable ways of communicating his esoteric insights.

In The Haunted Woman (1922) a stairway revealed by Timeslips gives occasional access to the Saxon Edifice which once stood on the site of a modern house, offering its owner brief intervals of liberation from the burden of repression and constraint to which centuries of civilization have subjected human consciousness. He and the young heroine can love one another readily enough in the Otherworld, but find it almost impossible to import their Love into the degraded and derelict form of experience that is 20th-century life. Sphinx (1923) places muted metaphysical images of the same type in a conventional domestic drama: a hapless young man becomes entangled with two women while trying to perfect a machine to record the deep, unremembered Dreams that contain the hidden truth of human existence. The Violet Apple (in The Violet Apple and The Witch coll 1975 US; separate publication 1978 UK), attempted something similar in a tale of engagements painfully severed by virtue of the unexpected revelations experienced after eating a fruit from the Tree of Knowledge which Adam and Eve did not sample in Eden; it, too, did not sell.

Chastened by this failure, DL wrote the historical novel The Adventures of M. de Mailly (1926; vt A Blade for Sale US), returning to fantasy only some years later with Devil's Tor (1932), in which various mystery-story shenanigans delay the bringing together of the two halves of a powerful Talisman, whose union is supposed to precipitate an apocalyptic return of the Goddess. DL here sketched out an eclectic mythological system, recasting some of the metaphysical notions detailed in A Voyage to Arcturus. He died without completing the fuller elaboration of his revised thesis which he intended «The Witch» to be; only a few fragments survived to be printed in the 1975 collection noted above. Although DL's works clearly reflect – and might be regarded as an attempt to justify – his dramatic transformation when he met his wife, they nevertheless constitute a remarkable series of essays in speculative metaphysics. The first two are dazzlingly brilliant, and the rest are not trivial. It is a tragedy that the development of this canon was so direly hampered by exactly the kind of incomprehension DL was trying to subvert. [BS]

further reading: The Strange Genius of David Lindsay (anth 1970) by J B Pick, E H Visiak and Colin Wilson; David Lindsay (1982 chap) by Gary K Wolfe; David Lindsay's Vision (1991 chap) by David Power.

David Lindsay

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.