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The Lewis Legacy-Issue 78, Autumn 1998

A Voyage to Arcturus, C. S. Lewis, and The Dark Tower Original Article

by Casey R. Law, J. D.
THOUGH MANY OF C. S. LEWIS’S Christian readers would find the gnostic
David Lindsay an improbable influence upon Lewis, Lindsay was in fact
important in inspiring Lewis to write two of his interplanetary novels, the
famous Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra. The heavy influence of
Voyage is also (to this writers thinking) discernible in The Dark Tower, an
incomplete novel published posthumously in 1977 as Lewiss work.

A brief word on A Voyage to Arcturus may be helpful for those Lewis
admirers who are unfamiliar with this novel. This austere, violent, and
wildly beautiful work begins with a seance at a wealthy Londoners home. A
medium causes the materialization of a handsome young man. An ugly and
brash character, Krag, intrudes upon the seance and breaks the neck of the
materialized young man, whose face assumes in death a hideous and evil
smile. Krag then invites the hero of the book, Maskull, on an journey to
the planet where the materialized figure came from. After Maskull is
transported, by mysterious means, to the planet Tormance, he finds that a
strange new sense organ has grown on his forehead. The rest of the work,
though fascinating, is unimportant for the present discussion.

Voyage to Arcturus was first recommended to Lewis by his longtime friend
Arthur Greeves in Dec. 1934. (Sayer, George, Jack: C. S.Lewis and His
Times, San Francisco: Harper & Row [1988], p. 152) Since Voyage had however
gone out of print shortly after it was published in 1920, Lewis did not
succeed in finding a copy of the book and reading it until almost two years

Lewis was extremely impressed by Voyage. He wrote to a friend that it was
Lindsay that had discovered that the authentic use for other planets in
fiction was as the site for spiritual adventures. (Sayer, p. 153; emphasis
in original.) Elsewhere, Lewis said that Lindsay’s real theme was a
passionate spiritual journey. (On Stories, in Lewis, C. S., Of Other
Worlds, ed. Walter Hooper, New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich [1967,
1975], p. 19)

Inspired by Voyage, Lewis challenged his friend J. R. R. Tolkien to a kind
of contest: Lewis would write a story of space travel, and Tolkien one of
time travel. (Sayer, p. 153) The result on Tolkien’s side was an apparently
never-completed story; but from Lewis the contest yielded Out of the Silent
Planet, published in 1938. (Ibid.) Silent Planet, which tells of a voyage
to Mars, was of course followed by Lewiss novel of a journey to Perelandra,
our planet Venus.

Throughout the remainder of his life, Lewis spoke of Voyage with great
respect. In a 1955 lecture, “On Science Fiction,” Lewis discussed that type
of science fiction or fantasy that was an actual addition to life and
enlarge[d] our conception of the range of possible experience. Among the
very few and select works of this type that Lewis mentioned was that
shattering, intolerable, and irresistible work, David Lindsay’s Voyage to
Arcturus. (in Of Other Worlds, p. 71) In a taped conversation that took
place between Lewis, Kingsley Amis and Brian Aldiss shortly before Lewis’s
retirement, Lewis again spoke of Voyage: It’s a remarkable thing, because
scientifically it’s nonsense, the style is appalling, and yet this ghastly
vision comes through. (“Unreal Estates,” in Of Other Worlds, p. 88) (Lewis
had already repeatedly criticized Voyage’s prose style as clumsy or worse.)

Though Lindsay inspired Lewis to begin his interplanetary novels series,
this writer at least discerns no detailed similarities between any of the
works Lewis himself published and Voyage. When one however turns to The
Dark Tower, a novel fragment published in 1977 as Lewis’s work, certain
striking similarities to Voyage appear. (According to Walter Hooper,
Lewis’s longtime editor, Dark Tower was probably begun by Lewis in 1938,
right after Silent Planet was finished. Lewis, C. S. The Dark Tower and
Other Stories, ed. Walter Hooper, New York: Harcourt Brace and Co.[1977])

The Dark Tower, set in Cambridge, evidently in the late 1930s, is a story
of time travel. Orfieu, one of a group of intellectual (and evidently
academic) friends, invents the chronoscope, a device that enables the
viewer to see into the past or future. As it happens, the chronoscope
seems to provide a view of only one time and place: Cambridge, at some
unknown, but evidently future, date. Society has there evolved into a
totalitarian dystopia that is ruled by one or more Stingingmen; these are
humans (evidently all males) that have grown a hideous stinging organ on
their foreheads. The Stingingman uses this organ to transform his
(evidently willing, or at least resigned) victims into something resembling
automata, who seem to perform military or police functions in this future

A character in Othertime (the term used for the future world) is seen to
bear a stunning physical resemblance to Scudamour, Orfieu’s assistant.
Scudamours Othertime double turns into a Stingingman, who appears ready to
sting the Othertime double of Scudamour’s present-day lover. At this point,
unhinged by indignation and rage, Scudamour somehow leaps into Othertime,
where he finds himself in the Stingingman’s body. Scudamour discovers that
he, as a Stingingman, is in a position of command, and that he is expected
to perform various acts he (since he is really Scudamour) considers evil.
He sets about protecting his lover’s double (who, having apparently been
found unworthy of receiving the sting, will be executed unless Scudamour
intervenes) and learning what he can about the nature of Othertime.
Meanwhile, Scudamour’s present-day body appears to have been occupied by an
alien personality. (Readers may here see resemblances to the Mirror, Mirror
episode of the original Star Trek TV series.)

The world of Othertime, seen through the chronoscope, is strongly
reminiscent of aspects of the seance that takes place in Ch. 1 of Voyage To
Arcturus, of the journey to the strange planet Tormance, and of what
happens to Maskull when he reaches Tormance:

1. Both seances (viewing of the otherworldly manifestations) take place in
essentially theatrical settings. The materialization in Voyage is staged in
[a] replica . . . of the Drury Lane presentation of the temple scene in the
Magic Flute[.] Voyage , p. 46. (All my Voyage references are to the
Citadel Press edition.) The chronoscope apparently projects images onto a
screen, as does a motion picture projector or an old-fashioned camera
obscura. Indeed, the view of Othertime is so theatrical that an intruder
thinks he is watching a performance of a great . . . work of art. (Dark
Tower, p. 53)

2. In each book, the spectators view what is in essence a temple. This is,
as noted, explicit in Voyage In Dark Tower, the Stingingman appears to be
wearing priestly black robes; the victims enter silently in an attitude of
apparent religious awe; the Stingingman also remains silent; an idol is
present (this reminds one of the presence of the Pharaoh’s statue mentioned
in Voyage) and is evidently reverenced; and the victims approach the
Stingingman by backing up to him, as though he were too holy to be looked

3. In both Voyage and Dark Tower, the victims killed or otherwise harmed
are silent.

4. In each case, there is a violent transformation of a handsome young
person into something less than human, which smiles or grins hideously.
This happens in Voyage of course, when Krag breaks the neck of the
materialized young man, who, in death, assumes a Satanic grin. After being
stung, the victims in Dark Tower assume a fixed grin, become automata, and
begin to move in such a mechanical and abrupt way that the Cambridge
friends adopt the term Jerkies to describe them. (Dark Tower , pp.35, 39)

5. The most striking resemblance of all, of course, is the presence in both
novels of new organs on the foreheads of the protagonists. Upon reaching
Tormance, Maskull immediately finds a strange new organ upon his forehead.
(Voyage, p. 44). When Scudamour enters Othertime, he likewise immediately
finds a new organ on his forehead. (Dark Tower, pp. 62-63)

6. It is also interesting that in both novels the discovery of the strange
new world is associated with a tower. In Voyage, the interplanetary journey
is launched from a tower’s top. The friends in Dark Tower discover that
Othertime contains a replica of the library at Cambridge University (or the
actual library building, much older), which has a tower. (Dark Tower , p.

I do not know what, if any, bearing these resemblances between Voyage and
Dark Tower may have upon the vexed question of Dark Tower’s authorship. But
it seems unquestionable that the resemblances do exist.

Copyright 1998 by Casey R. Law