The hundred-year Voyage

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Today’s post at Wormwoodiana reminds me that David Lindsay’s unique novel of philosophical fantasy, A Voyage to Arcturus, was published a hundred years ago today. I designed a lavish reprint for Savoy Books in 2002, an edition which unfortunately used the re-edited text from earlier reprints instead of going to the original publication. This wasn’t done for lack of a first edition, it was more out of ignorance—nobody bothered to look into the history of the text—as well as convenience; Savoy’s earlier reprinting of Anthony Skene’s Monsieur Zenith the Albino had involved many weeks of text preparation, scanning pages from a photocopy of Skene’s very scarce novel, then running the copy through rudimentary OCR software and proofing the result. In Savoy’s slight defence, the reprint of Arcturus did correct a couple of typos that everyone else had missed.

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I still think the best feature of my design was the selection of Jean Delville’s remarkable Symbolist painting, The Treasures of Satan (1895), a picture used with the permission of the Brussels Museum of Fine Art. (They supplied us with a print of the painting together with a photo of Delville’s Angel of Splendour (1894) for the back cover.) With the exception of Bob Pepper’s artwork for the 1968 Ballantine paperback, previous reprints of the novel seldom reflected the contents on their covers. I’m no longer happy with the type layout on the rest of the dust-jacket, however, although the front cover looks okay. The Savoy edition included an introduction by Alan Moore, an afterword by Colin Wilson, a collection of philosophical aphorisms by David Lindsay, plus a couple of photos of the author which I don’t think had been published before. Despite its flaws, the book was well-received. The paper was heavier stock than is generally used for hardback fiction which made for a heavy and expensive volume but the edition still sold out.

Penguin are reprinting the novel next year in an edition which continues the tradition of unsuitable cover art. According to Lindsay site The Violet Apple the figure on the cover is from an illustration for a Dostoevsky novella, so what is it doing on Lindsay’s book? Cover art aside, the novel is in a class of its own, and very highly recommended.

Previously on { feuilleton}
The art of Bob Pepper
Masonic fonts and the designer’s dark materials

A view from a hill

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This week I’ve been rushing to complete a series of illustrations so there’s been no time to write the post I had in mind. In its place, here’s a preview of another series I was working on in September which I’m told should be published soon. More about that later, and yes, the similarity to Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog was intentional.

From The Furthest Signals

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It’s been a busy year so far for A Year In The Country with two themed compilation albums being followed this month by a third, From The Furthest Signals. The latest theme is an intriguing one, taking as its starting point the erasing of broadcast tapes by British TV companies in the 1960s and early 1970s which destroyed hundreds of hours of dramas, concerts and other programmes. This was done as a money-saving measure (tape being expensive and reusable) at a time when the output of the BBC and the independent stations was regarded as mostly ephemeral and of little value. There was also a patronising class aspect to the practice: John Peel used to bitterly remind people that the BBC had saved its tapes of gardening shows while wiping concerts by the likes of Captain Beefheart.

Track list:
1) Circle/Temple – The Séance/Search for Muspel-Light
2) David Colohan – Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles)
3) A Year In The Country – A Multitude Of Tumblings
4) Sharron Kraus – Asterope
5) Time Attendant – The Dreaming Green
6) Depatterning – Aurora In Andromeda
7) Sproatly Smith – The Thistle Doll
8) Field Lines Cartographer – The Radio Window
9) Grey Frequency – Ident (IV)
10) Keith Seatman – Curious Noises & Distant Voices
11) Polypores – Signals Caught Off The Coast
12) The Hare And The Moon – Man Of Double Deed
13) Pulselovers – Endless Repeats/Eternal Return
14) Listening Center – Only The Credits Remain

All those wiped broadcasts may be lost down on Earth but they still exist somewhere in the halo of television and radio signals which is expanding into space. From The Furthest Signals is a speculation about the content of these remote signals, a tuning in to decayed transmissions and imagined broadcasts (that word—”broadcast”—being examined here in its widest possible sense). Some of the entries nod to fictional analogues: The Séance/Search For The Muspel Light by Circle/Temple is a reference to A Voyage to Arcturus, David Lindsay’s unique and remarkable science-fiction novel. Other entries like Brass Rubbings Club (Opening Titles) by David Colohan are suggestions for imaginary theme tunes. This is an excellent collection, one of the best to date from A Year In The Country with pieces ranging from the folk-oriented balladry of Sproatly Smith to the deteriorating electronics of Grey Frequency. The album ends with a number by Listening Center, Only The Credits Remain, whose weightless harmonies wouldn’t be out of place on Apollo by Brian Eno & Daniel Lanois.

From The Furthest Signals is out now in the familiar range of hand-crafted monochrome formats.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Restless Field
The Marks Upon The Land
The Forest / The Wald
The Quietened Bunker
Fractures

Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd

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I wouldn’t usually post so many illustrations but these depictions by J. Augustus Knapp for Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd add a great deal to the attractions of this early work of science fiction. Lloyd’s book is subtitled The End of Earth; The Strange History of a Mysterious Being; The account of a remarkable journey as communicated in manuscript to Llewellyn Drury who promised to print the same, but finally evaded the responsibility. The novel was published in 1895, and shares features with similar works that concern travellers exploring the interior of the Earth. What sets it apart is a degree of imagination that generated enough interest for it to be reprinted many times.

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Science fiction and fantasy evolved so rapidly in the early 20th century that the products of previous centuries often seem uninventive in comparison. Whatever hidden cities, lost continents or subterranean kingdoms are promised, too many of them reveal a race of pompous individuals, usually clad in Greek, Roman or Egyptian attire with little variety to their civilisations unless their world is also populated by the odd monster or two. The manuscript in Lloyd’s novel relates a journey to the Earth’s interior by a bearded, white-haired character variously named I-Am-The-Man and The-Man-Who-Did-It who reads his adventures in a series of visits to the irresponsible Llewellyn Drury. I-Am-The-Man is kidnapped by a secret society who take him to a cave in Kentucky where he’s eventually delivered into the care of a mysterious, unnamed guide from the subterranean world:

The speaker stood in a stooping position, with his face towards the earth as if to shelter it from the sunshine. He was less than five feet in height. His arms and legs were bare, and his skin, the color of light blue putty, glistened in the sunlight like the slimy hide of a water dog. He raised his head, and I shuddered in affright as I beheld that his face was not that of a human. His forehead extended in an unbroken plane from crown to cheek bone, and the chubby tip of an abortive nose without nostrils formed a short projection near the center of the level ridge which represented a countenance. There was no semblance of an eye, for there were no sockets. Yet his voice was singularly perfect. His face, if face it could be called, was wet, and water dripped from all parts of his slippery person.

The illustrations by J. Augustus Knapp show the guide as naked but conveniently sexless. The pair descend into the Earth’s interior where they encounter a succession of wonders, from giant fungi (possibly derived from A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) and a sea of “crystal liquid” which the pair traverse in a metal boat, to a variety of strange fauna and flora. Knapp’s illustrations make the journey seem much more interesting than it is on the page where Lloyd spends far too much time lecturing the reader—there’s a chapter about the evils of drunkenness—or having I-Am-The-Man relate his continual bewilderment. “Etidorhpa”, it turns out, is “Aphrodite” reversed, and Etidorhpa herself appears as the embodiment of love at the culmination of what has become a spiritual journey rather like a weak precursor of David Lindsay’s extraordinary A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Lindsay had the good sense to write a continuous narrative whereas Lloyd frequently interrupts his story with scientific speculations that seek to qualify some of the less outlandish features of his interior world. There’s also a curious note from the author on page 276 about the various properties of intoxicating drugs, and the possibility that they might be combined by a chemist to create strange visions for a writer. Lloyd was a chemist as well as a writer so the speculation that he might have experimented on himself—and thus produced this book—is understandable. Speculation aside, L. Sprague de Camp dismissed the novel as “unreadable” (despite its multiple reprintings) whereas HP Lovecraft apparently enjoyed it. You can judge for yourself here.

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A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder

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A great title. As usual I came across this whilst searching for something else. Something about this was familiar but I haven’t read the book, and I suspect it will be one of those where the title proves a lot more evocative than the narrative. The author was a Canadian writer, James De Mille (1833–1880), and this novel of all his works is the most well-known for its predating more famous fantasy novels by H. Rider Haggard. Wikipedia has a précis:

The satiric and fantastic romance is set in an imaginary semi-tropical land in Antarctica inhabited by prehistoric monsters and a cult of death-worshipers called the Kosekin. Begun many years before it was published, it is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket and anticipates the exotic locale and fantasy-adventure elements of works of the “Lost World genre” such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, as well as innumerable prehistoric world movies based loosely on these and other works. The title and locale were inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s Ms. Found in a Bottle.

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The illustrations are by Gilbert Gaul from the story’s serialisation in Harper’s Weekly in 1888. The best one shows a ride on a huge pterodactyl-like creature called an athaleb that makes me think of the ride on the shrowk in David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus, albeit without the erotic fervour of Lindsay’s episode. Fervour or no, the road to Lindsay’s philosophical weirdness begins with early novels such as this. De Mille’s book may be browsed here or downloaded here.

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