Sunday, March 27, 2016

David Lindsay and Easter

The Anglo-Scottish novelist David Lindsay (1876-1945) has a fair claim to being fantasy literature’s first great Gnostic of the 20th century. As Lindsay’s biographer, Bernard Sellin, comments,
Any list of the analogies between Lindsay’s ideology and the Gnostic cults would be a long one... it would be necessary to cite the importance attached to spirit, the systematic depreciation of the body and the flesh, man as a stranger in the world, the conception of an evil world, indeed an evil God, the cult of the Mother and the Eternal Female, and the condemnation of sexuality.
  Lindsay’s first novel, A Voyage to Arcturus (1920), is an interplanetary odyssey that is effectively a Gnostic Pilgrim’s Progress. Two men, Maskull and Nightspore, travel to the planet of Tormance and one by one have their illusions stripped away from them. The novel embodies Lindsay’s view that the world is a ‘vast sham’:
One must not regard the world merely as a home of illusions; but as being rotten with illusion from top to bottom; not a sound piece anywhere, but all springs, glasses and traps throughout.
  The novel exerted a profound influence on CS Lewis, whose own views on matters of faith and spirituality were far more orthodox than Lindsay’s. A Voyage to Arcturus is gnostic, but with a strongly Calvinist flavour.
  Another Lindsay novel CS Lewis might have been interested in is The Violet Apple (written 1924-6, published 1976). This novel is perhaps Lindsay’s most ‘Christian’ novel - in other words, not very Christian at all. It conflates the stories of the Garden of Eden and Easter, becoming Lindsay’s thoroughly Gnostic take on the idea of resurrection. The Violet Apple could be seen as a turning point for Lindsay, almost a ‘resurrection’, a new direction in his writing.
  When playwright Anthony Kerr and the free-spirited Haidee Croyland eat the apples said to be descendants of the fruit of the Tree in Eden, they can see people’s true nature and the true nature of reality, which is ‘a common coffin’. Lindsay describes Adam’s and Eve’s eating of the fruit as the gaining of knowledge, ‘an eternal symbol of the first resurrection from the dead – of the first rising of man and woman from a world of unconscious animals.’ This is in perfect accord with the Gnostics of antiquity, who regarded Eve as the first human to attain gnosis once she had eaten the fruit from the tree. In Haidee, Lindsay introduces a powerful female character who, Sophia-like, who is able to mediate spiritual truths. (A similar figure would recur in Lindsay’s two final novels, Devil’s Tor (1932) and The Witch (almost finished on his death in 1945, but not published until 1976).)
  The theme of resurrection is further stressed in that the novel is set over Easter. The final chapter sees Anthony and Haidee meeting in placed called Wych Hill on Easter Day itself. A wind is blowing; the chapter is called Spring Gale. It is a wind that blows all dust out of their eyes:
A new amazement seized him that he had deliberately elected during all these precious, irrecoverable years to turn his back on the beautiful, open, blowing world of God… it seemed to him that this sweet-smelling spring hurricane was trying to blow everything deathly and sepulchral out of his perception...   
  Haidee has experienced the same ‘transformation into newness’ that the Gnostic Treatise on the Resurrection speaks of. When Anthony meets her on Wych Hill, she has been ‘considering the lilies of the field’ (actually wild daffodils, whose beauty stops her mind). Anthony understands. He asks her, ‘And probably your heart is even lighter for it?’
A silence followed, not of embarrassment, but simply because neither had anything further to say immediately. And if the marvellous experiences from which all these changes had arisen remained unreferred to [their eating of the violet apples], that also was not on account of any delicate reluctance on the part of either to introduce an awkward topic. It merely meant that both felt there was nothing to be said about it. The high, sacred hour was past, and to analyse it, even between themselves, would be profanation. It was always in their hearts.


Post a Comment