Wednesday, September 16, 2020


One hundred years ago today, on 16 September 1920, the most remarkable novel of the twentieth-century was published by Methuen of London:  A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay.  The recognition of this novel's special qualities was slow to come. It was not reprinted until 1946, the year after its author's death.  

In the August 1946 reprint, publisher Victor Gollancz noted that "of the small [first] edition that was printed, 596 copies were sold and 834 'remaindered'."   The statement is nearly correct, but it has often been misinterpreted to imply that the first edition sold only 596 copies, and no more.  Methuen initially printed 2500 sheets, but only ordered 1000 to be bound.  The book sold so minimally that by February of 1921 Methuen wasted 1000 copies of the sheets, and the other copies were bound up and sold over the next five years.  In all, 1,500 copies of the first edition were sold before the book went out of print. 

Victor Gollancz reprinted another new edition in June 1963, and finally the first American edition was published by Macmillan in October 1963, but for this edition the entire novel was line-edited, resulting in thousands of changes to Lindsay's text, ranging from re-punctuation on to alterations of more significant words and phrases. Unfortunately this corrupted text became the base text used by many publishers, in England as well as in America.  The corrupt text also turned up on the internet, and as a result most of the reprints done over the last few decades replicate the flawed text.

The first paperback edition came from Ballantine Books. It had five printings in the US through 1977 (two with the Unicorn masthead of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series), and two printings in the UK from Pan/Ballantine in 1972 and 1974.  A further UK printing from Sphere appeared in 1980.  

The novel began to receive real recognition in the 1960s, following a radio dramatization that had been done on the BBC in 1956. Since then, it was made into a student film by Bill Holloway in the early 1970s (watch it here, where it is misdated to 1979); appeared as an opera in Los Angeles in 1985; and last year was made into a strange heavy metal musical in Australia (see the website here). [For more on Bill Holloway, see this old Worwoodiana post here.]

Here follows a cover gallery of some of the editions of A Voyage to Arcturus

The first edition. Image from L.W. Currey's listing here.

 The 1946 Gollancz edition.

The 1963 Gollancz edition.

The 1963 Macmillan edition.
The 1968 Ballantine edition. Art by Bob Pepper.


The 1980 Sphere edition. Art by Peter Jones.

Added (9/17/20):  The Texts in Various Editions of A Voyage to Arcturus

The Best text:

UK Methuen, 1920.  The only edition proofed by Lindsay himself.  I have noted six typos in the text. The US Gregg Press, 1977 edition is reproduced photographically from the 1920 original edition, and thus contains the exact same text.

Good text:
The text was reset for the UK Gollancz, 1946 edition. Inevitably, there were some minor alterations (e.g., in chapter one “She [Mrs. Jameson] received him gravely” is mistakenly altered to “She received him bravely”), but the text remains fairly sound. The UK Gollancz, 1963 edition is reproduced photographically from the 1946 edition, as are its reprints (1968, 1971 and 1978).  The US Citadel Press, 1985 edition is also photographed from a Gollancz text.

Other editions reset from the Gollancz edition include: the UK Canongate, 1992 (and a 1998 reprint); and the US University of Nebraska, 2002 edition.

Corrupted text.

The US Macmillan, 1963, edition was line-edited introducing many hundreds of changes throughout the novel.  Some are merely punctuational, but many are stylistic, altering words, phrases and word order.

This corrupted text has proliferated in many editions, including all five printings (1968-1977) of the (reset) US Ballantine Books edition; both printings (1972 and 1974) of the UK Pan/Ballantine edition; the UK Sphere, 1980 edition and the UK Allison & Busby, 1986 edition (which is in fact photographed from the Sphere resetting); the UK Savoy Books 2002 edition; the UK Fantasy Masterworks, 2003 edition; and the US Dover 2005 edition. Most POD editions use the corrupt text from the Gutenberg file.


  1. Doug, for the record here, could you specify the best edition(s) as regards a trustworthy text? Thanks.

  2. I'd like to know if the lovely Savoy edition has the correct text or not.

  3. "The most remarkable novel of the 20th century"--hmm. I suppose it all depends on how you define "remarkable."
    Given two Lindsay posts today, I gather that you are hard at work on your various Lindsay projects. I hope they are going well. --md

  4. Can we expected a new edition of Lindsey's original text anytime soon? I have the 1963 MacMillan paperback.
    -Jeff Matthews

    1. In the works. (But there was no 1963 Macmillan paperback, unless you have a proof copy.)

    2. Do you know about the Savoy hardcover? I'm sure I read that it too was the corrupted text. It's very expensive and hard to find.

  5. Hi Sandy. I designed the Savoy edition of Arcturus which took the text of the novel from whatever version was stored at in 2001 or whenever the work began. I mentioned in a recent blog post that this was done for the sake of convenience following the time-consuming process involved in scanning pages for two earlier Savoy reprints. At the time nobody was aware that there were erroneous texts circulating but the Savoy edition was still carefully proofed, and corrected some typos that were present in previous Gollancz editions. The question still remains about the source of the Gutenberg text at that time.

    1. Thanks for that, John. It's a beautiful book.

    2. PS Savoy very kindly gave me one of their file copies gratis a few years ago when I asked if they had one to sell. Gentlemen all!

  6. Okay, by request I've added to the bottom of the blog-post a summary of the texts used in the various main editions of Arcturus. (I've omitted POD editions.) A new edition, scanned from and proofed against the 1920 edition, is far-along and when it's ready I'll announce it here.