How town gave birth to fantasy legend
THE GERM for the famous ‘Lord of the Rings’ books by J.R.R Tolkien and the Narnia books by C.S Lewis was created in Newquay by a Scottish writer who, in the 1920s, composed his seven unique fantasy books while over looking the wild Atlantic Ocean and Porth sands. Neil Pedlar explains –
Now that the two ‘Lord of the Rings’ movies have won a record breaking number of Oscars, and previously the BBC TV series of the ‘Narnia Chronicles,’ especially ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,’ met with great success, we in Newquay can be proud that the even earlier books that influenced Tolkien and Lewis were written here in our own parish.
It was in 1919 that newly wed David Lindsay arrived in Newquay, settled into large Edwardian villa at the head of Porth Beach and began to write his seven books. This was over a decade before Tolkien and Lewis started their writing careers.
David Lindsay, the pioneering genius of modern fantasy literature, was born on March 3 1876 at Blackheath near London – the youngest child of three.
His father, Alexander, was proud of his Scottish roots and worked in the city for a finance company.
However he seemed not so proud of his young family as he disappeared abruptly without warning soon after David’s birth.
At first it was believed that an accident killed him but later it was discovered that he had secretly emigrated to Canada - leaving his wife and children penniless. They were saved by the kindness of a widowed aunt living nearby who invited them into her house.
David was naturally seriously affected by his father’s desertion, and had a troubled childhood, but he did well at school, winning prizes for mathematics and English at Lewisham Grammar School.
Part of his education in the late 19th century was notoriously strictly religious, which David always rebelled.
Three times each Sunday he was compelled to attend church, which he hated, and this attitude would be reflected in his writing.
In one of his notebooks he wrote: "One must not take a passive, defensive attitude with regard to the church. What is false must be attacked as poisonous."
His childhood holidays were spent mostly in Scotland visiting the relatives of his disappeared father, and he even attended school there for a time.
He was intelligent enough to go to university but family financial circumstances would not allow this. He had to work, and was employed by the firm of insurance brokers, Price Forbes, in the heart of the City of London from 1894 until 1916.
From office boy, Lindsay proved his worth rapidly, gaining many responsibilities, until he was offered the post of office manager.
However he was painfully shy and made scarcely any friends, still living at home with his aunt and sister, and beginning to suffer from an hereditary and incurable liver disease that required a very strict diet. This was to give his future writing a sombre and pessimistic tone.
As World War I dragged on, the 38 year-old Lindsay was summoned to join the Scots Guards but he refused, and instead had himself assigned to the Grenadier Guards as an administrative officer.
He detested army life, later writing: "After a course of years, every soldier acquires more or less insanity; the result of his moral training."
When he managed to get away from his army duties, he regularly attended a literary club.
Here he met 18 year-old Jacqueline Silver who had a French ancestry and who would stand up and address club members with great enthusiasm, holding her own with the men.
Lindsay admired this, and soon they fell deeply in love, and were married in December 1916, both with ambitions to change their lives and become writers.
The couple decided they needed a home near the sea and far from London.
After looking for a year they found a large house overlooking Porth Beach in the hollow between two sloping hills, and they used all their savings to buy it. The name chosen for the property was "Lindscott", combining their surname with their association with Scotland.
This was later changed to "Lynscott" and became an hotel when joined to the adjacent house called "Seaforth", and has recently been renamed as "Porth Beach Hotel".
Soon after settling in their first daughter, Diana, was born.
Within a few months Lindsay had completed his first, and most famous, fantasy novel called "A Voyage to Arcturus" which was published by Methuen in September 1920, the first publisher to whom it had been submitted.
It relates space travel to the planet Tormance orbiting the star Arcturus where new colours and senses appear to the hero, Maskull - it was a spiritual voyage, much like "The Pilgrim’s Progress" by John Bunyan. But only 600 copies were sold, producing little income.
C.S. Lewis based his early novels on it: "A Voyage to Venus", later changed to "Perelandra" (1943), "Out of the Silent Planet" (1938) and "The Dark Tower" - the many similarities are striking. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote to a friend: "I read ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’ with avidity."
Next from the pen of Lindsay came "The Haunted Woman" set on earth in a large house with a secret staircase that led to rooms that overlooked live scenes from the past.
But the plot was in the mould of a society romance of the time.
This too was no great success and sold poorly. His third novel, "Sphinx" of 1923 contained a new idea - a machine for recording dreams invented by a man who arrives at Newleigh Station - and was published by John Long.
It too failed to sell well. A second daughter, Helen, had been born in 1921 so the Lindsay’s financial position was becoming desperate.
Unlike Lewis and Tolkien who were university professors with a steady income, Lindsay was dependent on his royalties to survive.
Rapidly a fourth novel was written, "The Adventures of Monsieur de Mailly", with the help of Jacqueline. Set in 17th century France it was a swashbuckling tale of intrigue and swordplay in the court of King Louis XIV, and lacked the intense spiritual themes of earlier books.
Two other novels were written in Lynscott, "The Violet Apple" and "The Witch", but were not published until the 1970s.
But Lynscott had to be sold. Mrs. Ethel Coburn bought it and took in boarders, while the Lindsays moved to a small cottage in Trevelgue half a mile away.
Here they stayed until 1929 when they moved out of Cornwall to a small house in Ferring, near Bognor Regis, in Sussex.
Here Lindsay rewrote his final book, a classic called "Devils Tor", from the first version that had been composed in Lynscott.
Set on stormy Dartmoor, it was published by Putman in 1932. But it proved difficult to read and again failed to generate much income.
In 1938 the family moved again, this time to Hove and into a larger house where Jacqueline took in guests, mostly French students learning English, to make some extra money.
With World War II, Lindsay was seriously wounded by flying glass while sitting in his bath as a German bomb exploded nearby.
After recovering, in June 1945 an abscess in a tooth infected his blood and, without treatment, one side of his jaw was completely destroyed and his lower lip had rotted with gangrene. This killed him.
Today he is a famous, respected and serious writer with most of his books in print in paperback, and studied in universities worldwide. Colin Wilson pronounced "A Voyage to Arcturus" as "the greatest imaginative work of the 20th Century," and it was from the peace and isolation of Porth in the 1920s that his genius flourished and his ideas developed.
- 16th December 2013 12:44
- Who is Neil Pedlar? I went to school in Newquay with a Neil Pedlar in the early 60´s. Is this the same NP?