One of the first things that strikes a reader of A Voyage to Arcturus is the unusual names Lindsay gives his characters and places. Gary Wolfe points out that this is a technique for distancing the reader from the characters, preparing them to take a more critical standpoint towards them (just as comedy characters often have funny names.)
Do the names mean anything? Arcturus is not a simplistic allegory, so the names are not an explanation of what the characters mean (as in Medieval morality plays such as Everyman, which features such “characters” as Virtue, Honesty, etc.) but can be taken as poetic additions to their characterisation, adding to their feel.
On this page I list some of the names and the interpretations and origins various commentators on Arcturus offer up. These aren’t, of course, definitive (or exhaustive!) and in many cases different interpretations of names can work together to create a cumulative poetic effect.
Colin Wilson points out that “...many of the strange names on Arcturus seem to be derived from Scottish names. One has only to look at the names of peaks visible from Ben Nevis to see the resemblance: Corpach, Gulvain, Ben Sgriol, Ladhar Bheinn, while Lock Hourn immediately brings Discourn to mind.”
Arcturus — Star of the constellation Boötes. Lindsay might have chosen it because it was used by Novalis (a German writer of Romantic fantastic tales who influenced George MacDonald) in Chapter 9 of Heinrich von Ofterdingen, where a King Arcturus has a realm in a “northern region of light”.
Tormance — Harold Bloom explains this as “a sado-masochistic amalgam of torment and romance.”
Muspel — Lindsay himself: “In Norse mythology, Muspel is the primeval world of fire; existing before heaven and earth, and which will eventually destroy them.”
Prolands — Occurring as it does at the start of the book, Gary Wolfe points out that this “of course suggests ‘prologue’.”
Sant — Perhaps from the French sante, “health”. (Gary Wolfe)
Barey — Referrred to as the “frondiferous isle” in the Younger Edda. (Gary Wolfe)
Ifdawn Marest — Robert Barnes (a painter friend of Lindsay) says this comes from the phrase “Mare’s nest”, which in Anglo-Saxon means “Nightmare”, coming from the image of the goddess Mara sitting on a sleeper’s breast and hatching dreams like a bird hatches eggs.
Maskull — Containing the words “mask” and “skull”, this hints at how close to death Maskull is at all times. Gary Wolfe mentions that “Maskull” resembles the word “masculine”.
Nightspore — Gary Wolfe: “suggests the darker, inner aspects of man’s personality that is the seed for a new being”. Colin Wilson: “spore of the night, of the dark night of the soul”.
Krag — Harold Bloom calls this “a tribute to Carlyle’s isolated hill farm in Dumfriesshire, the rugged Craigenputtoch, where Sartor Resartus was written.” It also suggests a certain harsh, impressive reality (Lindsay was fond of mountains.)
Crystalman — Harold Bloom suggests this is derived from “[Walter] Pater’s first essay, Diaphaneite, where the artist is called a crystal man, transparent and apollonian, more than human in his perfection.” Gary Wolfe mentions the “crystal self” referred to by Raven in George MacDonald’s Lilith, and also Schopenhauer calling the crystal (which has “only one manifestation of life”) “the corpse of that momentary life.”
Surtur — Another name from Norse myth. Surtur guarded Muspel with a flaming sword.
Panawe — Containing “Pan” and “awe”, it suggests a mystical reverence for nature.
Oceaxe — “Ocean” is one of the wilder forces of nature, and “axe” suggests her combative side. Also, if you give the “e” of the “ocean” part it’s full sound, you get “she-axe”. Very sword-and-sorcery.
Montague Faull — Brings to mind the Fall of man. Gary Wolfe also points out that it sounds like “foul”.
Backhouse — Gary Wolfe sees this name as revealing Lindsay’s contempt for spiritualists.
Spadevil — Gary Wolfe finds a wealth of meanings in this one: “spade” (a word consistent with Spadevil’s preaching the hard work of duty), “spado” (a word for eunuch — Spadevil hates women), “spaeman” (scottish word for a prophet or wizard), and of course “devil”.
Gangnet — “Net” could refer to Crystalman’s entrapment of souls. Gary Wolfe says it is perhaps from “Ganglieri”, a name for the Norse god Wotan.
Earthrid — Of course, it could be “Earth-rid” — being rid of the world — but can also divide up as “Ear-thrid” (thrid being the preferred form of “third” in Old Northumbrian from the 10th-16th centuries, see takeourword.com), referring to Earthrid’s third ear-like organ, and his explanation of the ternary nature of music. (Thanks to Kevin of Earthrid for this.)
Phaen — Phaen could come from the Greek phainein, to show (as in the word “theophany”, which means “a manifestation or appearance of a god to man”.) (The Phaens all seek Faceny, who is “all face”, i.e. appearance.)
Catice — Cat-ice is a term for very thin ice, supposedly from the idea that it is too thin to even support a cat.