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By Cyrano de Bergerac
The original, squashed down to read in about 20 minutes
Cyrano the freethinking poet has become so famous, through plays, films, comic books, opera and novels, as the swashbuckler with the extraordinarily large nose, that it is easy to forget that he was also the more-or-less inventor of science fiction. If his ideas of the moon seem odd, consider those of a scientist of the same era.
I. Arrival on the Moon
After many experiments I constructed a flying machine, and, sitting on top of it, I boldly launched myself in the air from the crest of a mountain. I had scarcely risen more than half a mile when something went wrong with my machine, and it shot back to the earth. But, to my astonishment and joy, instead of descending with it, I continued to rise through the calm, moonlight air. For three-quarters of an hour I mounted higher and higher. Then suddenly all the weight of my body seemed to fall upon my head. I was no longer rising quietly from the Earth, but tumbling headlong on to the Moon. At last I crashed through a tree, and, breaking my fall among its leafy, yielding boughs, I landed gently on the grass below.
I found myself in the midst of a wild and beautiful forest, so full of the sweet music of singing-birds that it seemed as if every leaf on every tree had the tongue and figure of a nightingale. The ground was covered with unknown, lovely flowers, with a magical scent. As soon as I smelt it I became twenty years younger. My thin grey hairs changed into thick, brown, wavy tresses; my wrinkled face grew fresh and rosy; and my blood flowed through my veins with the speed and vigour of youth.
I was surprised to find no trace of human habitation in the forest. But in wandering about I came upon two strong, great animals, about twelve cubits long. One of them came towards me, and the other fled into the forest. But it quickly returned with seven hundred other beasts. As they approached me, I perceived that they were creatures with a human shape, who, however, went on all-fours like some gigantic kind of monkey. They shouted with admiration when they saw me; and one of them took me up by the neck and flung me on his back, and galloped with me into a great town.
When I saw the splendid buildings of the city I recognised my mistake. The four-footed creatures were really enormous men. Seeing that I went on two legs, they would not believe that I was a man like themselves. They thought I was an animal without any reasoning power, and they resolved to send me to their queen, who was fond of collecting strange and curious monsters.
All this, of course, I did not understand at the time. It took me some months to learn their language. These men of the Moon have two dialects; one for the nobility, the other for the common people. The language of the nobility is a kind of music; it is certainly a very pleasant means of expression. They are able to communicate their thoughts by lutes and other musical instruments quite as well as by the voice.
When twenty or thirty of them meet together to discuss some matter, they carry on the debate by the most harmonious concert it is possible to imagine.
The common people, however, talk by agitating different parts of their bodies. Certain movements constitute an entire speech. By shaking a finger, a hand, or an arm, for instance, they can say more than we can in a thousand words. Other motions, such as a wrinkle on the forehead, a shiver along a muscle, serve to design words. As they use all their body in speaking in this fashion, they have to go naked in order to make themselves clearly understood. When they are engaged in an exciting conversation they seem to be creatures shaken by some wild fever.
Instead of sending me at once to the Queen of the Moon, the man who had captured me earned a considerable amount of money by taking me every afternoon to the houses of the rich people. There I was compelled to jump and make grimaces, and stand in ridiculous attitudes in order to amuse the crowds of guests who had been invited to see the antics of the new animal.
But one day, as my master was pulling the rope around my neck to make me rise up and divert the company, a man came and asked me in Greek who I was. Full of joy at meeting someone with whom I could talk, I related to him the story of my voyage from the Earth.
"I cannot understand," I said, "how it was I rose up to the Moon when my machine broke down and fell to the Earth."
"That is easily explained," he said. "You had got within the circle of lunar influence, in which the Moon exerts a sort of sucking action on the fat of the body. The same thing often happens to me. Like you, I am a stranger on the Moon. I was born on the Sun, but, being of a roving disposition, I like to explore one planet after another. I have travelled a good deal in Europe, and conversed with several persons whose names you no doubt know. I remember that I was once famous in ancient Greece as the Demon of Socrates."
"Then you are a spirit?" I exclaimed.
"A kind of spirit," he replied. "I was one of the large company of the Men of the Sun who used to inhabit the Earth under the names of oracles, nymphs, woodland elves, and fairies. But we abandoned our world in the reign of the Emperor Augustus; your people then became so gross and stupid that we could no longer delight in their society. Since then I have stayed on the Moon. I find its inhabitants more enlightened than the inhabitants of the Earth."
"I don't!" I exclaimed. "Look how they treat me, as if I were a wild beast! I am sure that if one of their men of science voyaged to the Earth, he would be better received than I am here."
"I doubt it," said the Man of the Sun. "Your men of science would have him killed, stuffed, and put in a glass case in a museum."
II. The Garb of Shame
At this point our conversation was broken off by my keeper. He saw that the company was tired of my talk, which seemed to them mere grunting. So he pulled my rope, and made me dance and caper until the spectators ached with laughter.
Happily, the next morning the Man of the Sun opened my cage and put me on his back and carried me away.
"I have spoken to the King of the Moon," he said; "and he has commanded that you should be taken to his court and examined by his learned doctors."
As my companion went on four feet, he was able to travel as fast as a racehorse, and we soon arrived at another town, where we put up at an inn for dinner. I followed him into a magnificently furnished hall, and a servant asked me what I would begin with.
"Some soup," I replied.
I had scarcely pronounced the words when I smelt a very succulent broth. I rose up to look for the source of this agreeable smell; but my companion stopped me.
"What do you want to walk away for?" said he. "Stay and finish your soup."
"But where is the soup?" I said.
"Ah," he replied. "This is the first meal you have had on the Moon. You see, the people here only live on the smell of food. The fine, lunar art of cookery consists in collecting the exhalations that come from cooked meat, and bottling them up. Then, at meal-time, the various jars are uncorked, one after the other, until the appetites of the diners are satisfied."
"It is, no doubt, an exquisite way of eating," I said; "but I am afraid I shall starve on it."
"Oh, no, you will not," said he. "You will soon find that a man can nourish himself as well by his nose as by his mouth."
And so it was. After smelling for a quarter of an hour a variety of rich, appetising vapours, I rose up quite satisfied.
In the afternoon I was taken to the palace of the king, and examined by the greatest men of science on the Moon. In spite of all that my friend had said on my behalf, I was adjudged to be a mere animal, and again shut up in a cage. The king, queen, and courtiers spent a considerable time every day watching me, and with the help of the Man of the Sun I soon learned to speak a little of their, music-language. This caused a great deal of surprise. Several persons began to think that I was really a man who had been dwarfed and weakened from want of nourishment.
But the learned doctors again examined me, and decided that, as I did not walk on four legs, I must be a new kind of featherless parrot. Thereupon I was given a pole to perch on, instead of a nice warm bed to lie in; and every day the queen's fowler used to come and whistle tunes for me to learn. In the meantime, however, I improved my knowledge of the language, and at last I spoke so well and intelligibly that all the courtiers said that the learned doctors had been mistaken. One of the queen's maids of honour not only thought that I was a man, but fell in love with me. She often used to steal to my cage, and listen to my stories of the customs and amusements of our world. She was so interested that she begged me to take her with me if ever I found a way of returning to the Earth.
In my examination by the learned doctors I had stated that their world was but a Moon, and that the Moon from which I had come was really a world. It was this which had made them angry against me. But my friend, the Man of the Sun, at last prevailed upon the king to let me out of the cage on my retracting my wicked heresy. I was clad in splendid robes, and placed on a magnificent chariot to which four great noblemen were harnessed, and led to the centre of the city, where I had to make the following statement:
"People, I declare to you that this Moon is not a Moon but a world; and that the world I come from is not a world but a Moon. For this is what the Royal Council believe that you ought to believe."
The Man of the Sun then helped me to descend from the chariot, and took me quickly into a house, and stripped me of my gorgeous robes. "Why do you do that?" I asked. "This is the most splendid dress I have ever seen on the Moon."
"It is a garb of shame," said my companion. "You have this day undergone the lowest degradation that can be imposed on a man. You committed an awful crime in saying that the Moon was not a Moon. It is a great wonder you were not condemned to die of old age."
"Die of old age?" I said.
"Yes," replied my companion. "Usually, when a Man of the Moon comes to that time of life in which he feels that he is losing his strength of mind and body, he invites all his friends to a banquet. After explaining what little hope he has of adding anything to the fine actions of his life, he asks for permission to depart. If he has led a bad life, he is ordered to live; but if he has been a good man, his dearest friend kisses him, and plunges a dagger in his heart."
As he was talking, the son of the man in whose house we were staying entered the room. My companion quickly rose on his four feet, and made the young man a profound bow. I asked him why he did this. He told me that on the Moon parents obey their children, and old men are compelled to show to young men the greatest respect.
"They are of opinion," said my companion, "that a strong and active young man is more capable of governing a family than a dull, infirm sexagenarian. I know that on your Earth old men are supposed to be wise and prudent. But, as a matter of fact, their wisdom and prudence consists merely of a timid frame of mind and a disinclination to take any risks."
The father then entered the room, and his son said to him in an angry voice:
"Why have you not got our house ready to sail away? You know the walls of the city have gone some hours ago. Bring me at once your image!"
The man brought a great wooden image of himself, and his son whipped it furiously for a quarter of an hour.
"And now," said the young man at last, "go and hoist the sails at once!"
III. Marvels of the Moon
There are two kinds of towns on the Moon: travelling towns and sedentary towns. In the travelling towns, each house is built of very light wood, and placed on a platform, beneath the four corners of which great wheels are fixed. When the time arrives for a voyage to the seaside or the forest, for a change of air, the townspeople hoist vast sails on the roofs of their dwellings, and sail away altogether towards the new site.
In the sedentary towns, on the other hand, the houses are made with great strong screws running from the cellars to the roofs, which enable them to be raised or lowered at discretion. The depth of the cellar is equal to the height of every house; in winter, the whole structure is lowered below the surface of the ground; in spring, it is lifted up again by means of the screw.
As, owing to the father's neglect, the house in which we were staying could not set sail until the next day, my companion and I accepted an invitation to stay the night there. Our host then sent for a doctor, who prescribed what foods I should smell, and what kind of bed I should lie in.
"But I am not sick!" I said to the Man of the Sun.
"If you were," he replied, "the doctor would not have been sent for. On the Moon, doctors are not paid to cure men, but to keep them in good health. They are officers of the state, and, once a day, they call at every house, and instruct the inmates how to preserve their natural vigour."
"I wish," I. said, "you could get him to order me a dozen roasted larks instead of the mere smell of them. I should like to taste some solid food just for a change."
He spoke to the doctor, and at a sign from him, our host took a gun and led me into his garden.
"Are those the kind of birds you mean?" he said, pointing to a great swarm of larks singing high up in the sky.
I replied that they were, and he shot at them, and thirty larks tumbled over at our feet, not merely dead, but plucked, seasoned, and roasted.
"You see," said my host, "we mix with our gunpowder and shot a certain composition which cooks as well as kills."
I picked up one of the birds and ate it. In sober truth, I have never tasted on Earth anything so deliciously roasted.
When I had finished my repast, I was conducted to a little room, the floor of which was strewn with fine orange blossoms about three feet deep. The Men of the Moon always sleep on these thick, soft heaps of fragrant flowers, which are chosen for them every day by their doctors. Four servants came and undressed me, and gently rubbed my limbs and my body, and in a few moments I was fast asleep.
Early next morning I was awakened by the Man of the Sun, who said to me:
"I know you are anxious to return to your Earth and relate the story of all the strange and wonderful things you have seen on the Moon. If you care to while away an hour or two over this book, I will prepare for your return voyage."
The book which he put into my hand was an extraordinary object. It was a kind of machine, full of delicate springs, and it looked like a new kind of clock. In order to read it, you had to use, not your eyes, but your ears. For on touching one of the springs, it began to speak like a man. It was a history of the Sun, and I was still listening to it when my companion arrived.
"I am now ready," he said. "On what part of the Earth would you like to land?"
"In Italy," I replied. "That will save me the cost and trouble of travelling to Rome- a city I have always longed to see."
Taking me in his arms, the Man of the Sun rose swiftly up from the Moon and carried me across the intervening space, and dropped me rather roughly on a hill near Rome. When I turned to expostulate with him, I found that he had disappeared.
● Copyright © 2014 Glyn Hughes.
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