Long before 1961, when Yuri Gagarin and Alan Shephard became the first humans to journey beyond Earth's atmosphere, writers envisioned spaceflight and life on other planets. These authors, all born before 1900, took their readers to the moon ... beyond ... and into our future.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Cyrano de Bergerac 1619-1655)

Hercule-Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, son of Abel de Cyrano, lord of Mauvieres and Bererac, and Esperance Bellanger, was born in Paris, France on 6 Mar 1619. 

Though regarded as the father of Scientific Romances, and therefore the grandfather of Science Fiction, Jules Verne was not without his antecedents. Going far back, very far, into the earliest of literature that could be considered a forerunner of the genre, Verne looks to a fellow countryman. He is none other than the man most famous for his nose, Cyrano de Bergerac. Published posthumously in 1657, de Bergerac was the first Frenchman to take a fantastic journey into space with "L'Autre Monde: ou les États et Empires de la Lune" (Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon).

De Bergerac, like so many "freethinkers", was a better believer in reason than a user of it. Nevertheless, he was a biting critic of his times. Making use of Galileo's new worlds, he took his fanciful visit to the Moon to observe the customs of its strange people. Like authors Johannes Kepler and Bishop Francis Godwin before him, de Bergerac was less concerned with a credible means of getting thwew. Kepler's man was kidnapped during an eclipse and Godwin's arrived on an airship pulled by geese. De Bergerac had a slightly more difficult time of it: His first attempt was to use bottles of dew attached to his body. As the morning light rose, so too would the dew, carrying him along. This fails and lands him, thanks to the Earth's rotation, in New France (the colony of Quebec). In Quebec, de Bergerac fashions an airship that also failes. Finally the airship is converted into a rocket, intended for the St. Jean Baptiste Day celebrations, which conveys him to the stars.

Once on the Moon, Cyrano makes a series of startling discoveries: it is, in fact, the Garden of Eden. After nourishing himself on the Tree of Life, he encounters Elijah and learns the history of Biblical spacefarers. Banished from Eden, Adam and Eve took flight to Earth. Enoch, on the other hand, was taken up to the Moon by bottling the smoke of a pious burnt sacrifice. Noah's daughter simply washed ashore after taking off with the Ark's lifeboat. Elijah used a golden chariot of his own construction, repeatedly tossing a magnetic ball into the air and letting the chariot soar upwards towards it, repeating the process until he arrived.

These are not the Moon's only inhabitants, however. After taking a bite from the apple of the Tree of Knowledge, de Bergerac is introduced to spacefarers from the Sun who have set up their colony on La Lune. He is a bit more comfortable with these Rationalists than he is with the Biblical prophets. Godwin's astronautical pioneer also makes an appearance, when he is mistaken for a type of monkey and de Bergerac mistaken for a female of the species.

Several authors followed in the footsteps of de Bergerac. Voltaire elicited the help of aliens to satirize human self-importance in the face of a vast cosmos. Simon Tyssot de Patot critiqued religion and the arts via a lost world in 1710s "Voyages et Aventures de Jacques Massé." Louis-Sébastien Mercier visited "L'An 2440." Jonathan Swift took Gulliver around the planet to its many strange and varied societies. Baron Munchausen himself visited Diana several times. Washington Irving used "The Conquest of the Moon" as a parable of American expansionism. Fellow American George Tucker took the first steps in transforming these satires into Scientific Romances by taking a great deal more care in making plausible the means by which his persona took "A Voyage to the Moon" in 1827.

When he passed away
 in Sannoise, France on 28 Jul 1655, De Bergerac was at work on a second story, "Les États et Empires du Soleil" (The States and Empires of the Sun, 1662).