Monday, January 4, 2016

The Man in the Moone, by Francis Godwin

"O Vanities, fansies, Dreames!"
-- from The Man in the Moone, p. 97

I honestly don't remember when or why I picked up this book, although I've bought a lot of titles from Broadview Press sight unseen, and this is one of them. It's an odd one, even by my standards. Written in about the 1630s by an English bishop, The Man in the Moone tells the story of a Spanish adventurer who discovers an unusual species of wild swans, and trains them to fly carrying a "Device" of his own invention. They get out of his control, and, just like the song says, fly him to the moon (which turns out to be part of their migratory cycle).

He hangs out there for some months, learning the musical Lunar language, and eventually, missing his family, returns home. Along the way, he mentions that any moon children who seem prone to "a wicked or imperfect disposition" are shuttled to Earth and exchanged, changelinglike (113).

The Broadview introduction (and tons of footnotes) compare the quasi-scientific parts of the work to the knowledge of the day. Since I'm here for language, not science, I enjoyed how this material was tempered by the narrator's admission that he's basing some things on "the Astronomy that I learned being a young man at Salamanca, but have now almost forgotten" (91) -- there's a touch of realism for ya! Just like the Astronomy class I once took. The appendixes give us selections from earlier literary lunar speculations, ethnographic models from earthly travels that influenced Godwin, and best of all, brief "Arguments About Aliens" from 16th and 17th century theologians (p. 142 - 142), who apparently did in fact worry about whether people on other planets would be covered by Jesus' crucifixion, or whether they were even subject to original sin. That bit of information was worth the price of the book!

Although the style is, well, from the 1600s, and that can be an uphill battle, the actual text is only 53 pages long, so it's not much of a commitment for "the first work of English science fiction" (7). And amongst the discussions of magnetism and telegraphy, some striking images stick out, like the lovey, if inaccurate, description of lunar oceans: "that same splendor appearing unto us, and giving light unto our night, appeareth to be nothing else but the reflexion of the Sun beames returning unto us out of the water, as out of a glasse" (97).

Godwin, Francis. The Man in the Moone. Edited by William Poole. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2009.


  1. I'd never heard of Godwin's The Man on the Moone, it sounds fascinating. Great review, it really makes me want to read it!

  2. Thanks! Whatever made me buy it in the first place, it was a fun little read. I love things that expand our views of earlier times, what they knew and what they thought about.