Trip to the Moon. Lucian.
February 22, 2009
Last April I read Lucian of Samosata’s A True History or Trip to the Moon, circa 160 AD from a text on Gutenberg and a second one I found on Google. As a Journey, it was interesting to me, especially given its destination. I found it, though, a little tedious, too poorly structured and improbable with all its weird and fantastic beasts of war. The episodes of the journey are inharmonious, while the book lacks a coherent theme capable of resolving them. A great fragment, one that obviously influenced Rabelais and Jonathan Swift.
Lucian naturally led me to Cyrano de Bergerac’s A Voyage to the Moon (c. 1650). The text I read was from Google Books, the 1899 reprint of Samuel Derrick’s 18th century translation. It’s a much better structured work, but it too suffers from its very conception, for as Aristotle understood, it is in the selection and arrangement of the plot that the poet demonstrates his real ability. While Bergerac chooses incidents that are outlandish, properly fitting to his chosen genre, satire, it nevertheless is all too far fetched to ever get off the ground for me. There’s a charm and delight to the book, with much humor, but he makes the mistake of using a linear plot, and then just bails out at the end with an all too easy return to earth. Jonathan Swift was known to have read Bergerac, which readily makes sense, especially chapters VII – VIII, as readers have observed.
Some science fiction fans apparently look to both books as antecedents of the genre. I don’t. The Imaginations of Lucian and de Bergerac fly much higher and deeper in literary terms, though both books demonstrate the limitations of the genre.
I couldn’t have read either of them as easily without an etext making them accessible. They’re both fairly obscure books. The book by Bergerac is not to be confused with Ronstad’s play, an amusing farce in its own right, with some tragic overtones, but still not literature of the highest order.
I was very conscious at times that I was reading very old books, in a very contemporary format, with all the enjoyment and delight of a printed text. I’d have had to wait days, or a week or two, had I ordered them off Amazon or at a local bookstore.
At some point, I would say, scholarly standards must improve for ebooks, but that’s another matter, much commented on, yet unresolved. People worry about losing the Book, but I think the book can take may forms, and still deliver what’s essential.