Monday, 10 March 2014

Recollection of a Six Days' Journey in the Moon

Recollection of a Six Days' Journey in the Moon (1844)
Like one of those political cartoons from a 1930s Punch Magazine - Head Chef Neville Chamberlain carrying a massive Mussolini faced pie to an oven upon which is written fiscal compromise whilst a cat wearing a Union Jack waistcoat says it will be interesting to see how this turns out - it's roughly possible to appreciate the wit of this tale without having the faintest idea what it refers to. Recollection of a Six Days' Journey in the Moon was originally published in two parts in the July and August 1844 issues of The Southern Literary Messenger, a monthly periodical based in Virginia and possibly best known for Edgar Allan Poe having been its most famous editor and contributor. The identity of the author of this tale, anonymously attributed to an Aerio-Nautical Man, appears to have been lost, but never mind. At a mere twenty-two pages, it's a slim volume, but nevertheless has more than enough going on to justify this reprint by Ron Miller's consistently wonderful Black Cat imprint.

Satirical tales of fantastic trips to the moon and the inevitably comedic accounts of the people living there have been around at least since Lucian of Samosata's True History of the second century, and the narrator of this one effects his incredible journey by means of a hitherto unknown science, called Aeriotism, or the faculty of self-suspension in the air. This he achieves by basking in the admiration of his fellows to such a degree as to cause his head to expand and become lighter than air, as you do, and without too much faffing about with the sort of details he doesn't seem to think would interest us, there he is on the moon.

The moon is of course populated by people who, like ourselves, sprang from the line of Adam and Eve and were almost certainly around during the construction of the Tower of Babel. Their societies - divided mainly into handily illustrative republics and monarchies, an old world and a new world - serve to hold a comic mirror to our own, or specifically to our own as of 1844. Unfortunately my understanding of American history is so limited as to render much of the detail thematically bewildering, although the narrative remains nevertheless entertaining for such devices as magnetically driven sailing ships, lunar provinces where citizens make their own money, and the Isle of Engines which seems to be an amusingly disparaging parody of England. Clearly much of this would make more sense had I a better grasp of nineteenth century politics, but then it's not entirely inscrutable with passages condemning the practice of slavery, and even predictions such as this one providing a fascinating insight into notions of progress as viewed at the time:

Every day some new science is discovered, which renders easy what was considered impossible before, and I have little doubt that if they continue on for half a century more in the same rapid pace, they will be able to dispense altogether with a Supreme being, and construct not only worlds, but people to live in them, on purely, scientific principles.

It would probably be an overstatement to term Recollection of a Six Days' Journey in the Moon a neglected classic, but it's pretty damn sparky, and at such brief length I can think of no good reason why anyone would want to pass on it.

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