What I should be doing is continuing on with Ibsen, writing about his ungainly ten act masterpiece Emperor and Galilean. But at some point I took a break from Ibsen to read The First Men in the Moon (1901) by H. G. Wells, so now I will take a break to write about it. Easier to read, easier, to summarize, easier to bat around.
Summary: An absent-minded scientist, Cavor, invents an anti-gravity metal, Cavorite. For some reason the first thing he does with it is fly to the moon. For some other reason he takes a venal bankrupt with a fancy prose style with him. The men are captured by the moon-men, the Selenites, and taken to their phosphorescent moon-caves. Thus the puzzling preposition in the novel’s title. Wells wrote “in” and meant it. The bankrupt escapes and writes a shocking and, frankly, almost unbelievable memoir about his experiences.
The literary tradition of trips to the moon goes back at least to Lucian’s True History (2nd century), where the method of transport is a whirlwind. A knight in Orlando Furioso (1532) gets to the moon by hippogriff. Jules Verne shot his astronauts to the moon with a giant cannon, much like Georges Méliès did in A Trip to the Moon (1902).
“That's perfectly easy. An air-tight manhole is all that is needed. That, of course, will have to be a little complicated; there will have to be a valve, so that things may be thrown out, if necessary, without much loss of air.”
“Like Jules Verne's thing in A Trip to the Moon.”
But Cavor was not a reader of fiction. (Ch. 3)
The 1993 Everyman paperback I read has a lot of baffling stuff about the reaction to this particular Wells novel, a lot of nonsense about science and Wells as a “prophet,” even though a trip to the moon is less of an original prophecy than anything Wells had written before. The passage above is a winking acknowledgment.
Yet Jules Verne insists the science is on his side, as he says in a 1903 interview:
I make use of physics. He invents. I go to the moon in a cannonball, discharged from a cannon. Here there is no invention. He goes to Mars [?] in an airship, which he constructs of a metal which does away with the law of gravitation. That’s all very well but show me this metal. Let him produce it. (p. 189)
Yes, H., why do you not produce the magical metal? Verne, after all, produced the giant cannon. He must have. Otherwise his challenge makes no sense. Charitably, I take all of this an amusing hoax on gullible readers. Less charitably, I fear Verne believed himself – “Here there is no invention.”
The Wells novel is almost nothing but invention, some of it absolutely marvelous, some of it satirical and even political, some of it just for laughs. The First Men in the Moon is a fifth book of Gulliver’s Travels, or Alice in Lunarland, or the teleplay for Laurel and Hardy in Space. I am not sure who should play the scientist, Laurel or Hardy. The movie would work either way.
There is even some science, although not where it seems it should be. Ignore Verne’s misdirection. Remember The Time Machine (1895) and so on.
I might be able to avoid Ibsen for several days with this piece of fluff.
The quotation in the title is from Chapter 13.