The Man in the Moone

a story of space travel in the early 17th century

"The Man in the Moone" was written in 1638 by Bishop Francis Godwin of Hereford (1566-1633). The story was extremely popular in its day, and may have inspired one of the tales of Baron Munchausen. One of Godwin's daughters may have married into the family of Jonathon Swift, so Gulliver's Travels may also have been influenced by this story. The book has been reprinted [1], but is quite hard to obtain.

In the book, the hero, Domingo Gonsales is marooned on an island, where he tames some large migratory birds known as "gansas", which are like swans, only having one webbed foot, and one with talons like an eagle. Gonsales harnesses the gansas to a contraption of his own devising, so that they can carry him through the air. The gansas carry him on their annual migration to the moon.

The moon turns out to be a vast ocean with a few large islands. The maria are apparently dry land. He also notes the low gravity and the lack of wind.

The moon is inhabited by a race unlike any he has ever encountered. Their skin is a very strange colour as Gonsales explains:

"For as it were a hard matter to describe unto a man born blind the difference betweene blew and greene, so can I not bethinke my selfe any meane how to decipher unto you this lunar colour, having no affinitie with any other that ever I beheld with mine eyes."

The "Lunars", as he calls them, sleep whenever the sun is shining on them. Prefering to go about their lives in the earthshine. Presumably, the Lunars do not live on the dark side of the moon. The Lunar society is very civilised:

"And because it is an inviolable decree amongst them, never to put any one to death, perceiving by the statute and some other notes they have, who are likely to bee of a wicked or imperfect disposition, they send them away (I know not by what meanes) into the earth, and change them for other children, before they shall have either abilitie or opportunitie to doe amisse among them: But first (they say) they are faine to keepe them there for a certaine space, till that the ayre of the earth may alter their colour to be like unto ours."

He suggests that generally they are sent to a certain hill in North America, and that the whole native American race he can "easily beleeve to be wholly descended of them", because of the fondness of the Lunars for tobacco. However, "Sometimes they mistake their aime, and fall upon Christendome, Asia or Affricke, marry that is but seldome: I remember some years since, that I read certaine stories tending to the confirmation of these things*"

Eventually, he harnesses up the gansas and heads for earth. He crash lands in China, where he narrowly escapes being executed as a sorcerer.

* I think he may be refering to the legend of the green children of Woolpit, (another tall story from Ralph of Coggeshall , see link below) [2]. [back]

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The Green Children of Woolpit

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