Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Calvino begins his fantasy with a scientific-sounding quotation:

At one time, according to George H. Darwin, the Moon was very close to the Earth. Then the tides gradually pushed her far away: the tides that the Moon herself causes in the Earth’s waters, where the earth slowly loses energy.

This quotation sets the tone for a story in which fantasy and science are inextricably linked. He places his story in a long-gone past; his characters may not even be quite human. However, he gives them very human qualities: They love, they are jealous, and Mrs. Vhd Vhd plays the harp. Calvino uses irony to suggest that, despite the power and size of the cosmos that reminds humans of their diminutive stature and importance, it is human love and goodness that give meaning to life in this cosmos.

This message is presented in two ways. The first is through the use of humor and play. Calvino sets the tone by suggesting that, on these nights of moon visits, the companions “fell into a special mood”: “gay, but with a touch of suspense, as if inside our skulls, instead of the brain, we felt a fish, floating, attracted by the Moon.” His descriptions are given with a straight face but provoke smiles: the “precious muck” that was moon-milk included much refuse, including “fingernails and cartilage, bolts, sea horses, nuts and peduncles, shards of crockery, fishhooks, at times even a comb.” It is difficult not to be attracted to characters who would sift out this refuse to claim their precious milk.

The second is through the use of Qfwfq, the narrator. Qfwfq is a first-rate storyteller with an excellent memory of all past life. He tells his story in long sentences packed with sensory detail. He combines these details with wonder, philosophical musing, and a sense of drama. If the Deaf One seems almost unworldly, and the Captain and Mrs. Vhd Vhd seem mundane, Qfwfq affirms the potential of humanity. He has, for the moment at least, both moved beyond his human dilemma and outwitted the cosmos.