The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

These two novels of space travel (often referred to by scholars by the titles A Voyage to the Moon and A Voyage to the Sun) first appeared in print in 1657 in editions prepared for publication by Father Henri Lebret. For more than 250 years after his death, Cyrano de Bergerac was considered a rather incompetent novelist, but the discovery in the early years of the twentieth century of two manuscript versions of A Voyage to the Moon revealed that Father Lebret systematically had eliminated almost all passages critical of politics and religion. All modern editions and translations have been based on these manuscripts and not on the posthumously published 1657 edition, which distorted Cyrano’s intentions. No manuscript has been found for his A Voyage to the Sun. Most critics agree that A Voyage to the Sun, as presented by Father Lebret, is much more tame and less interesting than the manuscript versions of his A Voyage to the Moon.

The principal character in both first-person narratives is a Frenchman named Dyrcona, an obvious anagram for “Cyrano de.” In A Voyage to the Moon, Dyrcona tries to demonstrate both the validity of Nicolaus Copernicus’ theory that Earth revolves around the Sun and the possibility of space travel. Cyrano uses humor and creativity in providing practical illustrations of scientific theories. Scientists such as Copernicus and Johannes Kepler had argued that Earth revolved around the sun and was not the center of the universe as traditional Christian theologians had claimed. During Cyrano’s lifetime, the writings of Copernicus and Kepler were still considered controversial. Cyrano illustrates the Copernican theory in a witty manner. Dyrcona ties several bottles filled with dew around his waist, and the hot sun lifts him in the sky for several hours until all the dew evaporates. Instead of returning to France, Dyrcona lands on the outskirts of Quebec City. Cyrano thus suggests that because Earth revolves around the Sun, it was only natural for Dyrcona not to...

(The entire section is 841 words.)