Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1082
In ancient times, Breton monk Maël is diligent in gathering converts to the Church. One day the devil causes Maël to be transported in a boat to the North Pole, where the priest lands on an island inhabited by penguins. Being somewhat snow-blind, he mistakes the birds for people, preaches to them, and, taking their silence as a sign of willingness, baptizes them into the Christian faith.
This error of the pious Maël causes great consternation in paradise. God calls all the saints together, and they argue whether the baptisms are valid. At last they decide that the only way out of the dilemma is to change the penguins into people. After this transformation, Maël tows the island back to the Breton coast so that he can keep an eye on his converts. Thus begins the history of Penguinia on the island of Alca.
At first, the penguins are without clothes, but before long the holy Maël puts clothes on the females. The novelty of covering excites the males, and sexual promiscuity increases enormously. The penguins begin to establish the rights of property by knocking one another over the head. Greatauk, the largest and strongest penguin, becomes the founder of power and wealth. A taxation system is established by which all penguins are taxed equally. This system is favored by the rich, who keep their money intended to benefit the poor.
Kraken, a clever penguin, withdraws to a lonely part of the island and lives alone in a cave. Finally, he takes as his mistress Orberosia, the most beautiful of penguin women. Kraken gains great wealth by dressing up as a dragon and carrying off the wealth of the peaceful penguins. When the citizens band together to protect their property, Kraken becomes frightened. It is predicted by Maël that a virgin will come to conquer the dragon. Kraken and Orberosia fashion an imitation monster. Orberosia appears to Maël and announces herself as the destined virgin. At an appointed time she reveals the imitation monster. Kraken springs from a hiding place and pretends to kill it. The people rejoice and thenceforth pay annual tribute to Kraken. His son, Draco, founds the first royal family of Penguinia. Thus begins the Middle Ages on the island of Alca.
Draco the Great, a descendant of the original Draco, has a monastery established in the cave of Kraken in honor of Orberosia, who is now a saint. There are great wars between the penguins and the porpoises at this time, but the Christian faith is preserved by the simple expedient of burning all heretics at the stake.
The history of the penguins in this far time had been chronicled by a learned monk named Johannes Talpa. Even though the battles raged about his ears, he was able to continue writing in his dry and simple style. Little record was left of the primitive paintings on the isle of Alca, but later historians believed that the painters were careful to represent nature as unlike nature as possible.
Marbodius, a literary monk, leaves a record of a descent into hell similar to the experience of Dante. Marbodius interviews Vergil and is told by the great poet that Dante had misrepresented him. Vergil is perfectly happy with his own mythology and wants nothing to do with the God of the Christians.
The next recorded part of Penguinian history treats modern times, when rationalistic philosophers begin to appear. In the succeeding generation their teachings take root. The king is put to death and nobility is abolished, leading to the founding of a republic. The shrine of Saint Orberosia is destroyed. The republic, however, does not last long. Trinco, a great soldier, takes command of the country; with his armies he conquers and loses all the known world. The penguins are left at last with nothing but their glory.
Then a new republic is established. It pretends to be ruled by the people, but the real rulers are the wealthy financiers. Another republic of a similar nature, New Atlantis, is growing up across the sea at the same time. It is even more advanced in the worship of wealth.
Father Agaric and Prince des Boscenos, as members of the clergy and nobility, are interested in restoring the kings of Alca to the throne. They decide to destroy the republic by taking advantage of the weakness of Chatillon, the admiral of the navy. Chatillon is seduced by the charms of the clever Viscountess Olive, who is able to control his actions for the benefit of the royalists. An immense and popular antirepublican movement begins, with Chatillon as its hero; the royalists hope to reinstate the king in the middle of the uproar. The revolution, however, is stopped in its infancy, and Chatillon flees the country.
Eveline, the beautiful daughter of Madame Clarence, rejects the love of Viscount Clena, after she learns that he has no fortune. She then accepts the attentions of Monsieur Ceres, a rising politician. After a short time they are married. Monsieur Ceres receives a portfolio in the cabinet of Monsieur Visire, and Eveline becomes a favorite in the social gatherings of the politicians. Visire is attracted by her, and she becomes his mistress. Ceres learns of the affair, but he is afraid to say anything to Visire, the prime minister. Instead, he does his best to ruin Visire politically, but with little success at first. Finally, Visire is removed from office on the eve of a war with a neighboring empire. Eveline lives to a respectable old age and at her death leaves all of her property to the Charity of Saint Orberosia.
As Penguinia develops into an industrial civilization ruled by the wealthy class, the one purpose of life becomes the gathering of riches; art and all other nonprofit activities cease to be. Finally, the downtrodden workers revolt, and a wave of anarchy sweeps over the nation. All the great industries are demolished. Order is established at last, and the government reforms many of the social institutions, but the country continues to decline. Where before there had been great cities, wild animals now live.
Then hunters arrive, seeking the wild animals. Later shepherds appear, and after a time farming becomes the chief occupation. Great lords build castles. The people make roads, leading to new villages. The villages combine into large cities, and the cities grow rich. An industrial civilization develops, ruled by the wealthy class. History is beginning to repeat itself.
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