39: The Other World

The conversation with the Moon-being can go no further. Which means there is only one place left to go...

His ridiculous and diabolical opinions made me shudder. I began to look a little more closely at this person and was amazed to see something frightening in his face that I had not noticed before: his eyes were small and sunken, his skin dark, his mouth big, his chin hairy and his nails black. Oh God, I thought immediately, this miserable creature is condemned already and may even be the Antichrist that people talk about so much in our world.

And yet I did not want to reveal that thought to him because of the esteem I had for his intellect, and in truth the favor with which Nature had looked upon his birth had caused me to feel friendship for him. However, I could not contain myself and burst forth with imprecations that threatened him with a bad end. He trumped me in anger and cried, “Yes, by death...” I don’t know what he was planning to tell me, because just at that moment there came a knock on the door, and a big, black hairy man came in. He came over to us, grabbed the blasphemer around the waist and took him up the chimney.

I took pity on the fate of my unfortunate friend and threw my arms around him to wrest him from the clutches of the Ethiopian, but he was so strong that he carried us both upwards, and in a moment we were in the clouds. I clung even tighter to my friend no longer out of affection but from fear of falling. I don’t know how many days it took us to cross the sky. I didn’t know what questions to ask. Then I realized I was approaching our world. I could already distinguish Asia from Europe and Europe from Africa.

As we descended, I could already see no farther than beyond the confines of Italy. My heart told me that this devil must be carrying my host body and soul into Hell and that he was going to Earth because Hell is at the center of it. However, I forgot this thought and all that had happened to me since this devil became our conveyance, because I was frightened by the sight of a fiery mountain I almost touched. The spectacle of this burning mountain made me cry out “Jesus! Mary!”

Hardly had I said the words than I found myself lying in heather at the top of a little hill. Two or three pastors stood around me reciting litanies in Italian.

“Oh,” I exclaimed, “God be praised. I have finally found Christians on the Moon. So, tell me, friends, in what province am I now on your world?”

“In Italy,” they answered.

“What?” I said. “There is an Italy on the Moon?” I had as yet thought so little about what had happened that I hadn’t noticed we were speaking Italian.

When I regained my bearings and finally realized I was back on Earth, I went where these peasants saw fit to take me. I had not yet arrived at the gates of . . . when all the dogs in the city rushed upon me. I was frightened, and if I hadn’t dived into a house and slammed the door behind me, I would have surely been eaten alive.

A while later, as I was resting in this house, I heard all the dogs in the kingdom raising a ruckus around it. From bulldogs to poodles, they were howling with a dreadful fury, as though they were celebrating the birthday of their first Adam.

This adventure attracted quite a bit of attention from everyone who saw it. But as soon as I began to consider the circumstances, I realized that these animals must be pursuing me because of the world I had come from. I thought, “Since they are accustomed to barking at the Moon because of the pain it gives them from so far away, they must have wanted to attack me because I smell of the Moon, and the odor disturbs them.”

To cleanse myself of this bad smell, I lay naked on a terrace in the sunlight. I got a sun tan for four or five hours. Afterwards I came downstairs. The dogs no longer smelled whatever had made me their enemy, and they all went home.

At the port I asked when a vessel would be leaving for France. After we had set sail, I could think only of the wonders of my voyage. I marveled repeatedly at the providence of God, who had put these naturally impious people in a place where they could not corrupt his beloved ones and had punished them for their pride by leaving them to their own devices. That is why I don’t doubt He has put off having the Gospel preached to them: He knows they would abuse it, and their resistance to it would only earn them a harsher punishment in the other world.

Thus ends Cyrano de Bergerac’s novel
The Other World: the Society and Government of the Moon.

To quote the film version of Cyrano de Bergerac, starring José Ferrer, “And, as I end the refrain: thrust home!” Cyrano cannot resist getting in one last zinger: However “impious” and otherwise unvirtuous the beings of the Moon and Sun may appear to be, they would be worse off for being proselytized by organized religion.

Some readers may find the ending curious, even a little strange; it is practically the opposite of the welcome traditionally accorded returning astronauts. What purpose might it serve? After finding so many answers to his questions on the Moon, Cyrano seems to end by deliberately provoking us to ask questions of our own. And after 38 episodes, the reader certainly knows how to interpret this final one.

The following is intended not as a “final exam” but as concluding reflections upon the novel. In a few cases, the question itself may be more important than the answer, and the readers are, as always, encouraged to add their own.

  1. What happens to the Moon-being and the “Ethiopian”? Are they swallowed up in Mount Etna or do they land somewhere else?
  2. Whenever Cyrano travels, funny things seem to happen:
    1. After Cyrano lands on the hilltop, he is at first unaccountably confused as to where he is. Why might Cyrano have included this somewhat far-fetched comic scene?
    2. How does Cyrano’s return to Earth compare to his landing on the Moon and his first meeting with the Moon-beings?
    3. How does Cyrano’s meeting with the Italians and his subsequent trouble with the town dogs complete the transition from Cyrano the character back to Cyrano the author?
  3. Why does Cyrano land in Italy rather than somewhere else, such as at his home near Paris or even in Quebec?
  4. Who has been left on the Moon and might like to come to Earth?
  5. Who are “these naturally impious people”?
  6. What is “the other world”?

Works consulted

Copyright © 2003 by Donald Webb