The Other World: Some Questions and Answers

by Don Webb and Thomas R.

My thanks to Thomas R. for answering the little questionnaire at the end of episode 39. Thomas, you’re truly a veteran student!

What happens to the Moon-being and the “Ethiopian”? Are they swallowed up in Mount Etna or do they land somewhere else?

I don’t know about the Moon being, but I think the Ethiopian was just for plot purposes. A bit less crude of a way to end things may have been better, but such is life.

That ending is really “in-our-face,” isn’t it? Endings like that set off alarm bells for me: the author is telling us something. For example, Molière is notorious for his deus ex machina endings. He’s telling us that only something very far-fetched rescues his comedy from tragedy. That’s a very “French” view of life, one that makes a mockery of the traditional Hollywood “happy ending.”

Cyrano can’t have forgotten that the Sun-being is back on the Moon, busy building a luxury spaceship roomy enough for four people. Why, then, does he resort to this folk devil? Well, all the talk recently has been about miracles. You don’t believe in miracles, Moon-being? All right, I’ll supply one, never mind that it’s about as ludicrous as can be imagined.

What happens to the Moon-being and the “Ethiopian”? Cyrano carefully avoids telling us. He forces us to decide whether they go to Hell by way of the volcano or land somewhere on Earth. The decision tells us something about ourselves.

And what’s the difference between Hell and Earth? For the Moon-being, after all, Earth is “the other world.” I think this is a case where the question is more important than the answer.

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?

That seemed a bit perplexing. How he even survived seemed more than a little baffling to me. I’m guessing as some kind of demon threw him to Earth it had the power to make sure the trip didn’t kill him. That seems overly considerate for a demon. However, and this is far more absurd in a way, the Ethiopian was maybe not a demon but an “angel.” It seemed he appeared as soon as he became scared of the moon being. So he “saved him” from the presence of an atheist who could give an argument he was unable to argue with well. Although absurd, that would explain sending him to Italy to be with pastors. It could also have an ironic purpose. Religion is so weak the religious person has to be saved from atheist arguments by a deus-ex-machina. Or perhaps even demon-ex-machina.

Good points, Thomas. I think we also have to remember that ever since the beginning of episode 1, Cyrano has been hammering on the confusion between a “world” and a “moon.” It quickly becomes a standing joke. In this scene, Cyrano doesn’t know where he is and thinks there might be an Italy on the Moon. At first we think, “Oh come on!” And then: “Wait. If Italy can be on the Moon, there where are we?”

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?

I’m not sure it does, but I have an odd idea on the dog thing. I think it said earlier Eden was the Moon and people were expelled from it. Perhaps he’s hinting that they were expelled with their dogs. Therefore the dogs are vexed by his “Moon smell” because it reminds them quite clearly of what they lost. That dogs would remember the Moon was Eden and people would forget maybe also goes along with some thoughts on animals in it. However this is based on little to nothing.

According to Cyrano’s “Elijah,” Adam is banished from the Garden of Eden, all right, but he decides on his own to leave for Earth rather than hang around on the Moon and risk getting into even more trouble. Eve naturally comes along with him, but they don’t take any dogs. In episode 9, the opposite happens: the animals on Noah’s Ark jump ship and rush en masse to freedom on the Moon. So maybe you’re right that dogs might howl a nostalgic serenade to it. But I don’t think the town dogs know about the Moon; they just seem to dislike Cyrano’s Moon-odor.

Cyrano’s fear of the dogs very soon yields to reason, and we see re-emerging the rational, analytical man of action we met in the first episodes. What odor does Cyrano bring back with him from the Moon? Not green cheese, that’s for sure. Rather, he reeks of radicalism: new science, new theology, new politics, and a new society. What reaction will that get in mid-17th century anywhere? No need to ask: he’ll be met with hostility. And what does he think of reactionaries and obscurantists? “Dogs” is a polite way of putting it.

Cyrano is a radical, but he’s the opposite of quixotic. In real life, Cyrano was what we might call an opportunist. But I think that would be a little unfair: in a 17th-century monarchy, you don’t get elected to office, you’re appointed. For Cyrano and everyone else, the first rule of politics — find out where the power is — was more a matter of survival than advancement. In The Other World, I think we see the real Cyrano: both radical and realistic, with the classic Parisian wit. Just like his friend Molière and the fabulist La Fontaine, Cyrano was nobody’s fool: he knew how to get his point across without being sent to the Bastille for it.

Why does Cyrano land in Italy rather than somewhere else, such as at his home near Paris or even in Quebec?

The guy who argues against miracles refers to Italian thinkers. The other side also has its headquarters in Italy. So the Ethiopian sent him there.

I think you’re right. In episodes 1 and 2, Cyrano’s original idea of going to the Moon is supported by the work of an Italian Renaissance genius: Girolamo Cardano. In a sense, Cyrano’s voyage comes full circle when he lands in Italy. And yet the reception the dogs give him shows that others on Earth still have a long way to travel.

Who are “these naturally impious people”?

On the surface of it, the Moon people. Could be either, though.


What is “the other world”?

Either one?

Yes, I think that’s what Cyrano is saying. Which makes the last sentence of the novel very ironic. The “other world” could also be Hell, if the Moon-beings were punished for their beliefs. Maybe Cyrano gives himself a kind of escape hatch by letting the orthodox think that’s what he means.

However, after everything Cyrano has said about the unity of nature — which also includes Heaven — and after all the confusion Cyrano has sown about “worlds” and “moons,” I think there’s only one answer to the question “What is ‘the other world’?”: there is none. The Moon and the Earth are just different places, not separate “worlds.” Which means that the ideas of the Moon-beings can apply on Earth as well as on the Moon.

Copyright © 2003 by Don Webb and Thomas R.