Introduced by John Wells
Translated by Richard Aldington
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
The collector edition of Cyrano de Bergerac's wildly inventive early sci-fi classics – revisited and enhanced by Folio Society favourite Quentin Blake.
‘The first true forerunner of science fiction … Cyrano’s imagination outdistances his most illustrious predecessors … An extraordinary writer not just for seventeenth-century France but for all times.’
The real Cyrano de Bergerac was every bit as extraordinary as the legendary long-nosed duellist immortalised in plays and films: a soldier with a reputation for acts of extreme bravery, and an author branded a madman by his 17th century contemporaries because of the boundless imagination of his writings. His two greatest works, Voyage to the Moon and Voyage to the Sun, appeared in print in 1657 and 1662, shortly after Cyrano's death at the age of just 35. Both are masterpieces of early science fiction: the direct (if unacknowledged) inspiration for Gulliver's Travels, and a key influence on later sci-fi pioneers including Jules Verne and Edgar Allan Poe.
The sphere of our world appeared to me no more than a planet about the size the Moon appears to us; and, as I continued to rise, it lessened first into a star, then into a spark and then into nothing.
Voyage to the Moon sees Cyrano's fictional alter-ego accidentally carried to the Moon by a multi-stage rocket, launched by the very fireworks that were supposed to incinerate it. In the lunar society he discovers, earthly values are turned on their head: the young are respected rather than the old, and well-argued opinions rated higher than social status; free love is officially enforced, and noblemen sport a phallus-shaped emblem instead of a sword; and battles are fought only when all of the combatants are perfectly matched. The hapless Cyrano finds himself exhibited as a performing monkey, then tried in court for daring to suggest that Earth is also inhabited. In its equally fantastical sequel, Cyrano's tales of his moon-voyage lead to his imprisonment as a sorcerer and his escape attempt in a home-made vacuum-powered crate becomes an unscheduled trip to the Sun only when his vessel proves unexpectedly efficient. Once again, the hapless Cyrano finds himself put on trial, indicted by a solar race of intelligent birds for the crime of being human.
Both stories are presented as ‘histoire comiques’ – ‘comic tales’. But under cover of tongue-in-cheek discussions of whether a cabbage can be guilty of original sin and his imaginative flourishes – including ‘talking books’ that pre-empt the iPod by over 300 years and sail-driven mobile homes on wheels – Cyrano raises controversial questions about social conventions, the status of humanity in an infinite universe, and even the existence of God.
These extraordinary texts have been a personal favourite of Quentin Blake's for over 40 years. With their ‘nasally-gifted’ comic protagonist, characters flying with (and without) various cobbled-together machines, wildly gesticulating nude giants and a kingdom of birds, Cyrano's fantasies could have been tailor-made for him. After spontaneously illustrating elements of the text without any commission, Quentin produced a complete – and very extensive – illustration of both texts for the Folio Society in 1991. Now, over 25 years on, he has revisited his original images, redrawing, replacing and adding to them, as well as creating a stunning new binding and slipcase. Using Richard Aldington's classic translation and with an introduction by John Wells, which brings the historical Cyrano de Bergerac out from the shadow of the legend, the result is a luxurious enhanced edition of these visionary tales.
Voyage to the Moon
Voyage to the Sun
Story of the Birds
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