The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"My Voyage to the Moon" (1839)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“My Voyage to the Moon” (original: “Mon Voyage à la Lune”) was written by “Napoléon Aubin” and first appeared in Le Fantasque (Jul 9-Oct 1, 1839). “Napoléon Aubin” was the pseudonym of Aimé Nicolas Aubin (1812-1890), a Swiss native who emigrated to Canada at age 23. Aubin was a chemistry teacher who was jailed for various satirical articles published in his newspaper, Le Fantasque. Aubin also published the first two volumes of a noted history of Canada and invented a device for lighting gas.
“My Voyage to the Moon” was a feuilleton (newspaper serial) that was never finished. The hero of the serial, “Napoléon Aubin,” flies to the moon through a whimsical piece of trickery similar to Cyrano de Bergerac's method for lunar travel: laughing gas. The hero finds that the moon is populated by green-skinned, white-haired, red-eyed “Lunatics.” The Lunatics' civilization is an exaggerated form of 1830s Québéc, allowing Aubin to satirize and criticize his adopted country:
The distancing relativization typical of the spirit of the Enlightenment and of Aubin himself is practiced at the expense of justice in the following example....The narrator is being led about by a young Lunatic who answers his questions; after criticizing the way a gentleman enriched himself by filing bankruptcy four times, the Earthman asks his guide how justice is done on the Moon: "Justice?....We do not have only one justice; our tribunals dispense two: justice for the rich and justice for the poor. This way we can say there is justice for everyone..."(2:35)1
“My Voyage to the Moon” is usually counted as the earliest piece of French-language Canadian science fiction.2 Perhaps surprisingly, French-language Canadian science fiction predates English-language Canadian science fiction, with the landmark work of English-language Canadian sf, James De Mille’s A Strange Manuscript Found In a Copper Cylinder, appearing almost fifty years later. But unlike De Mille’s work, “My Voyage to the Moon” spawned no imitators and left virtually no mark on the literary landscape; it was only rediscovered in 1981. French-language Canadian science fiction would have to wait until Jules-Paul Tardivel’s ultramontanist Near Future Québécois utopia, Pour la Patrie (1895), for there to be a work of science fiction in French Canada which would be noticed by other writers.
“My Voyage to the Moon” is also notable as perhaps the earliest appearance in science fiction of the “little green men” motif, although the motif has folkloric and literary predecessors to Aubin’s work:
The titular phrase is repeated many times in the poem "The Little Green Man: A German Story" (1801) by Matthew Lewis...whose green-spectacled character is an unwelcome if perhaps not supernatural intruder into society. As initially applied to leprechauns, "little green men" appear on page 374 of Sketches in Ireland (1827) by Cesar Otway (anonymous), though it may even then have been a traditional term.3
Print: Jean-Paul Tremblay, ed., Napoléon Aubin (Montreal: Editions Fides, 1972), 31-40.
1 Jean-Marc Gouanvic, Martin Gauthier and René Lallier, “Rational Speculations in French Canada, 1839-1974 (Conjectures rationelles en Canada françasis, 1839-1974),” Science Fiction Studies 15, no. 1 (Mar. 1988): 72.
2 David Ketterer, “A Historical Survey of Canadian Science Fiction Panorama historique de la SF canadienne,” Science-Fiction Studies 10, no. 1 (Mar. 1983): 87-100, begins what it calls the “pioneer period” of Canadian science fiction with Aubin’s work.
3 David R. Langford and Mike Ashley, “Little Green Men,” The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, accessed Nov. 12, 2018, http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/little_green_men.