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Godwin, Francis

Entry updated 27 June 2022. Tagged: Author.

(1562-1633) UK bishop and author, most noted for his striking description of a lunar Utopia in the posthumously and anonymously published The Man in the Moone: Or A Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales, the Speedy Messenger (1638). There is considerable debate over the date of composition, some suggesting it was written as early as 1588 after Godwin heard Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) lecture at Oxford, though most recent theories suggest it was written shortly before his death. Domingo Gonsales is an Antihero who engages in various picaresque adventures before being marooned on St Helena where he creates a flying machine drawn by "gansas" (wild geese). Escaping pirates in this machine, he finds himself taken to the Moon, where the "gansas" winter. The detailed description of the journey cautiously allows that Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) may have been right in some of his theories. On the Moon Gonsales encounters a Utopian society where the better the person is, the taller they are; Gonsales, being short, is soon expelled. There is some speculation on Gravity here, Godwin positing that Moon people would grow taller than Earthlings owing to the lesser gravity; his traveller acquires three kinds of semi-magical stones with special powers, one having Antigravity properties.

The Man in the Moone was perhaps the most influential work of Proto SF; it immediately prompted John Wilkins to revise his treatise, The Discovery of a World in the Moone (1638; rev vt A Discourse Concerning a New World and Another 1640), to include a chapter on actually travelling to the Moon; the work inspired a play by Aphra Behn, Emperor of the Moon (1687 chap); and Domingo Gonsales reappeared as a character in The Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon and Sun (1662) by Cyrano de Bergerac. The Man in the Moone was so popular in France over the succeeding two centuries that Jules Verne believed it was a French novel. The book continues to be influential; most recently there was an explicit nod to the work in Appleseed (2001) by John Clute. The book has been reprinted many times, though the English text is usually cut; see Checklist for the most complete text currently available. [PN/PKi]

see also: Fantastic Voyages.

Francis Godwin

born Hannington, Northamptonshire: 1562

died Whitbourne, Worcestershire: buried 19 April 1633



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