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Żuławski, Jerzy

Entry updated 29 January 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1874-1915) Polish playwright, poet and author, of sf interest for his The Lunar Trilogy, an unprecedented work in Polish literature about the colonization of the Moon: Na srebrnym globie. Rękopis z księżyca ["On the Silver Globe. A Manuscript from the Moon"] (1903), Zwycięzca ["The Victor"] (1910) and Stara ziemia ["Old Earth"] (1911) whose themes range from Colonization of Other Worlds to human mythmaking proclivities (see Mythology), religious urges (see Religion) and the general potentialities of humankind in terms of social and technological progress. Long untranslated, the trilogy eventually appeared in English as The Lunar Trilogy (trans Elzbieta Morgan; omni 2020).

The novels were undoubtedly contrived in the Wellsian spirit of sf understood as a unique tool to examine and extrapolate the evolution of human social institutions and technologies rather than an idle entertainment, whereas their sceptical resonance most presumably originated in the general fin-de-siècle atmosphere of the time. Na srebrnym globie. Rękopis z księżyca is a Fantastic Voyage type of narrative which depicts the fates of an international scientific expedition to the Moon aimed at verifying the theory that its dark side might have an atmosphere capable of supporting life and therefore be colonizable. While on the spaceship Silver Globe the astronauts realize that reaching their destination is going to be more arduous than they expected. Only some of them survive the hardships of the journey and their settlement results in unforeseen and rather dire consequences. Zwycięzca is set seven hundred years after this original lunar expedition. Marek, a naively curious young man, decides to find out about the long-forgotten enterprise and goes to the Moon to be taken by the stunted and primitive descendants (see Devolution) of the first colonist as the long-awaited messiah, the Old Man himself (that is Jan Korecki – the progenitor of the colony), who according to the locally dreamed up mythology left for his home planet and was supposed to return. Marek foolhardily accepts the role, but fails as a saviour, dies, and soon becomes the eponymous Victor, the central figure in the scripture that defines the beliefs of some of the Lunarians. It is rather evident that Żuławski characterized the impotence of human mind to free itself from the fetters of myth- and religion-making inclinations as a specifically human reaction to the emotions induced by the very existence of as well as interaction with the world around; more specifically, his work interestingly illuminates the anthropological concept of the scapegoat as being fundamental to the emergence of all religions, as later argued by René Girard (1923-2015) in Le Bouc émissaire (1982; trans Yvonne Freccero as The Scapegoat 1986). The concluding volume of the trilogy Stara Ziemia reverses the plotline of the first; two Lunarians use Marek's spacecraft to get to Earth. The novel is therefore a record of human life in the twenty-ninth century as seen through the eyes of barbarians. European nations are united within a political and economic entity called the United States of Europe. Ostensibly egalitarian, this entity has preserved cultural hierarchies intact, including a class division between owners and workers. The entire European society seems to be plunged into stagnation – the result of the limitations of science as the engine of social and cultural progress.

In 1976 Żuławski's grandnephew, the film director Andrzej Żuławski, began a loose adaptation of the trilogy. However, the surreal production, resembling the visual symbolism of early Alejandro Jodorowsky and Medea (1969) by Pier Paolo Pasolini, was ultimately cancelled for ideological reasons by the communist vice-minister of culture. The director returned to the project in 1987 with no chance to shoot the missing one-fifth of the film with the same cast, costumes and props. Instead, he decided to edit the completed material and add his own description of the unshot scenes presented as the voice-over to the images of contemporary Poland; the result was Na srebrnym globie (1988; vt On the Silver Globe).

In 2008 Andrzej Zimniak, a science fiction writer and chemist, initiated the Jerzy Żuławski Award for notable works of Polish Fantastika. [KW/JC]

see also: Poland.

Jerzy Żuławski

born Lipowiec, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Poland): 14 July 1874

died Dębica, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austro-Hungarian Empire (now Poland): 9 August 1915

works (selected)


The Lunar Trilogy

  • Na srebrnym globie. Rękopis z księżyca ["On the Silver Globe. A Manuscript from the Moon"] (Lwów, the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Towarzystwo Wydawnicze S. Sadowski, 1903) [The Lunar Trilogy: binding unknown/]
  • Zwycięzca ["The Victor"] (Kraków, the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Gebethner, 1910) [The Lunar Trilogy: binding unknown/]
  • Stara ziemia ["Old Earth"] (Kraków, the Austro-Hungarian Empire: Gebethner, 1911) [The Lunar Trilogy: binding unknown/]
    • The Lunar Trilogy (Point Pleasant, New Jersey: Zmok Books, 2020) [omni of the above three: trans by Elzbieta Morgan: pb/]


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