V–A–C Press will soon publish Ghosts from All Sides, the second volume in a series that brings together little-known works of fantasy by Russian authors of the nineteenth century. The first volume in this series, Tales of Revolts and Truffles, was edited by the writer and translator Vitaly Babenko.
This issue of Sreda online magazine publishes one of the stories included in this new collection, “Journey to the Moon in a Wonderful Machine, with a Description of the Inhabitants of the Place, Its Customs, and Various Peculiarities.” The story is by Semyon Dyachkov, a poet and prose writer, and the author of moral and satirical tales.
Semyon Petrovich Dyachkov (1800 or 1809—1844 or after) was a Russian poet and prose writer, the author of moral and satirical tales, of poems, elegiac romances, and songs. Little is known about his life. Take, for example, this account: “received an education at home…entered the philological department of Moscow University in 1826, transferred to Kazan University after two years, from the philological department of which he graduated in 1831 with the title of ‘real student.’ Began serving as a provincial secretary in the Department of Communications, in that same year transferred to serve in the Commissariat Department of the Military Ministry. Over the following eight years, Dyachkov transferred through five positions in various departments (primarily in Saint Petersburg) but held out nowhere for more than a year, due to a strong inclination to wine.”
Dyachkov published several fairy tales in separate books, and a number of collections of poems. One reads that “criticism relegated Dyachkov’s writings to creations for the ‘push market’” but what type of criticism this was, and who the source of this criticism was, remains unknown.
Of the few prose works by S. P. Dyachkov, we are, of course, interested by “Journey to the Moon.” It is here that criticism comes in. A scathing review of this work was published in Notes of the Fatherland (1844, no. 7): “we prefer the ‘amusing’ nonsense of Semyon Dyachkov, for the sake of his unusual machine, which is worth any number of poems. Nothing can be more intricate than the wonderful machine invented by the writer Semyon Dyachkov. It has the appearance of a cage… All this is very curious, but even more curious would be to see the writer Semyon Dyachkov himself in this cage: such a spectacle would give all lovers of rarities untold pleasures” (Notes of the Fatherland, 1844, no. 7, p. 37).
Let us not bare our teeth together with this critic, let us rather laugh good naturedly with Semyon Dyachkov. After all, he wrote, as himself defined it, an “amusing fiction.”
Reprinted from: Journey to the Moon in a Wonderful Machine, with a Description of the Inhabitants of the Place, Its Customs, and Various Peculiarities. Amusing Fiction of the Writer Semyon Dyachkov.
It has long been known that astronomical telescopes have discovered mountains and seas on the Moon, and thus that the Moon is of the same earth, as the world under the moon;—this gave me the idea of investigating whether there might be inhabitants, cities, or other earthly things on the Moon; then, as to do so would require my presence on the Moon, I began to think up means to this end and settled on the best of these being the devising and building of an aeronautical machine, in which I might reach the moon; I thought long about this kind of machine, and finally came to the idea of a very intricate cage, into which instead of wire, I placed elastic tubes, filled with a special gaseous essence, composed by myself, to the sides of the cage I attached enormous wings, of cork wood, for lightness; the cage was divided in two by a wall, one half would be where I would sit, various instruments were placed in the other: books (which I brought to the moon to show as curios, though it might also have happened they would be needed for other uses; especially for their Architectural and Home Economic parts), toiletries, and along with these what was most necessary for the journey—a food supply; above the cage—in case of adverse weather —a large umbrella was set, to one side of the cage I arranged a small organ, both for myself against boredom during the journey, as well as because I hoped to amaze inhabitants of the Moon with music of earthly invention; additionally, I hung several cages with various birds, several cases and boxes with various rarities; and thus my cage, upon being entirely ready, had a very peculiar appearance.
Soon after, having bid farewell to my acquaintances and earthly abode, I unscrewed the valves of my cage and with the speed of lightening I rose into the air; when I had reached the clouds and looked down below, the earth already seemed one black mass; finally I was far above the clouds; they struck me with their enormity and whiteness; flying even higher, I no longer saw them, and rushed through empty space in my machine; looking up absentmindedly, I saw a multitude of brilliant stars of a large size, and below them an enormous, pale-coloured body; it was the Moon herself, and I thought; I might soon reach her, though in this I was cruelly deceived, for after this, I flew for forty days; the nights were most boring for me, although there were lanterns in my cage, which lit up the way, I will not say anything about my journeying, for it was highly monotonous; finally to my pleasure I beheld the Moon nearby, resembling that same Earth that lies below the Moon; its soil was of a grey colour and covered over with high mountains and forests, though its settlements were as yet imperceptible; I fixed my gaze on one place, specifically to a grove on the banks of a river; there I thanked the heavens for my safe passage to the Moon; as it was evening; my cage served as a cabin in which to pass the night; and with what comfort did I think; that at long last, my wish had been granted, my intention to survey lunar things had been fulfilled; at the onset of night, new physical phenomena in the sky astonished me greatly: various coloured fires appeared for a moment, taking on various shapes; on the river waves of clouds were already rising and breaking with noise, unusual sounds could be heard in the forest; but from where they were coming I could not understand, and at last weariness forced me to sleep. Not waking early the next day, I was astounded by a miraculous phenomenon: the air was full of mist of a pink colour and fragrance; in this mist sparkling crystal needles were playing, creating a remarkable effect; soon all this had dissipated and I beheld the clearest, bluest of skies, a field strewn with the finest of flowers, shrubs, trees that are not to be found on the earthly sphere, merry places beckoned at me; having breakfasted, I took it into my head to examine them and set off at random in one direction; passing through the forest, I made it into a clearing where I was struck by the sight of a magnificent building, the single calm refuge in all this; to my mind it seemed some kind of monument, and in this I was not mistaken, as later I learned from Moon-dwellers; it had been raised to remember a virtuous king, distinguished for his glorious deeds; the façade of this monument was beautiful; it was entirely polished and decorated with unusual cut-out figures, Arabic, and other ornaments. Having gazed upon this marvellous work of art to my fill, I went further, and emerging from the forest, once more came upon a new marvel: a crystal city, from which an extraordinary splendour emanated because of the rays of the sun; coming closer to the city, I was truly convinced that all the houses were of crystal, most likely because on the moon there are whole mountains of crystal, and very little stone, which must be considered of a great value;—as it was day, I was able to see through the crystal walls into the houses; but everywhere was monotony and boredom; women where busied with one or another work or with the preparations of victuals; men were already walking to and fro along the streets, forming crowds and talking of one thing or another; there were no carriages or shops to be seen; I would soon learn that there was no trade at all on the Moon, as each was given their own by nature; there was no need to set off to other countries for local works, because nature had scattered an equal abundance of each throughout the Moon; that there were no manufactures or factories on the moon, as each inhabitant made everything necessary to their everyday life for themselves; though a number of arts flourished there, for example, Architecture was at a high level; music and painting also; there was no money in circulation; I surprised the local inhabitants when I presented to them the coins and other small things I had taken with me; examining the lunar city, I began to observe the customs of the Lunians, and here are some of them: in the morning each resident takes a turn around their house, then feeds the Natis, the only domestic animal eaten there; they are about six-legged; having fed the animals, they go to a public space and talk about how best to fish (because they are engaged in fishing), about what gear is best for what, and about other unimportant subjects; after this they take leave of one another in a strange manner (they also greet one another in this way), namely, they form a circle around which the leader goes, hitting each one with his stick, crying “Erga,” and then dismisses everyone to their homes; there the Lunians take their dinner, which consists of cold dishes and fruits called Ranbas, which grow in abundance on small trees of strange shapes, for sustenance they drink the juice of these same fruits; of hot drinks they have none, and I regretted this, as I sometimes like to drink out of boredom, but thanked myself, for I had happily brought a supply for the journey and there remained enough for a long while in my barrel on the Moon—after dinner the Lunians go into the forest to tear off Ranbases, or to the river to fish; bringing their catch home, they set off in crowds to walk about the city; there they sing, and some dance, for which they are given Ranbas; their dancing is highly amusing, with the putting on of terrible masks, which however brings them much joy; in their dances a certain pantomime performance is noticeable, as they continued for a fairly long time, with various changes, by the way, these dances are accompanied by musical sounds, fairly pleasant, but slightly too bassy, their instruments are also of different tones and forms; some of which are remarkable constructions; especially remarkable being a box with stretched strings producing a jingling sound, a large twisted wooden pipe, producing whistles and screeches: a drum, filled with crystal balls that rumble and ring; an amusing concert emerged from these, after which the dancing ended and all dispersed to their homes, dinner and rest at last. Here I will note a peculiarity of the Lunians in relation to their names; there are no particular names there, such as Natalia, Semyon, and so on, but their custom is rather to give names based on the qualities of each, so for example: Mr Clever, Mr. Fool (they are not offended by this, as they love truth, and seek to amend their bad traits when they are given a name corresponding to one), Mr. Kind, Mr. Renown, Mr. Glutton, Mr. Silence, Mr. Self-advertisement, Mr. Lover of Ranbas; —women are also called by their qualities, Ms. Beautiful, Ms. Wise, Ms. Lively, Ms. Capricious, Ms. Short, Ms. Kind, Ms. Gentle, and so on. Another oddity lies in their domestic celebrations: a home-owner will give celebrations when he catches many fish and collects many Ranbas; he puts up a long pole nearby his home with fish hanging on it; then takes a pipe and blows into it, in this way he calls his guests; when they arrive, they are placed in a row before the house and a fish is given to each, after which they push one another in turn to the door, where they are usually treated to lunch and desert.
I would now like to briefly make mention of some lunar objects and rarities of a particular kind; the first being that there is no gold, no silver, but a fossil substance of a blue colour, very brilliant, and used in houses as decoration; women dress themselves in a finely woven cloth of some kind of reed; their headdress consists of a wreath of flowers and feathers; they all walk about on foot, except the King and Queen, who are carried in a gazebo, as it rains very rarely on the moon and there are frequent droughts, then in the places where there is no water and rain falls, barrels with reservoirs are set up, for which travellers are very grateful, and for this same reason they themselves have hats, at the top of which they set up small tubs of thin wood; when it rains, they are filled with water, and thus passers-by can quench their thirsts in an easy way.
In one of the buildings of the lunar city the shield of a remarkable hero engraved with strange images is on display, as well as a very wide sword and a spear of five fathoms. —In this city there once lived one Writer, whose works were respected by all, and because of this on his death, the house in which he lived was kept uninhabited and preserved in memory of this glorious person, in this house, I looked about the Cabinet and the various objects within it with great pleasure, and involuntarily an impromptu escaped from me:
How thoughtfully I enjoy
Looking at this cabinet —
Through these things I am sure,
That in it once lived a poet.
According to the inhabitants, Writer did not only occupy himself with prose and poems; but with other scientific and artistic subjects too, such as Mechanics, Physics, Technology, and even Alchemy, though towards the end of his life he abandoned everything and became a Philosopher, moving from his house to the forest, to a secluded spot where nature formed one enormous crystal of remarkable shape: various fragments in the shape of quadrangular sticks emerged from it, and below there was a hole into a cave, into which the Philosopher settled, despite boredom.
It remains for me to describe one more sight on the Moon, which I examined with great pleasure. It was a machine, by means of which every meal was prepared in the houses of the rich; it was divided into several parts and a particular substance was placed in each; after a few minutes had passed, soups, sauces, roasts, and pies would appear in this machine; as I have said before, poorer folk used a cold one, and because of this they had no need for an expensive machine; having dined lavishly with a Lunian Prince and rested, I sat in my car and flew back to the earthly sphere with a collection of peculiarities; after which, having arrived home, I fell into a deep sleep and awoke in my bedroom; it was then I understood, that all my vision had been a dream, but so entertaining a dream, that I transferred it into this book as a curious story; —whether I succeeded in this, I do not know.
*….a spear of five fathoms…
Five fathoms: 10. 67 meters
Translated by Charlotte Neve