Thursday, 5 January 2012
Since this week appears to be turning into 'Odd Pieces of proto-SF' week, here's Joshua Barnes's Gerania: a new discovery of a little sort of people anciently discoursed of, called pygmies. With a lively description of their stature, habit, manners, buildings, knowledge, and government, being very delightful and profitable (1675). This is a rather jolly adventure story, in the old Fantastic Voyage tradition. The narrator relates how ‘sailing pleasantly on the Ganges’ his ship was driven by a freak storm into a hitherto hidden ‘great lake on the utmost Borders of India’. He meets first a race of people who don’t speak, dress in moss and have knives for fingernails; then they chance upon pygmies so small they at first cannot believe them human, thinking them instead miniature robots or automata (‘we began to admire with ourselves at the Ingenuity of the Inhabitants, thinking they had invented these little Engins, so as by Clock-work to make them walk’ . In the kingdom of ‘Gerania’ they encounter tiny people who are not only ‘able in all the sciences’ but speak English (‘we are skill’d in fifty four Languages; a thing which to the Europeans may seem incredible’, 48) and are Christians, although on the downside they only live on average to forty. There’s a good deal of anti-Catholic stuff in here, and some strange political theory ...the Geranians have no taxation (‘for Taxes, we are wholly unacquainted with them’) because the population spontaneously gift the exchequer with voluntary donations . Which might just work, I suppose. Or maybe not.