In the early 1600s, the first telescopes were being used by astronomers such as Thomas Harriot in England and Galileo Galilei in Italy. These instruments were often aimed at the Moon. By mid-century, lunar cartographers debated if the Moon’s dark spots were seas, if it had an atmosphere, and if life existed there. Already, the scientific discoveries and debates were inspiring fiction writers to imagine what life on the Moon might be like.
Telescopes improved as the decades advanced. Nonetheless, in 1780, eminent astronomer William Herschel reported on his study of the Moon and noted “the great probability, not to say almost absolute certainty, of her being inhabited. . . .” A new wave of science-fiction writers launched readers to the Earth’s satellite and introduced them to its indigenous people. Over the 1800s, evidence gained from even bigger and better telescopes finally convinced most scientists that the Moon is lifeless — and as telescopic technology waxed, fiction about life on the Moon waned. Featuring works by Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, and other visionaries, Imagining Life on the Moon During the Rise of the Telescope brings this phase of science into clearer focus.
247 pages, trade paperback
Read the Introduction
To get a sense of Imagining Life on the Moon, here’s a .pdf version of the introduction.
(Scholars: despite appearances, the pagination here is different from the actual book, so cite this source as a .pdf retrieved online.)
Telescopes versus the Moon People
I created a timeline to chart the introduction and development of the telescope interwoven with the history of scientific commentary and fictional works about life on the Moon. I call this illustrated chronology: Telescopes versus the Moon People.
Phantom Traditions Library
Imagining Life on the Moon During the Rise of the Telescope is the fourth volume in the Phantom Traditions Library, a series of anthologies featuring unusual and forgotten genres of fiction that flourished in the 1800s.
The other volumes are:
- Entranced by Eyes of Evil: Tales of Mesmerism and Mystery
- Echoing Ghost Stories: Literary Reflections of Oral Tradition
- Ghostly Clients & Demonic Culprits: The Roots of Occult Detective Fiction
- After the End of the Line: Railroad Hauntings in Literature and Lore