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by Joe Brown

Scale: 1/32

The Man in the Moone, or A Discourse of a Voyage Thither by Domingo Gonsales: The Speedy Messenger by Bishop Francis Godwin, published in 1638, was extremely popular in its day, and it might have inspired one of the tales of Baron Munchausen. One of Godwin's daughters may have married into the family of Jonathon Swift, so Gulliver's Travels may possibly have been influenced by this story. The work was a great success. It was translated into French, German, and Dutch, and it appeared in more than a dozen editions. Published anonymously in 1638, it is a little over 35 pages with the illustration and epistle. The book has been reprinted, but is quite hard to obtain. The “spellyng and grammaire” of the period are retained in the transcription.

Young Domingo Gonsales was born in Seville, Spain, in 1552 to noble parents, who though destined for a life in the church, instead at the tender age of 17 ran away to the interfaith wars in the Low Country of the Netherlands. After distinguishing himself in combat, he returns home to settle down and marry the daughter of a Portuguese gentleman. A duel of honor at age 44 in the wrong place sets him on the run, and through misadventure and making a fortune in the gem trade by visiting India, he ends up stranded on the island of St. Helena, attended by a Moor in whose care he recovers while awaiting rescue.

During his recuperation, he tames a number of a certain breed of wild swan, which he dubs “Gansas,” and through patience and skill, he teaches a number of them to wear a harness and carry cargo. His mistake is teaching them to fly at his signal toward a large white target unfurled by his companion castaway. He mentions that he contrived an “Engine,” which upon repeated re-readings, is obviously a contraption of his own devising, and it enables his Gansas to carry him through the air. A swan litter? A saddle mounted on a harness? So, with an Engine as a kind of armature, or frame, to distribute his weight, he rigs up a harness for 25 Gansas, who carry him aloft and away. A charming and much-reproduced illustration shows him airborne. This being the first flight, he naturally masters it immediately, and he looks forward to showing the King of Spain this marvel.

Eventually, he is rescued, but his rescuers are set upon by English ships off the Island of Tenerife in the Canaries. As his ship is sinking, Gonsales rigs up his Engine with the Gansas, and he makes for shore. Up the sides of El Pico travel the birds, until they crest the top. They very briefly rest there, even though it's only 15 leagues high (1 league is 1.4 modern miles). Then, the birds head for the biggest white object in the sky, the moon. They birds had abruptly recalled that it was time for their annual migration; I hate it when that happens!

For the first time (I think) in world literature, we read about the ascent of a man from the earth. He mentions that the island then became surrounded by sea. As he goes higher, he can see the Caribbean and the Americas. He goes higher and higher, and then remarkably, he mentions that when he gets to a certain height, he can see the stars although the sun is still shining (quite vividly prescient for a story written in 1638).

Freed from the earth's gravitational pull, his journey to the moon takes 12 days, during which he makes some other observations . . . no problems breathing, no need to eat or drink, don't trust demons, and just duck the occasional swarms of locusts heading for earth.

Arriving on the lunar surface, Gonsales finds it vegetated with trees and shrubs. It is populated with colorful, long-lived giants in a commonwealth of order and beauty, peace and plenty. The moon turns out to be a vast ocean with a few large islands. The lunar maria are apparently dry land. He also notes the low gravity and the lack of wind.

This is an extraterrestrial world of delight and wonder, not the menacing society of later science fiction. Also on the moon, our hero finds a good and Christian race of beings, rightly led by Princes and a Monarch. He meets the King of the Moon (of course you always meet the King of the Moon; you never meet the garbage collectors of the Moon, always the King of the Moon). On the moon, he learns many things of wonder and much advances his conception of science.

Nevertheless, as grand as his adventure is, he cannot forget his wife and children, and so he must beg leave of the King of the Moon and return to earth, specifically China, where his adventures to get home continue . . .

"You shal then see men to flie from place to place in the ayre; you shall be able, (without any moving or travailing of any creature,) to send messages in an instant many Miles oft, and receive answer againe immediately; you shall bee able to declare your minde presently unto your friend, being in some private and remote place of a populous Citie, with a number of such like things: but that which far surpasseth all the rest, you shall have notice of a new World, of many most rare and incredible secrets of Nature, that all the Philosophers of former ages could never so much as dreame off." (Hmm, sounds like… the internet? Darn those Illuminati for suppressing such amazing knowledge!)

Building the Model

Everything depends on the scant facts from the novel. Geese? Check. Engine? Uh, check. Spanish Gentleman Adventurer? Check.

Finding an appropriate-sized goose was tough. Making 25 copies of it from resin was harder still. I couldn't plan an Engine until I had all the Gansas made. Heck, there is no mention of what coloration the Gansas have! But, having accomplished their creation, and, knowing that the body of a goose is as wide as a human head (well, approximately), it allowed me to proceed to building the contraption and finding a figure to ride it.

Period illustrations from literature never once tried properly showing all 25 geese in harness, adding to my modeling fun. Having now built this Engine, I can understand why it has never been properly depicted! I settled on using wooden bamboo skewers, which I stained to appear more tree-like and stiff floral wire and copper wire to make the geese fly. The bamboo skewers were manipulated into an A-frame configuration, with their joints bound with sewing thread, which in turn was CA-glued for rigidity. Lengths of copper wire were looped around the bamboo, and their endpoints were shaped into harness loops for the geese. These were, in turn, painted an off white to resemble rope, and the harness loops then were painted with a dark reddish brown to simulate the cork harnesses worn by the geese.

For the figure of Domingo, I used one of the figures from a WWE Wrestling Micro Aggression toy pack and picked out the character of CM Punk as the closest match to what I needed in a Spanish Gentleman Adventurer. Some of my vintage modeling references books provided clues on how to do the clothing, which meant using extremely labor intensive and chemically hazardous techniques. My modern update to their tips was to obtain disposable baby wipes, which I air dried, trimmed to size, and then applied to the figure with CA glue. That provided Domingo's shirt and cape, and his belt and arming harness were scrap costume leather strips. A Lord of The Rings playset contributed the blade, Isildure's unnamed sword before he got his hands on Narsil. I used a dental drill bit to drill through both of his gauntlets so that he could hold onto the reins to guide the geese. Holes for the floral wire (needed to attach to the framework holding the geese) were drilled into a painted wooden craft/popsicle stick to be Domingo's wooden board perch. This was then CA-glued to his posterior. Dental tape, not floss, became the steering reins, attached to the lead Gansa and its immediate “wingmen.”

An image of a full moon was trimmed from an old spaceflight book and added to a black space backdrop. Since Domingo and the geese are headed to the moon, it's difficult to get an image that catches this adequately, so I tried many different angles. This was a quirky, fun, and challenging model for me - and, I have never seen another physical depiction of this subject making this potentially very unique. Still, who wants to ride beneath 25 geese? Think about it…

Image: From behind

Image: Pilot's view

Image: Top view

Image: 'Cockpit'

Image: Inspiration

Image: Getting started

Image: Lots of geese

Image: As big as my head ....

Image: Figure, primed

Image: Fabric glued

Image: Flight suit

Image: Painted geese

Image: Test formation

Image: Bamboo

Image: 'Engine'

Image: Harnessing

Image: Ready

Image: Grid pattern

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This page was last updated 23 July 2009. © 2009 Starship Modeler