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Long before George MacDonald and William Morris, Charles de Fieux, Chevalier de Mouhy (1701-1784), a one-time friend of Voltaire, prolific author of popular and mildly scandalous potboilers (including the first sensational novel about the Man in the Iron Mask) and polemicist, penned one of the first and most extravagant "Extraordinary Voyages."
Lamekis was first published in eight volumes in 1735-38, then reprinted by Charles-Georges-Thomas Garnier -- who listed it, arguably, as one of the first Hollow Earth novels -- in his ground-breaking fantasy imprint of Imaginary Voyages in 1788.
This metafictional novel is an unparalleled work of kaleidoscopic imagination and multiple, exuberant narratives focusing on the life and times of Lamekis, the son of a High Priest of Ancient Egypt. It deals with themes of friendship, unrequited love, murderous jealousy, violent power struggles, the quest for immortality and the cosmogonic vision of the universe with competing gods and levels of reality. Its extravagant settings include a subterranean world inhabited by a race of intelligent worm men, and the celestial Island of the Sylphs, where beings can ascend to the Heavens, all depicted with their strange cultures and alien languages. The author himself is, at one point, dragged into the narrative where he is rebuked for his poetic license, given secret messages, witnesses his unfinished novel as a series of bas-reliefs, is shown the inside of his mind, is invited to be initiated into the mysteries of the Sylphs, has the final part of his novel written for him by an invisible force, and falls foul of the royal censor.
Michael Shreve is a writer and translator currently living in Paris. His credits include translations of Jacques Barberi, John-Antoine Nau and Marcel Schwob.
Edited by Paul Wessels.