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ornithopters over Pearl Harbor
July 16, 2010 9:24 PM   Subscribe

La Guerre Infernale was a serialized novel for children, written by Pierre Giffard and lavishly illustrated by Albert Robida. It told the tale of the second world war, with battles between Britain and Germany, and between the United States and Japan. Sadly, it's been out of print for over 100 years, because it was written in 1908.

Robida's illustrations from La Guerre Infernale are scattered all over the web (here are some more), and here is a pdf of La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle ("The War of the 20th Century"), a short book of "futuristic" war-machine illustrations and descriptions that Robida wrote in 1887, 20 years before he illustrated La Guerre Infernale. On a more placid note, Robida is also responsible for this vision of Parisians making their way home from the opera in the year 2000 (as seen from the year 1902).
posted by luvcraft (30 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
this vision of Parisians making their way home from the opera in the year 2000
Oh my god, Jabba-skiffs.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 9:31 PM on July 16, 2010


Jesus Christ even WWII is steampunk now.
posted by Avenger at 9:33 PM on July 16, 2010


This was a children's book?
posted by Avenger at 9:36 PM on July 16, 2010


@Avenger: Children were different in 1908...
posted by luvcraft at 9:39 PM on July 16, 2010


This is fantastic!
posted by tula at 9:53 PM on July 16, 2010


Children were different or adults were different?
posted by Avenger at 10:03 PM on July 16, 2010


My dad used to tell us of a story he read in a magazine sometime in the 1930s, about a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He could never remember the name of the magazine though, & could never find it in later searches.
posted by scalefree at 10:07 PM on July 16, 2010


La Guerre..., p.23: Giffard prophesies voguing.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:16 PM on July 16, 2010


My dad used to tell us of a story he read in a magazine sometime in the 1930s, about a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He could never remember the name of the magazine though, & could never find it in later searches.

Billy Mitchell, after a tour in Asia, wrote a book, in 1924, "Winged Defense", that the U.S. would eventually get into a war with Japan, and that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. Could your dad be thinking of article based on that?
posted by Snyder at 10:35 PM on July 16, 2010 [2 favorites]


This was a children's book?

I would've loved that as a kid. Mid-1960s by conventional reckoning.
posted by philip-random at 10:42 PM on July 16, 2010


where is my goddamn flying car?!
posted by Sharakov at 11:05 PM on July 16, 2010 [1 favorite]


They're battling crocodiles on an airship! Why is this not a movie yet?
posted by sourwookie at 11:48 PM on July 16, 2010 [3 favorites]


> This was a children's book?

I don't know what it says about me, but my first thought when seeing that was that his sword was far too big to efficiently cut open his victim from that angle.
posted by Burhanistan at 12:16 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


Awesome!

I've tried to translate some of La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle for fun, I'm not all that good at French mind you, most of this is cobbled together from my knowledge, Google Translate, and WordReference.com:

[I skipped the first page, for some reason. I'll do the whole thing tomorrow if I get time]


Molinas, entirely consumed by his preparations, had had no time to listen to the "telephonic newspapers", thus he was surprised to learn on the 25th of June, by the midday Telephone, that a "casus belli" (act of war) was born 2 days previously and that the relatively pink political outlook had suddenly passed into an intense black. What seemed serious was the conflict was of a purely financial order, a question of customs duties, which quickly touched all financial interests; business is business; now, in the houses of civilized peoples, commercial treaties (called for?) gunshots.

Whatever, thought Molinas, as long as it doesn't put off my vacation!

As he finished his cigarette, the telephonograph spoke:
"Order of mobilization,

Monsieur Molinas Fabius is versed as a gunner of the 2nd class in the 18th Territorial Aeronauts, 6th squadron. He will present himself today at 5 o'clock at the Airship Sparrowhawk, 3,200 meters above Pontoise [a suburb of Paris]

---

(By the Devil's Horns!) cried Molinas, jumping to his feet, "That's in an hour! I don't have time! I will not be able to go to the beach this year!"

Getting ready for his sudden departure, Molinas telephoned quickly many goodbyes and drew up various papers then, opening his drawers, he found all his equipment in order. Forty-five minutes later, Molinas, greaves tight, jacket strapped, coat slung over his shoulder, his automatic revolver and saber at his side, the tank of oxygen hung from his neck, boarded the tube for Paris with many companions.

A special train darted them over(?) Paris. At 4.10 they debarked, a little numb, at the central tube terminal. The airships waited for the troops, and at 5:00 the squad of aeronauts destined for the Sparrowhawk stepped onto the balloon platform.

---

The commandant of the Sparrowhawk met the men and announced in vibrant, patriotic words that war [had to be declared/would be declared?] on the stroke of midnight. The team settled in quickly. From time to time the commandant consulted his watch. Suddenly, on a signal from below, the lieutenant pressed a button, the electric engine started into action and the Sparrowhawk thrust forward, carrying my friend Molinas to glory.
At daybreak, Molinas woke up in his hammock to a nauseating smell. He went up on the deck of the Sparrowhawk, which was traveling through a thick fog. The squadron crossed a division of "brouillardiers" (foggers?) flying to cover the frontier with an opaque fog designed to conceal the operations.

---
II. The Rolling Blockhouse

Fabius, leaning on the railing of the Sparrowhawk, daydreamed; still dizzy with the rapidity of events, he found himself vaguely en route to the beach.
"Have I carried away my bathing suits? By the devils horns! Only custom made trunks have any grace..."

---

A gunshot fired almost in his ear brought him brutally back to reality. Fabias opened his eyes. At 600 meters appeared a enemy body of rolling blockhouses, their march halted by the fog. The whistle of the engineer called all the men of the Sparrowhawk to their posts. The squadron grew rapidly, the forms of ballons passed, moving to take the enemy's flank and rear which were already put at risk of the balloons' high speed electric thrusters. The Sparrowhawk and five other airships engaged in head-to-head combat at short distance.

Fabius, second left gunner, passed the cartridges to the loader(?) without seeing any of the combat; all at once "une boite a mitraille" [a sort of grapeshot] exploded through the door, knocking the captain of the gun and all the gunners except Fabius. He, without hesitating, jumping on the loaded gun, aimed long with great self-control and fired. A huge explosion followed his gunshot (?)

Little by little, the fog dissipated the the battle appeared in all its horror. A dozen of the ---
blockhouses were already destroyed, the others defended limply, but two airships lay on the earth in smoking debris.
posted by BungaDunga at 1:30 AM on July 17, 2010 [5 favorites]


Makes me want to dust off my high school french. Love the image on page 33 (page 35 of the pdf) with the officer astride his steed, holding the telephone.

Too bad there aren't more of these scanned!
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 1:42 AM on July 17, 2010


They're battling crocodiles on an airship! Why is this not a movie yet?

Makes me think of this.

Poking around, I'm not sure why M. Angenot decided this was for children, much less if that's totally accurate. This seems to me to be a pretty clear-cut (if fantastically illustrated) example of late invasion lit, a genre that spans pretty much from the Franco-Prussian War to that totally bizarre, maybe sarcastic Prayers for the Assassin. Indeed, "La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle" is included in the (otherwise adult) Tales of the Next Great War, 1871-1914, so I'm not sure how much of a line we should draw between early-20th-century popular literature and early-20th-century kids' books. Of course, I don't have a copy of "Infernale" I could read, but I'm not sure that I'd call Jack London's "The Unparalleled Invasion" juvenile literature, even if that's a rap he's gotten as an author since then.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 1:53 AM on July 17, 2010 [2 favorites]


What seemed serious was the conflict was of a purely financial order, a question of customs duties

OMG he predicted "The Phantom Menace"
posted by the quidnunc kid at 3:26 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, I'm going to link to these the next time someone complains to me about the violence in pop culture. Great post, luvcraft, thanks.
posted by mediareport at 4:55 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love the drawings, especially the opera one.

Children are a lot more ok with bloodthirstiness than we give them credit for, too.
posted by Forktine at 6:07 AM on July 17, 2010


French is usually wordy, but the title of one volume is very succinct and laconic: Jap contre Sam.
posted by rainy at 6:12 AM on July 17, 2010


Billy Mitchell, after a tour in Asia, wrote a book, in 1924, "Winged Defense", that the U.S. would eventually get into a war with Japan, and that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. Could your dad be thinking of article based on that?

Could be, but we'll never know for sure. He's been gone for two years now. What I remember was it was a serialization in the 1930s & the one month my dad read, Japan sneak attacked Pearl. For whatever reason he never got to read any of the following chapters. Thanks for your pointer, I'll be sure to look up the book when I get the chance.
posted by scalefree at 6:34 AM on July 17, 2010


Jesus Christ even WWII is steampunk now.


More accurate to say it has become steampunk then. Which raises the harrowing question of time-traveling hipsters retroactively creating revival trends in the past.
posted by The Whelk at 7:53 AM on July 17, 2010


Cool, thanks! I had stumbled upon this and this by Robida earlier this year while browsing the Library of Congress website, and thought they were cool, and even a bit Suessical.
posted by fings at 7:55 AM on July 17, 2010


This was a children's book?

Kids love this kind of stuff. Overly concerned parents are the ones who don't.
posted by Aquaman at 8:00 AM on July 17, 2010


My dad used to tell us of a story he read in a magazine sometime in the 1930s, about a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. He could never remember the name of the magazine though, & could never find it in later searches.

Morgan Robertson wrote a book called "Beyond the Spectrum" (1914) in which he wrote about the Japanese Navy sneak-attacking Pearl Harbour in December followed by a war ended by the USA dropping "sun bombs" from aircraft which were powerful enough to destroy a city.

Morgan Robertson's "Futility" (1898) was about the sinking of the 70,000 ton, 800 ft long "Titan" due to an impact with an iceberg during an Atlantic crossing on it's maiden voyage. Compare that to the 66,000 ton, 882 ft long "Titanic".

Templars* did him over in 1914 aged 53 and he was found dead in a hotel room JUST LIKE TESLA.

*jes' kidding!
posted by longbaugh at 8:06 AM on July 17, 2010 [3 favorites]


Morgan Robertson wrote a book called "Beyond the Spectrum" (1914) in which he wrote about the Japanese Navy sneak-attacking Pearl Harbour in December followed by a war ended by the USA dropping "sun bombs" from aircraft which were powerful enough to destroy a city.

Wow. That sounds even more like what my dad used to describe. Now to find out if any of these books ever got serialized; that would clinch it. Thanks!
posted by scalefree at 8:23 AM on July 17, 2010


so wait! these are now public domain, right?
posted by liza at 8:31 AM on July 17, 2010


You can read La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle here in English
posted by jtron at 9:21 AM on July 17, 2010


Morgan Robertson wrote a book called "Beyond the Spectrum" (1914) in which he wrote about the Japanese Navy sneak-attacking Pearl Harbour in December followed by a war ended by the USA dropping "sun bombs" from aircraft which were powerful enough to destroy a city.

You must be thinking of a different second half of the story – you can read "Beyond the Spectrum" here, and the radiation weapon in it is just a real big antiseptic-style light that shoots ultraviolet rays so the crews of battleships are blinded and sunburnt and can't shoot back (seriously). The Japanese surprise attack thing shouldn't be too shocking or seen as very predictive, since it had already happened in 1905 when the Imperial Fleet attacked Port Arthur three hours before a declaration of war against Russia was delivered.

The bit about sun bombs does remind me, however, of the 1913 short story "Liquid Sunshine" by Alexander Kuprin ("the Russian Kipling") which, unfortunately, does not seem to be as readily available online as a lot of the rest of Kuprin's stuff that's been put on Gutenberg.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:04 AM on July 17, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can read La Guerre au Vingtième Siècle here in English

I can only see the first page, I think they want payment.

However, it's on Google Books here.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:41 AM on July 17, 2010


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