anatole franceTHROUGH THE HORN OR THE IVORY GATE (1905) – Written by Anatole France. In this story a Frenchman, the tale’s narrator, finds himself in the year 2270 A.D. The large buildings that used to fill Paris have been replaced by small cottages inhabited by people whose tastes run to fine art and statuary.

There is no more pollution and no more honking of automobile horns. No vehicles or horse-drawn carriages use the curving streets. Trains apparently no longer run through Paris as well. Instead, people travel via all manner of aircraft in the skies above.

The vessels move through motors and lighter than air technology. The shapes of the aircraft are based on birds and fish, and our narrator describes the sight of that traffic by saying the sky now “seemed to be a combination of heaven and ocean.”

The course of the River Seine has been altered by geo-engineering. Clothing for men and women is now unisex, making it difficult for the narrator to tell them apart.

Now wary, our protagonist slips into a side street and comes across a huge structure like a circus tent decorated with oriflammes and posters celebrating Year 220 of the European Federation of Nations, headquartered in Brussels. The language of the future is apparently a polyglot mix from all the European countries and the narrator doesn’t understand some of the words on the posters.

From what he can make out from public displays, by the year 1999 the old world order collapsed into violence. Fifty years of anarchy followed, ending with the founding of the European Federation of Nations, which ushered in an era of peace and prosperity.

Walking past a long street of pink houses, our central character can see large steel buildings with flaming chimneys atop them. Reaching the suburbs, the narrator sees that cars and trains DO still exist but are kept out of the cities proper. They also race by at speeds far beyond what the time traveler was used to.

He comes to a palatial restaurant but the man at the door prevents him from entering upon learning that our hero has no vouchers. The doorman directs the narrator to the offices which assign journeyman positions to people who need to earn credits in order to eat.

Our nameless hero is hired to work at a bakery which has a job vacancy. The “bakery” is more like a factory with machines automatically baking bread and other items and moving them along like in an assembly line from the narrator’s home era.

The vast bakery is run by a mere half-dozen people including our main character, who is taught how to manipulate the machinery like his fellow employees do. 

Whale-shaped lighter-than-air ships – guided by “Z-Waves” – drop off and carry away cargoes. After working from 11AM to 5PM, our hero is paid for his day’s work with vouchers for food and lodging.

The man who hired him, Michel, notes how confused and awkward the narrator is. Our hero – who at last identifies himself as Hippolyte Dufresne – carefully provides a vague explanation that he has come from far away and has no vocational training.   

Michel expresses bewilderment over meeting someone who uses two names like people did long ago, and concludes that Hippolyte must be a former European who moved to the chaotic and dangerous United States of Africa but has now come back to enjoy the higher standard of living.

Befriending Dufresne, Michel invites him into his personal aeroplane and flies the two of them to his home. Along the way, he explains to our hero some of the changes in the European Federation of Nations since he presumably left for the United States of Africa.

Capitalism is a thing of the past and everyone addresses each other as “comrade.” Countless canals now run all through France and the rest of Europe to accommodate agriculture. Many of the tall buildings of the past have fallen into ruin and are left in that condition as a reminder of the old world and its greedy, destructive ways.

Libraries and museums are everywhere. The only cities that still have large populations are those centered around mining and industry.

Typical of the absurd fantasy nature of such “futuristic” societies, courts of law no longer exist because most crime has disappeared due to technology and how “happy” everyone supposedly is. Citizens rotate in positions as police officers, using wireless phones and electronic defensive weaponry.

At last, Michel lands his aircraft and leads Hippolyte into a restaurant. He introduces our narrator to his friends Morin, Perceval and Cheron, a female. They show him how to use his credits to obtain food. Hippolyte learns that alcohol is banned in the future but non-alcoholic wine can be enjoyed with all meals.

The foods, in small cube form, have all been chemically streamlined to accommodate digestion while providing maximum nutritional content. Cheron mentions that scientists are working on ways of removing the large intestines in human beings to make digestion even more efficient.

The mealtime conversation at one point covers the fact that Japan was crucial to introducing the new world order by being a crucial ally to “the proletariat” as the colonial age went through its final violent convulsions long ago. Tsarist Russia was the last nation to abandon its old ways.

Hippolyte soon learns that marriage and owning land are things of the past. Free love is practiced by both men and women. Interestingly, a multitude of religions still exist.

Through the Horn or the Ivory Gate is enjoyable enough but lacks any real story structure, simply petering out as Hippolyte seeks to romance Cheron. Many of the ideas are interesting but the pomposity of the future Europeans gets annoying.

And for all their self-proclaimed “enlightenment” they dismiss Africans and “half-breeds” as semi-barbaric and trapped in an inferior state of scientific development.

Luckily, this is a short work and can be finished before it has time to wear out its welcome … almost. 


FOR WASHINGTON IRVING’S 1809 depiction of an invasion from the moon click here:   


Filed under Ancient Science Fiction


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