« The tragic lovers were living in my mind and wanted to get out of it »
The manuscript of La Nuit des temps (The Ice People), by René Barjavel
The manuscript of La Nuit des temps is made of 929 loose leaves of paper covered by René Barjavel’s lively, untie and even cheerful handwriting. But this novel, published in 1968 by Les Presses de la Cité, initially hold in the forty-two pages of a scenario written by himself for a film by André Cayatte - and which remained in draft form.
The coïncidence of a phone call and a press dispatch
René Barjavel tells in an interview that a fake press dispatch released in a newspaper during summer 1965 - a « summer mistake » - was partly the source of La Nuit des temps : « The newspaper announced in three lines that an American satellite flying over the South Pole had received and recorded radio signals1. » Passionate about this news, the writer looked out in vain for a confirmation and continued : « But, extraordinary coïncidence, I had just, in the previous days, made contact with André Cayatte, who wanted to make a science fiction movie and asked me to work with him in order to build a scenario in accordance with an idea he had. The story remained to be built. »
Reluctant at first, Barjavel was finally persuaded by the frame given by Cayatte : « We discover under the ice of the South Pole a man who had been plunged in a state of hibernation by a vanished civilization, of which he is the only survivor. He is revived and tells his story, which has consequences in the present. It remains to be seen what we can what can be done. »
Within a few days only, the two men sketch a synopsis of three or four pages, which allows them to obtain an agreement from a great parisien producer. However, in spite of a daily work of several days, the scenario tramples, until the moment when Barjavel realizes that their story is « limping » « because it has only one leg ! » : « It is not a man they had to find under this ice : it was a couple. » With this new Eve, « every tragedies of the world » become possible.
A month later, Cayatte and Barjavel send a fourty-two pages scenario to the producer, who call them back right the day after, very enthousiastic. During a week, the authors imagine they form « a sort of supreme artistic advisory comittee made of the greatest architects of the world, the greatest interior designers, decoraters, couturiers, painters, sculptors, etc. and ask them to create a world. » But the eighth day, the producer makes a second call to announce he has to give up the project, which is judged too expensive. Renouncing to his dream of « creating a world », René Barjavel puts the script away in a drawer, persuaded not to get back to it, ever.
"To pass this cinema on to the minds of the readers is the exciting, grueling work of the novelist"
Despite the writer’s reluctance to adapt a novel from an aborted movie – « there is as much difference between a novel and a movie’s script than between a Concorde and its model » –, eventually Barjavel does not resist to return to this « world vanished since nine hundred thousand years » that has inspired him so much nostalgia. A year later, he announces to Cayatte he is going for the novelisation. He works during six months.
His usual publisher, Denoël, rejects it ; Barjavel gives it to the director of Les Presses de la cité, Sven Nielsen, who accepts it without hesitation and even accelerates the production of the book in order to send the proof to the jury members of the 15th Booksellers Awards.
Winner of the Booksellers Awards in 1969, La Nuit des Temps is a success, published in a about ten countries, of which are the United States of America. Described as a « nostalgic of happiness » and as a « great visionary » in Le Magazine littéraire, or as a true « défricheur d’utopie » in Paris-Match, René Barjavel settles, according to Le Figaro, « in the great tradition of Jules Vernes ».
Published for the first time
Deluxe print run. 1000 numbered copies.
On y voit l’écriture de René Barjavel, ronde et assurée, au feutre bleu, sur des pages chargées de nombreuses corrections. (...)
Une réédition monumentale. La belle réédition des Saints Pères donne envie de se replonger dans cette aventure pas comme les autres. Récemment publiés, ces deux livres contiennent le véritable manuscrit de Barjavel avec ses 929 feuillets volants. (...)
En tant qu'ancien chef de fabrication chez Denoël, Barjavel aimait le travail bien fait de l'artisan, à l'instar de ce coffret. (...)