The Garden Behind the Moon

Title: The Garden Behind the Moon
Author: Howard Pyle
Rating: 3 stars

Publisher: Dover Publications
Published: 1895
Pages: 118
Possible Censorship Issues: Mild thematic material

“Few there are who pause to see the joy that lies behind when black sorrow stands between” (pg 75).

Young David spends his days caring for his infant sister while listening to the village cobbler’s tales of a secret path to the moon, the pleasures that await there, and the mysterious Moon-Angel who guides travelers on their way. One night, David takes the simple cobbler’s advice and makes his way across the moonlight path on the ocean’s water and finds himself a guest of the Man-in-the-Moon. David’s adventures include discovering a magical garden, rescuing a lost princess, battling an iron giant, and finding a lost treasure that holds the secret of joy for mankind.

I did not initially realize that this book was written following the death of Howard Pyle’s son (though the dedication page should have been a clue). The book takes a significant step away from Pyle’s more notable adventures such as The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, Men of Iron, and King Arthur and His Knights and muses over the fate of children who have died. This haunting fairy tale beautifully blends various biblical stories and cultural archetypes together to create a new story that gives hope of a life beyond death. Added to this story are Pyle’s stunning illustrations throughout the book that enhances its fairy tale ambiance and reminds the reader very much of Tolkien’s Roverandom.

However, fairy tale though this may be, it is anything but a light, diversionary read. It very much features the dark, overarching theme of death and the metaphorical afterlife of souls beyond the grave. There are a few shocking elements within the story that very young children might find disturbing (such as a brief scene of infanticide) as well as a discovery that the Moon-Angel is in fact the Angel of Death.

My personal tastes would generally prevent me from reading such a morose story as Garden Behind the Moon, but largely I am glad that I stumbled across this book. It is depressing and slightly bizarre, but there are many pockets of wisdom and beauty found within the story that caught me by surprise.  And while I can’t say that I enjoyed such a strange fairy tale, I can at least appreciate the message of hope that it brings.

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