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The Garden Behind the Moon: A Real Story of the Moon-Angel

Howard Pyle

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    I am a huge fan of Howard Pyle, of both his art and literature. I have always said that he was one of the world's greatest story-tellers, especially for children, since he and his wife, Anne Poole, had seven. In 1889, the couple sailed to Jamaica, leaving the kids with relatives. During this time, his son Sellers died. Wikipedia gives little information about that, and not that much about him either, considering what an important American artist he was. It is thought that this work was an outpouring as a result of this tragedy, although the story is not written to be tragic. It was perhaps a means for Pyle to come to terms with his loss, dedicated: "To the little Boy in the Moon Garden This Book is dedicated by His Father."
    The Good Readers at Goodreads gave this book mixed reviews—all over the place, and I personally give it mixed reviews. Even people that gave it high ratings, admitted it was "strange." But when one is attempting to reconcile oneself to such terrible grief, one cannot expect that the mind will be working logically. And so, yes, this is a fantasy/fairy tale-type story, with a hero—a young boy named David, who is a "moon-calf," making him rather odd and simple minded, and not accepted by the other children. He is given a rare opportunity to visit the Garden Behind the Moon, which is normally reserved for children who have died, where he proves to be brave and strong and great and accomplishes a difficult task.
    However, the story is very disjointed, rather unusual for Pyle. I had trouble following it, and that comment was also made by some of the readers above. On the other hand, that might make it all the more interesting to very young children, whose minds would not follow a sense of logic, nor question the fact that a man ages ten years in a day, and returns home eventually, never having been missed. The older a reader is, the more incongruent it would seem, and trying to make sense out of things that Pyle blatantly says don't make sense but are still "true," creates obstacles in the flow of reading. As for adults, one can adopt that attitude—that it is a stupid and not worth the effort. (One reader said, "This is the only book I've ever read that was so horrible I had to quit reading it.") But others perceived it in a totally different light, that of a broken-hearted father whose heart tells him his beloved son is now safe in a beautiful garden, and has grown up to be a brave and honorable hero. Why would it matter if the telling of the story makes sense? I can see the story two ways—through the eyes of a little child, and through the eyes of an adult who perceives the deeper symbolism.
    Jefferson, one of the readers who gave this book five stars, presents a lengthy and thoughtful review. Here is the first paragraph.

A Beautiful, Sweet, and Strange Fairy Tale
Howard Pyle's The Garden Behind the Moon: A Real Story of the Moon-Angel (1895) is an allegorical fairy tale about death, life, love, imagination, and growing up. The narrator tells the "true" story of a boy called David who is mocked and ostracized by the other children in his village for being a "moon-calf" simpleton. With help from the village idiot, the cobbler Hans Krout, David walks the moon-path over the sea, "stretching from the moon to the earth, and from the earth to the moon, as bright as silver and gold, and as straight and smooth as a turnpike road." Then he encounters the House-in-the-moon (wherein much polishing of stars goes on), the Man-in-the-moon (a wise, pipe-smoking, silvery-wrinkle faced old man), the Moon-Angel (a sublime and scary being who likes to make old things new), and the Garden Behind the Moon (wherein happy—dead—children play free from care).

    This Goodreads page provides many especially good comments, which helped me to broaden my views on the novel, and I recommend consulting it if you plan to read this story to little ones, especially if you are teaching them about death. Is this book about death? Or is it about the fine line between death and life, which we may soon find can be crossed? Certainly there is a fine line between the physical and non-physical worlds. And what about between good and evil? Is it just how we perceive it? Or misperceive it? I think we are discovering massive misperceptions with all the lies and fraud currently being fed to us and now being brought to the light. Discovering the truth will shift our beliefs about reality. What about the Moon Angel? Was he good or bad? Or neutral? One reader referred to him as Lucifer. He certainly was an angel of death. But our hero, David, didn't die? Did he? And it also shows us that we cannot often see the bigger picture, because what seems tragic often turns out to be necessary, though painful, because it causes us to awaken to something greater. That absolutely is happening now here in 2021, as the horrors of this plandemic are flushing out the truth about people in high places that are part of an evil agenda. So, yes, the story is disjointed, but life on this planet certainly is now, too. If we read this story with an open mind, we can gain insight into many mysteries, and find numerous opportunities to teach the little ones.
    A couple other points, which also add to the strangeness: there is a mix of biblical stories thrown in here, such as David and Goliath, and the Fall from Paradise, further mixed with classic myths and fairy tales, such as Pandora's box, which is of course another way of perceiving the Adam and Eve allegory. And finally, this Internet Archive edition is a reprint of the original, which includes Pyle's illustrations. Dover Publications has it in book form, but again, please never buy their eBooks!! They are a rip-off. This one is free at the link above. DO NOT download the .epub or .mobi version. They are unreadable. Download the PDF version, which can be read easily on a Kindle app.. It is clean and mostly free from errors.
    I will provide a brief synopsis of the story, and it is not particularly long either. The story begins with a brief explanation of a king and queen who are childless. But one day the Moon-Angel appears to the queen and asks her why she is so sad. It is because she has no child, so he promises her she will have one. She does, but then she dies. "That same day the Queen died—for the Moon-Angel never brings something into the house but he takes something away with him again." And the beautiful little princess grows up to be rather strange. We leave them, and most of the rest of the story is about David, who is also strange, and Hans Krout, the cobbler and a widower, yet another strange character. He and David are friends, and he tells him about learning to walk the moon-path. It appears on the sea on certain nights, and David wants to walk it. But he almost drowns, and Hans becomes very frightened. But eventually he does walk the path, on a particular night where he is guided by the Master Cobbler, who is really the Moon-Angel. He reaches the Man-in-the-moon, who invites him in. When David worries about his baby sister, of whom he is in charge, he is assured a part of him remains on earth.
    In the moon-house there are many windows from which one may gaze and view all kinds of activities. In one, David observes a boat carrying slaves in Africa who were all bound with ropes. A woman is dead, but she has a live baby. She is thrown overboard, and so is the baby. But then David is able to see the scene underwater. The Moon-Angel rescues both souls and takes them to safety in a beautiful garden where children are playing. Later David is assigned a job to polish a big basket of stars on the third floor. When he is finished, he must leave because you are only allowed on the third floor if you are polishing stars. He later meets the Moon Angel, who leads him down the back stairs. They just appeared by magic to David, but the front stairs disappeared at the same time. There he is able to enter the moon-garden, where he meets many children from ages three to twelve—the only ages that are allowed here. There is a beautiful and loving teacher who tells them stories and takes care of them. He meets a little girl named Phyllis and they become close friends. He says he will marry her one day.
     OK, so here's where some discrepancies come in, because the moon-garden in only for dead children, and David is alive and so is Phyllis, but in a different form. Or are they really dead? Or both?? Or does it even matter?
    Anyways, after a few days David must return to the moon-house. He goes through the same routine for five months, polishing stars and always returning to the garden. But one day the teacher tells him he may no longer return because he will be too old. However, he wants to marry Phyllis some day. He must perform a daring task, which begins with getting behind the Moon-Angel. He is afraid of the Moon-Angel, but must complete his task, which is to recover the Wonder-Box which contains the Know-All Book from the Iron Man ( which reminds one of Jack in the Beanstalk), which he had stolen. But first he must endure a freezing blizzard then fire, and find the old woman with the red petticoat who washes peoples' dirty souls until they are clean, then hangs them out to dry. She tells him how to summon the Black Winged Horse, (and gives him a special bridle of pure gold), who will take him to the Iron Man's castle.
    And there I will end, so you will have to read the book to find out what happens to David and if he really marries Phyllis. I won't make a recommendation on this one, so you can decide if this sounds interesting to you. If you have very young children or grandchildren, I would definitely recommend it. I am glad I read it, and of course it is free!

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