And Then I Read: THE GARDEN BEHIND THE MOON by Howard Pyle

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About a month ago I visited the Delaware Art Museum’s collection of Howard Pyle art, including about ten paintings in black and white and gray for this book. It’s one I’d never read, so I bought an inexpensive Dover paperback edition there.

Young David is a boy who seems out of touch with the world around him, always thinking and daydreaming. His schoolmates make fun of him, calling him a moon-calf. David’s friend is the village shoemaker, Hans Krout, who shares many of the same traits. Hans tells David stories about how he met the Moon-Angel, who lives in the moon, and how it’s possible to reach the moon by running along the path of moonlight it makes when it rises over the ocean. David tries this, but gets frightened and falls into the sea. Hans rescues him, and for a while, David’s parents keep him away from Hans, but eventually David tries again, and succeeds in walking the moon-path. When he reaches the moon, he’s taken inside by the Man in the Moon, who has work for David, polishing stars. When David has done that work well for many days, he’s allowed to visit the Garden Behind the Moon, where he meets other children like himself, including a girl named Phyllis who he fancies.

As David reaches his twelfth birthday, he learns he can never again visit the magical garden, but the Moon-Angel has a special task for him, one that will take much courage and resourcefulness. David must travel to the home of a wicked giant and steal back some things that will bring happiness to everyone on Earth. David accepts the challenge.

It’s been a long time since I read anything by Howard Pyle, but I remember his books as being very boy-oriented: knights of King Arthur, pirates, heroics and heroes. This book is much softer and at times melancholy. It was written in the years after Pyle’s son died unexpectedly, and that may have something to do with it. Unfortunately, I don’t think Pyle was well-suited for this kind of tale. I see echoes of George MacDonald’s “At the Back of the North Wind,” and “The Princess and the Goblin,” ┬ábut they’re much better written. Pyle comes across as writing down to children rather than writing to them. And as the book goes on, the author seems to be floundering for a plot, and he throws in elements from myth and legend, such as the one about Pegasus the winged horse and Bellerophon his human master. The winged horse on the cover above, and his story, are very similar. There are similarities to Jack and the Beanstalk, and other fairy tales as well.

The original art we saw for the book was wonderful, but it’s not well represented here. That may have been equally true when the book was printed originally in 1895, I don’t know. Sadly, I can’t recommend the story. I found myself sometimes looking at the remaining pages to see how much longer until it was over, and it’s not a long book. I’d say, stick to Pyle’s other books and skip this one.

 

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