Steinbeckathon 2012: The Moon is Down

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Steinbeckathon 2012: The Moon is Down

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mar 31, 2012, 7:48 pm

"Lanser had been in Belgium and France twenty years before and he tried not to think what he knew—that war is treachery and hatred, the muddling of incompetent generals, the torture and killing and sickness and tiredness, until at last it is over and nothing has changed except for new weariness and new hatreds." - John Steinbeck, The Moon is Down

This is the discussion thread for John Steinbeck's The Moon is Down
Linda / lindapanzo will be hosting this thread.
Spoilers are welcome, but please indicate them in your message out of
respect for those who are reading at a different pace. Enjoy!

Steinbeckathon main thread:

Redigerat: apr 3, 2012, 2:33 pm

Welcome to all who are ready to tackle our fourth book for this year's Steinbeck-a-thon, The Moon Is Down. Thanks to Ilana for once again creating this thread and including the cover art and Steinbeck's comments.

The Moon Is Down was published in 1942 and secretly published in Nazi-occupied areas, to be used as propaganda.

If you participate in the TIOLI challenges, many readers are using this book for the April TIOLI Challenge #1.

I read this book back in about the mid-1970s but I don't remember much about it (I was still in high school then). It's quite short. In fact, Amazon shows it at 144 pages.

Anyway, I hope that you all enjoy this month's choice and are looking forward to where Steinbeck takes you next.

Please feel free to let us know you're joining in and comment as you can. However, please be sure to be careful with spoilers.

Personally, I hope to start my re-read of this book during the upcoming week.

mar 31, 2012, 7:59 pm

Linda - thanks for hosting!

mar 31, 2012, 8:06 pm

#2 You're welcome. I've never hosted a group read before. However, I'll try to stop in regularly and chime in with questions and/or comments.

In the last little bit, I've been looking up info on it. It was distributed by resistance fighters during WW2, in Europe. It was banned in Italy, and the penalty for reading it was death.

mar 31, 2012, 8:22 pm

Hi Linda, just checking in. I have the audio of The Moon is Down and will be taking it with me when I go away next week. Looking forward to it.

Redigerat: mar 31, 2012, 8:23 pm

Hi Linda, I was going to begin this book tonight but I've got to watch the OSU game in 30 minutes so the book will need to wait till tomorrow.
Thanks for hosting, you'll do just fine.

ETA: and thanks to Ilana for keeping the threads coming.

mar 31, 2012, 10:15 pm

Just checking in. I won't read this one until a bit later this month, but it looks like both a fast and an interesting read by our new hero!

apr 1, 2012, 4:13 am

Yay! I have my copy, looking forward to the read! I've got a couple of books to read first (one is a chunkster) so I'll be checking in later.

Thanks for setting up the thread, Ilana, and thanks for hosting, Linda!

Redigerat: apr 1, 2012, 5:11 am

I'll try to read it early this week before my parents arrive for the Easter holidays and reading will come to a halt. I'm glad it's so short.

Edit: read the first chapter this morning and again this feels all different from the previous books. It reminds me of a Brecht or Duerrenmatt play in prose.

apr 1, 2012, 1:21 pm

I'll be starting it soon. I found the info on the back of the book about it being banned interesting, it's piqued my interest about the novel.

apr 1, 2012, 4:32 pm

This really is a short novel!

Spoilers, but not plot spoilers:
Not my favorite Steinbeck, I prefer the longer and also later novels we've read so far. The whole book felt like a didactic play in prose and strongly reminded me of something I had to read in high school. Either Duerrenmatt or Brecht or Frisch. As was doubtlessly intended I felt uncomfortable throughout my read. Actually I think that contrary to the other novels, this one here doesn't leave much room for interpretation.

Small spoiler for chapters 1 and 2:
I liked how he identified some very typical German characteristics and distributed them among the officials. Timeliness, obedience, the romantic soul, exactness, and even the admiration for the English and the obsession with Christmas.

apr 2, 2012, 10:48 pm

I actually really liked this book - but it is not vintage Steinbeck. This is intentional, I think, because the book was written as propaganda. By necessity it's message is clear and to the point - if the purpose of the book is to make a statement, then you want everyone who reads it to understand that statement. A nice companion piece to this book would be Steinbeck's Once There was a War which is non-fiction. Steinbeck served as a war correspondent during WWII for The New York Herald Tribune, and years later he compiled a collection of his dispatches and published them in book form. These stories are really insightful because they are about the little things that happened behind the battle fronts - the waiting, the traveling, the superstitions. They are little vignettes about the the moments that didn't make the front pages. Well worth the time it takes to read.

apr 3, 2012, 12:27 am

Mamie, thanks for the comments. I was wondering about Once There Was a War as a companion read, and I think I might do that, if timing works out.

I haven't started The Moon is Down yet, but I am aware of it as propaganda, which doesn't bode well as a thoughtful and subtle read. A perfectly good read, yes, but there's a point that will be made and it will be made loud and clear. Not quite what we have experienced in the other Steinbeckathon works we've read so far.

apr 3, 2012, 12:32 am

#13 It's interesting to hear you say that as I've read only one of the group's earlier books.

When there's a world war on, I wonder what the artists and authors do. Do they contribute to the war effort in their own way?

apr 3, 2012, 2:28 pm

I haven't been participating in the Steinbeckathon, but I think I'll join everybody with this one. Thanks for hosting, Linda!

apr 3, 2012, 8:19 pm

Not quite what we have experienced in the other Steinbeckathon works we've read so far

Of course I have no idea whether I'll like this book or not based on the comments I've seen here yet, as haven't started reading it yet, but I AM glad that we've managed to fit in enough variety—not just in terms of different stories, but also different approaches—to help us get a good general overview of Steinbeck's output. I would have liked to fit in more of his non-fiction work as well, but there are only so many books we could fit into 12 months!

When there's a world war on, I wonder what the artists and authors do. Do they contribute to the war effort in their own way?

That's a good question Linda. I guess that depends entirely on the artist or author. Some obviously do feel a moral obligation to contribute, while others feel an equal obligation to comment "objectively" or criticize, while others simply can't help but be influenced in indefinable ways, and still others—and here I can't help thinking about Jane Austen as an example—choose to ignore the issues completely and tell the stories of those who just keep on in the business of daily life outside the front lines.

apr 4, 2012, 12:11 pm

I finished it last night but quite late so I know I missed a lot. This is only my second Steinbeck so I really don't have anything to compare it to but others have said that it is not his usual stuff. I will re-read and post later.

apr 7, 2012, 8:43 pm

I read The Moon is Down this past week and I really enjoyed it. I think it helped that I knew Steinbeck's purpose in writing it (I suppose one could just figure that out -- he was hardly subtle) so I was not disappointed by the lack of his usual nuance. He still managed to fit in a few lovely prose phrases and, to me, the voice is still his. Mamie, your comments are very interesting and make me want to check out Once There Was a War.

apr 10, 2012, 7:37 pm

I finally began The Moon is Down this morning and am enjoying it quite a bit.
Spoiler Alert
What strikes me so far is the fortitude of Mayor Orden. So far he's keeping a level head and I admire him for understanding that the people are confused and he was elected not to be.
Secondly, while his wife is concerned about the little things (So Steinbeckish) the Mayor tends to see the big picture. Will be interesting to see if he stays steadfast.

apr 10, 2012, 11:11 pm

I enjoyed it quite a bit, although I definitely agree it's not very Steinbeck. The fable feel of it really worked with the nature of the story though, for me.

apr 12, 2012, 12:43 pm

Glad to see the comments are still coming in. I haven't gotten to it yet. I know, I know, as the hostess, I better get to it.

If this was the first Steinbeck book you ever read, would you read more from him?

apr 12, 2012, 1:35 pm

21> Yes, I probably would. But with less urgency than having read Cannery Row as my first (since high school) Steinbeck read.

Redigerat: apr 13, 2012, 1:37 pm

I've just finished The Moon is Down and I liked it. I read it in the late '70s, not knowing anything about it and enjoyed it then as well. I'm wondering, if he had written it as a full novel, it just might have become one of his best. As spare as it is, it still has the power to touch and move you. Also wondering if part of the success of the book was its tone, after hearing on the radio for so long the hateful ranting of Hitler and Goebbels.

I read the Introduction to the book this time, before reading the book, which made for a more rounded experience. Having written it for a specific purpose, I think he succeeded admirably. I fully agree with >18 EBT1002: (EBT1002).

>21 lindapanzo: - If this had been my first Steinbeck, I would read more. I'm looking forward to the rest of the Steinbeckathon, to re-read some old friends and discover new ones. So far, for me, Steinbeck is a writer who can almost do no wrong.

apr 15, 2012, 7:59 pm

OK. Read it. Loved it. Reviewed it.
I did not have an introduction to read - nor did I come to this thread before I was finished. Since it was so short, I just wanted to go it alone. (Alone? In a GR? Well, yeah.)

So, I did not actually know this was written expressly for propaganda! And it did not occur to me while I was reading it that it was. Guess I'm pretty dense.
But in reading this, I saw two sides of the war; the conquerers and the conquered... which is which? I read this more from philosophical and compassionate perspectives, I guess. But that made it quite interesting.

Also - Mamie made a good point. This was about "...the little things that happened behind the battle fronts ... little vignettes about the the moments that didn't make the front pages...." And I will add - the courage was no less amazing.

Very glad to have read it. If it was my first Steinbeck, yes I would read another - and perhaps be very pleasantly surprised with his other masterpieces :)

apr 15, 2012, 9:52 pm

>24 -Cee-: You aren't dense. I didn't know it either the first time I read it and only found out from reading the threads here and the Introduction before I read it this time.

apr 17, 2012, 1:19 am

I just started listening to The Moon Is Down this evening. I find audio a bit of a challenge but the reader has a good voice and is putting a lot of effort into keeping each character distinct.

Of course, I have been in love with John Steinbeck ever since I read The Grapes of Wrath many, many years ago. I think he is one of America's most gifted writers, and although The Moon Is Down is quite different from his usual works, I am sure I am going to enjoy it.

apr 17, 2012, 2:14 am

I finished TMiD this afternoon and I have to agree with you Judy. I'm discovering that Steinbeck is indeed a national treasure.

apr 18, 2012, 2:42 pm

I finished The Moon Is Down and I just loved it. Steinbeck has a way of getting right inside me and pulling on my heartstrings. I admit my eyes welled up, but I am also full of admiration at this powerful piece. For me, this was a 5 star story, and it worked beautifully as an audio.

apr 19, 2012, 8:14 am

Just joining in. Got The short Novels of John Steinbeck from the library and will start The Moon Is Down today. Haven't read Steinbeck since High School!

apr 19, 2012, 9:13 am

Welcome ccookie!! Please be sure to let us know what you think of it.

Redigerat: apr 22, 2012, 2:17 pm

17 pages in! Love this little book. Writing is so good, he doesn't waste words.

apr 22, 2012, 3:26 pm

#31 Thanks for the article and quiz. I'll have to go check those out.

#32 Glad you're enjoying it. I might be finishing my other book today and then will move onto The Moon Is Down.

apr 22, 2012, 3:40 pm

#31 woo hoo, 18/20! Why couldn't I get a score like that when I was in school.

Thanks for the quiz and info avidmom.

apr 23, 2012, 10:28 am

I'm happy to report that, at long last, this month's host(ess) is finally starting this month's book. I will report back later.

Redigerat: apr 23, 2012, 11:50 am

I got through reading all of the introductory essay in my version, which is about 20 percent of the total. A few questions spring to mind.

At the time, James Thurber and Clifton Fadiman criticized The Moon Is Down, saying that it was too fluffy to be effective propaganda. History later proved Thurber/Fadiman wrong.

Q 1: Would a more heavy-handed approach have been more effective?

Originally, Steinbeck set the book in a fictional American town but a wartime government agency wouldn't approve of that.

Q 2: Would setting The Moon Is Down in a fictional American town, instead of in a town in a country that sounds like Norway, have made a difference in the novel's effectiveness as propaganda?

apr 23, 2012, 5:49 pm

31: avidmom: Thanks for the posts. I took the quiz, and evidently I was paying enough attention to the reading!

I just finished The Moon is Down this morning. I really enjoyed this month's Steinbeck; he's becoming one of my favorite authors. I'm anxious to start The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (that is next month's read, isn't it?).

36: Q1: I don't think a more heavy-handed approach would have been more effective. To me, a lot of the tragedy of this novel is because people on both sides (the conquered, the conquerors) were victims of that militaristic mindset. It was very easy to see the common humanity of both sides.

Q2: If the book had been set in a fictional American town, it might have been less effective, I think. The reader is not really sure where the action is taking place, but surely it couldn't be in America, right? As the plot progresses, I found myself thinking, well, maybe it could happen here. I'm glad that Steinbeck left it to the reader to imagine where the action was taking place.

Excellent book!

apr 24, 2012, 12:55 am

#36 - Linda, I hope you enjoy your reading of The Moon Is Down.

Question 1: I agree with Karen, the fact that Steinbeck could show the conflicting emotions on both sides really hit home.

Question 2: Remembering when this book was published, I think setting the book in a fictional European town was the way to go. This situation was actually happening all over Europe, and although the timing makes one think of Norway, other countries like Holland, Denmark, Greece etc. were being invaded and conquered.

apr 24, 2012, 12:57 am

Finished it!! What a simple but powerful read.

apr 24, 2012, 8:19 pm

What a great short novel. If this had been my first, I would want to read more. Reading Cannery Row was also a great start for a year of Steinbeck.
I did read The Grapes of Wrath last year and really enjoyed it, but the shorter novels are great.

I really liked the character of the Mayor - he was true to his position all the way.
What he said to Alex was really good.

apr 27, 2012, 2:19 pm

I somehow missed reporting back that I'd finished the novel last week and thought it was really great!

#31 I thank you too for the article and quiz. I did ok but not great on the quiz. Two major snags for me were that I have a real problem with retaining names and that I often don't remember who said what.

#36 I'm not sure how to answer either question Linda. In the first case, I guess that would depend on what the goal was. If the goal was to create hard-hitting propaganda, I'd agree that a more heavy-handed approach would have made the message that much more direct. That's the approach the Nazis took with their own propaganda and it left no room for interpretation. However, the lighter touch Steinbeck used here is what has made this work an enduring piece of fiction that stands on it's own merit now 70 years later. For this reason, unlike some who have commented that this novel isn't typical of his work, I think the fact that Steinbeck created complex characters and didn't resort to gross generalizations, thus leaving room for interpretation made this very much one of his signature works.

Had the novel been set in America, I'd venture to guess it might have made a greater impact on Americans, but it certainly wouldn't have become such a strong symbol of resistance in the occupied countries of Europe.

apr 28, 2012, 9:07 am

Having not read any information before I read this book, I arrogantly (it's all about us mentality) assumed that the invasion was taking place in the U.S and Steinbeck was suggesting how we might behave if we were to be invaded. Wow, to discover this story concerned Norway was a real eye opener for me! That is way I so appreciate reading along with all of you.

apr 28, 2012, 6:37 pm

#42 - I don't know if Steinbeck every acknowledged that he had Norway in mind during the writing of this book, but according to Wikipedia, he was awarded the Norwegian Haakon VII Cross of Freedom for the publication of this book. As well, the 1943 movie starring Lee J. Cobb is definitely set in Norway.

Redigerat: apr 29, 2012, 9:21 am

What?! There's a movie?! off to check library..................................>

ETA: Nope, not there. Did it go by a different name?

Redigerat: apr 29, 2012, 10:37 am

050. The moon is down
Finished reading: 6 April 2012

Readers and commentators make a lot noise about the didactic value of The moon is down, and apparently originally regretted that Steinbeck portrays the oppressors in the book as human rather than monstrous. It seems these commentators forget that literature often serves a didactic purpose, intentionally or unintentionally.

The moon is down tells the story how a village is conquered and occupied by a alien army force, which then puts the villagers to work to extract coal to support the needs of the occupying army. The story is wryly humourous. The oppressors are portrayed as civilised and orderly, but rigid and cruel when met with opposition. However, they are powerless against subtle resistance and refusal to be liked. As resentment among the oppressed rises, the populace is increasingly willing to run risks and extend its actions from passive resistance to active resistance, to repel the oppressor, and deal serious blow upon blow.

The didactic value of the novel lies in the fact that it shows how anyone can take part in passive resistance and which roads are open and possible to both passive and active resistance. Portraying the oppressor as human makes it possible to understand and see the possible weaknesses of that oppressor. An enemy who is perceived as superhuman, can not be understood, only feared. The novel convincingly shows which possibilities people have in a situation like that; to readers in Nazi occupied Europe, the parallels between their situation and the novel would be evident. As the overall tone of the novel is optimistic, it would be enjoyable to read, and instructive at the same time.

With hindsight, knowing or assuming the oppressor to be the Nazis, the novel is an interesting read that illustrates the situation of war-like occupation, as is known from many novels and history books, written after the war.

Other books I have read by John Steinbeck:
Burning bright
The acts of King Arthur and his noble knights
The wayward bus
The winter of our discontent

apr 29, 2012, 7:29 pm

#44 - Lynda, it's called The Moon Is Down but I suspect it's pretty obscure.

apr 30, 2012, 8:02 am

I'm getting that feeling, Judy. I just checked netflix and it's not available. I'm on a mission now!

apr 30, 2012, 10:25 am

Lynda, let us know if you find it!

apr 30, 2012, 3:34 pm

#45 It seems these commentators forget that literature often serves a didactic purpose, intentionally or unintentionally.

Thanks for putting into words something I'd been struggling to express for a while now. Great review Edwin, thanks for sharing it with us.

#46 Judy, I looked it up at the library, and you won't be shocked to hear I didn't find it. Great poster though. Kind a cool in a garish sort of way.

apr 30, 2012, 4:07 pm

I looked for the movie version on (Minnesota) interlibrary loan and they didn't even have it. They usually have everything! Might have to go talk to a librarian, hmm...

Karen O.

apr 30, 2012, 7:19 pm

I saw the movie years ago on TV, but looking closely at the poster, it has DVD marked on it which brings me to believe that it's out there in that format somewhere. Good luck to those who are trying to hunt it down.

apr 30, 2012, 8:01 pm

worldcat says that three libraries in the U.S. have the movie, two in California and one in New York state.

maj 1, 2012, 6:14 pm

Oh, my goodness, a whole three libraries have it! No wonder we're having trouble finding it!

Karen O.

maj 1, 2012, 6:40 pm

I checked amazon and you can purchase the movie poster in at least two differnt sizes but no dvd's or vhs tapes. But, I'm still searching

maj 1, 2012, 7:23 pm

Two people are currently selling it on ebay. Lots of movie posters for sale though.

maj 4, 2012, 12:16 am

At the end of April I finished The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck and I really loved it.

Short, but powerful!

I read that this was written as propaganda to encourage the occupied countries in Europe to engage in resistance activities against the Germans.

Reading it from my perspective, I found this book to be so much more than that. Steinbeck did a good job of actually humanizing the invaders and allowing the reader to see that the 'bad' guys are pretty much the same as the 'good' guys.

‘Their talk was of friends and relatives who loved them and their longings were for warmth and love, because a man can be a soldier for only so many hours a day and for only so many months in a year, and then he wants to be a man again, wants girls and drinks and music and laughter and ease, and when these are cut off, they become irresistibly desirable. And the men thought always of home.’

His language is beautiful.

I can't wait for more Steinbeck! Onward to the Grapes of Wrath

Full review is at: