Now I know you were expecting Joseph: King of Dreams as my next DreamWorks review, but right now I really could not give a toss about that film. I’m really tempted not to review it at all because it’s just so bland and tiresome. But for now I’m doing something different which will make me a bit happier I hope.
Now many of you may not know this but I apparently profess to review books. I can feel your stunned-ness. But I assure you that I do, I even say so in my About Page. However I feel I’ve been really poor in that respect since I’ve only ever written two: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami, both of which I did in October last year so it’s been quite a while.
That’s not to say I haven’t been reading books at all, it’s just that October was when I finally decided to go on hiatus during my dissertation studies, which officially started in November, although I put out the occasional review here and there.
While I did do some reviews, I always found it easier to review a small game, respond to a award nomination, or just reblog other people’s articles. I feel like you have to take a lot of time with a book and sometimes, even when you really enjoyed a book, you may not be in the right frame of mind to review it. It’s more complex, with many ideas and subtleties, and you have to give the potential reader a general feel to a book without spoiling it which is harder than it sounds.
Whereas I feel that with a film or a game (though perhaps less so with a longer game) they are easier to write reviews on as your opinions on them are very one-dimensional in my mind, i.e.: that bit was awesome, that sucked, this bit was funny, etc.
Now for my more literary chroniclers (that’s what I’ve just decided to call my followers by the way), you may know John Steinbeck from that secondary school English class staple Of Mice and Men. You may have even heard of The Grapes of Wrath or even East of Eden. But generally, and I’m not saying it’s you reader who do not know of his other works, but generally, most people don’t know any more Steinbeck works than those three, if that.
But The Moon is Down appears to be a bit of a forgotten gem of Steinbeck’s because, as my title subtly suggests in the same way a hammer subtly bludgeons a skull, The Moon is Down was used a propaganda. But against whom you may be asking. Well it’s against none other than the History Channel’s good old friend the Nazis, who sit right next to the Pharaohs of Egypt.
So let’s get into some history then some overview so you can get the gist of what was going on and what the story is about. So according to Donald V. Coers (the gentleman who wrote the introduction to my copy of The Moon is Down), Steinbeck served voluntarily in several US government intelligence agencies between 1940 and 1942 out of concern of the Nazis. It was during this time that he met Colonel William J. “Wild Bill” Donovan, who was head of the Office of Coordinator of Information (COI) and the Office for Strategic Services (OSS), both of which would merge to become the CIA.
It was while Steinbeck was working at the COI that Donovan and Steinbeck began discussions on using his literary talents to make a propaganda piece. From these talks, and gathering information on refugees from Norway, Denmark, France, Belgium and the Netherlands about underground activities against the Nazi invaders. It was this that inspired him to write his book and, after several drafts, The Moon is Down was published in 1942.
So here we go, The Moon is Down centres on a small Northern European town (not named or located, but we can guess somewhere in Norway) is invaded and, to the confusion of the people, it seems that the entire country has been taken unawares. But the confusion soon turns to bitterness and silent rage as they begin to take action, leaving the invading conquerors to feel not secure, but surrounded.
While The Moon is Down never actually says the invaders are the Nazis, it is so heavily implied you cannot miss it, i.e.: the invaders follow “the Leader” and their forces are also invading England (I’ll forgive Steinbeck for calling Great Britain “England” because it seem nearly everyone does) and Russia, clearly referencing Operation Sea Lion (1940) and Operation Barbarossa (1941). But somehow, despite the fact that you know they are talking about the Nazis, the fact that they aren’t referred to as such give The Moon is Down a sort of timeless appeal, as if to say that these ideal are applicable for any oppressive force coming to your country, town, street house, wherever you call home.
I can also say is that I love how relatable the characters are. Not just the townspeople but also the invaders themselves. The fact that Steinbeck, in a propaganda piece, allows the invaders to be seen to be just as human as the townspeople themselves is phenomenal. It leaves you almost sympathising with both groups, despite knowing the invaders are in the wrong. It’s a brilliant commentary on war and how, although the men on the ground may be imposing a harsh regime, they may not know it themselves, or at least may not see it in the way it would actually happen.
The sense of false bravado in the young invaders, the wisdom of experience from the elder invader and the silent scorn from the invaded are brilliantly portrayed in this short book. While we do not get fully fleshed out characters like Of Mice and Men had three years previously, Steinbeck still puts forward brilliant character aspects to most of the characters in this novel, yet leaving enough leeway to allow the reader to transpose themselves into the role of one of the characters, on either side, although in wartime I think we all know which side the targeted readers would be on.
While the idea of sending dynamite to the invaded inhabitants never came to fruition as the book tells us, it did contribute to incendiary packets being sent across Europe in the latter stages of the war and the book itself had a massive propaganda effect on the Axis powers. Such was the effect of this book that in Fascist Italy owning a copy was punishable by death. Yet despite attempts to suppress the book, thousands of copies were circulated in conquered lands transferring the idea of defiance in the face of brutality.
For Steinbeck to write such a brilliant, and humanistic, piece of propaganda baffles the mind. In a time when the mind set was to demonise the Nazi soldiers, Steinbeck makes them like one of us. You could probably pass them in the street and not even know. That makes it effect propaganda and powerful literature, by showing the lower ranks as reasonable men who only really want glory then to return home makes them seem more real than any vilification ever could.
Steinbeck, a personal favourite author of mine, does what I find few others can do, make propaganda an exciting must read. It stuns me that I have gone so long without even hearing about this book, so I suggest all who read it to go out and buy it. Then, like those before us, to share it around so that all may know of the wonderful ideas and the brilliant literary talent that comes even in times of war.