War, intrigue, love, foreign countries, murder, and rebellion; sound interesting? Well, in 1942, enough people thought so in order to make "The Moon is Down," by John Steinbeck, a number two best seller for the y
ear. Anytime a book about a subject as integral as war is written, people will buy a copy out of morbid curiosity. War novels allow the public a chance to experience the dramas and emotions of war and foreign countries as if they themselves had actually
taken part. Armed with the knowledge obtained from wartime novels, the average person can participate in animated, "informed" discussions with others, thus fulfilling a natural human desire to be involved. In 1942, the war raged on in distant countries
, while at home, wives and families of soldiers tended to the everyday life of the home. Anything, be it a newspaper article, radio broadcast, or a novel about the war, could give them hope and courage for there loved ones overseas. With its quaint port
rayal of a town full of sympathetic characters who quietly rebel against the invading force which has taken the town under siege, "The Moon is Down" was read by millions of people all over the world.
While the moon is down became the number two best selling novel in 1942, many reviewers disliked the book, and few would have dared call it a masterpiece of literature. Despite the negative slant of the reviews, nobody can contest the fact that the moon
Is down was a popular book. Even the critics most ardently opposed to the book were forced to admit that it was an entertaining read. The key elements of a best selling story are there; the mayor who is willing to die for his town, the slightly bumbling
, but in the end, curiously human, invaders, the clever townsfolk who outsmart the enemy, and the intrigue that surrounds them all. By most critics, it was considered merely an interesting tale of a story that hit close to home for many people all over t
he world with loved ones in the war. One reviewer says that, "?so nameless a rendering of [the Nazi invasion] gives the novel a rather hollow character," (Times, Je 20, '42). This sentiment is echoed throughout many of the reviews. The rather simplist
ic style in which Steinbeck wrote the novel is both praised and criticized. Many claim that "less is more" in writing a novel, and believe that Steinbeck has left much of the story up to the imagination of the reader "?he comes as close as any author to
making himself unobtrusive and leaving you free to lose yourself in the story," (Spec, Jl 10, '42). However, others feel that the simplistic nature of the book leads to shallow characters and an ending that resolves all of the problems of the novel too
neatly and easily, "?but was it necessary to draw quite so comforting a moral from the oppression and torture of the history, or the European history, of our times?" (Yale R, spring '42). In other words, John Steinbeck presents his story as more of a fa
ble than as a novel about a subject as serious and grave as war.
Steinbeck's story leaves a lot of the details for the reader to fill in for himself. "His story becomes symbolic of much more than it describes?" (Gunther, NY Herald Tribune Books). For instance, Steinbeck neither gives the town a name, nor the invade
rs a country from which they came. Steinbeck follows Hemingway in his belief that "less is more" in that the reader must actively participate in the story by creating a name for the places of which they read. "The Sun Also Rises" is written in much the
same vein. Though not set in the war itself, " The Sun Also Rises" deals with a man's struggle to overcome his war injury. Just as Hemingway never specifically states where Jake was shot, Steinbeck never names the town; although in both, the reader is
cleverly lead to specific assumptions the author wishes to encourage. Both authors use simple, short sentences and uncomplicated vocabulary, which suit their rather stark topics and allow them to place the focus on their stories, and characters' actions
rather than shroud them in flowery language. "The Moon is Down" is unlike his other novels in style, but it closely resembles his collections of short stories. In many respects, "The Moon is Down" is unfairly criticized because people compare it with h
is other great works such as "Of Mice and Men" and "Grapes of Wrath," while it should be compared with his less well known stories such as "Tortilla Flat" and "Cannery Row." Unsurprisingly, many of the other novels that made the best seller list the year
of 1942 also dealt with the war and its ravages throughout the world.
One of the biggest reasons that this was a popular novel, other than the fact that it is set during the war, is that it was written by John Steinbeck. Steinbeck had just finished "Of Mice and Men" two years earlier, and much of the success of "The Moon i
s Down" can be attributed to its timing. The first of many novels written after Steinbeck had become a renowned writer, "The Moon is Down" was read by many Steinbeck fans merely because of the name on the cover. Had this book been written ten years earl
ier, Steinbeck would not have had as large a following, and thus, this book might never have made the best seller's list. As it was, this short, rather unremarkable novel was widely read and critiqued by many reviewers from the top literary journals.
Steinbeck was rather reclusive at the time "The Moon is Down" was written, although nowhere near to the extent that Salinger was unavailable. He was somewhat of a mysterious figure, living in a large house on a hill, and rarely granting interviews. Stei
nbeck went through a series of divorces, which forced his private life out into the public. This also helped influence the popularity of the book indirectly. Along with reviews of the book in the back sections of newspapers, were front page stories deta
iling his divorces and other aspects of his personal life which gave a new sort of publicity to his novel. Everyone was hungry for stories about John Steinbeck, and the publishers capitalized on this fame. Steinbeck was also a popular war correspondent
during this time, and therefore, a trusted expert on the details of the war. He traveled widely and knew much of foreign countries, which give the novel, although not specifically stated where it was set, a firm base in reality.
With its explosive emergence as a best seller, it is surprising that it remained at the top only a short while, soon forgotten entirely. Its lack of literary merit can in fact be seen in the rapid decline in its notoriety. When asked to list Steinbeck'
s novels, "Grapes of Wrath" and "The Winter of Our Discontent" spring to mind, however, most people today have never even heard of "The Moon is Down." Critical reviews of this novel after 1942 are virtually nonexistent. This novel, popular because of it
s author and because it was a novel of a war which ended happily, written in a time of unrest and uncertainty, was easily forgotten in the subsequent flood of Steinbeck novels that was to come. Steinbeck was a prolific writer, producing, all told, over t
wenty novels, many of which made the best sellers lists. In this plethora of novels, "The Moon is Down," though popular in its time, has been forgotten in favor of other, greater Steinbeck works.
Steinbeck originally wrote this novel with aspirations of making it into a play. Only a month after the novel appeared, the play was first produced in New York at the Marin Beck Theater. The play was more or less received with the same mixed reviews, as
was the book for many of the same reasons. "If Mr. Steinbeck could be charged with writing the mere outline of a novel in his published book, it could be maintained, with greater justification, that he created the mere sketch of a play?the play produces
a confusion alignment of forces, a divided effect, and a somehow incompletely precipitated dramatic experience. In the theatre, Steinbeck's story is consequently ineffectual," (Gassner, My '42). Yet another critic wrote, "?one must respect the drama
tic version for its avoidance of obvious melodrama and pyrotechnics, and for the occasional positive values of understatement, as in the quiet final scene," (Stark Young, My 11, '42). With the appearance of the play so closely linked with the appearance
of the novel itself, the play in effect, had very little impact on the publicity and sales of the novel. The play was a minor one, with very few advertisements and very little critical review. The play, as well as the book, seems to have been completel
y forgotten, as mention of either is hard to come by after 1942.
A year after the first publication of the novel, the movie version of the play came out into theaters. It was first shown to troops overseas in hopes of bolstering morale. The town of quiet rebels is an inspiration to anyone, and to troops marooned in f
oreign countries, it made a difference to see that their fighting was making a difference in peoples' lives. When the movie finally came to the states about a month after it was first previewed by the armies overseas, it had less effect than it did with
the troops. Like the play, few articles can be found about the movie, and the advertising was minimal. The movie itself was well done, though it did not have the luxury of big stars or a big budget. Unfortunately for Steinbeck, this movie also seems t
o have appeared too close to the novel to have had any impact on sales. Novels like "The Robe" by Lloyd C. Douglas, made the best seller's list in two different decades partly because, by the time the movie came out ten years after the book was publishe
d, people had forgotten the original appearance of the book. The movie version of "The Moon is Down" came out only a year after the book came out on the best seller's list, so the rise in sales was minimal.
Overall, this novel was a decent book, written at the right time and by the right author. "The Moon is Down" received much too much criticism because of the name of the author. All of the criticism, however, though negative, did not discourage readers f
rom buying John Steinbeck's novel, in fact, all of the publicity actually increased book sales. As with most books on the best seller's lists, "The Moon is Down" will never be remembered as a literary classic. If remembered at all, it is thought of as
a quaint novel that John Steinbeck wrote in the years between "Of Mice and Men" and "East of Eden." That it was written during the war, about the war, and that John Steinbeck was written in bold print across the cover, put this book on the best sellers
list as the number two best seller in 1942.