Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Other Side of the Moon by Meriol Trevor (1957)
In the early chapters of this book, I had a hard time not laughing at the now-ridiculous way Trevor describes the moon. Within moments of the crew's landing, she has them removing their space gear because it turns out the levels of both oxygen and gravity are the same there as they are on Earth. She depicts a moon that is totally blank and dead on the side that is visible from Earth, but home to vibrant flowers and large cities on the other side. I kept having to remind myself that in 1957 the moon landing was still 12 years away, and that the moon must have been something of a blank canvas for the writer's imagination prior to astronauts actually visiting it in person.
Despite what we now know to be gross inaccuracies about what the surface of the moon is actually like, however, this book was really engaging. The events of the story could probably have been said to happen on any planet, since there is no real scientific basis to the way the moon is described, but the setting matters much less than the plot and its themes. Trevor explores a question I have discussed with my dad in the past - what if there is another civilization out there in the universe, with people also created in God's image and likeness, but who do not have original sin? This book doesn't exactly spell out the spiritual state of the moon's inhabitants, but it implies repeatedly that they have a closer and more meaningful relationship to God than we have on Earth, and that they are not plagued by the same problems as Earth's humans. Trevor's depiction of evil is also very powerful, and subtle, which gives the reader a lot to think about and figure out.
I predicted that this book would be similar to Madeleine L'Engle's novels, and I wasn't entirely wrong. It did have moments that felt very similar to things that happen in An Acceptable Time or Many Waters, only Trevor's characters travel through space rather than time. I think the writing in The Other Side of the Moon was far superior to either of those books, and the mythology was more explicitly Catholic rather than generically Christian, but the comparison is definitely there. The quest aspect of the book, and the idea that a seemingly unworthy outsider needs to be the one to save the day also sometimes made me think about Tolkien, but Tolkien's books are much deeper and explore many more aspects of the battle between good and evil than this one does.
I much prefer Trevor's stories of conversion, but I'm glad to have read this as well. It gave me some insight into how the world once imagined the moon, and it gave me a vastly different reading experience than what I would typically seek out on my own.