Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Fumbling Through Fantasy: The Other Side of the Moon by Meriol Trevor (1957)

Since I first discovered Meriol Trevor, I have been blown away by her books about Catholicism, all of which were inspired by her own conversion. When my husband surprised me with this strange science fiction/fantasy novel of hers, however, I wasn't quite sure I was going to like it. The story, published in 1957, follows a teenage boy named Gil whose brother, Hilary, a botanist, is a member of a crew of scientists who  are making an expedition to the moon. Gil is not supposed to go along, but he falls asleep in the crew's ship and inadvertently becomes a stowaway. When Hilary and his colleagues discover Gil, they are not pleased, but they do their best to care for him and keep him busy. When they arrive, the explorers discover that the moon is inhabited by beings a bit like themselves, but who seem to be in greater communion with the Creator than humans on Earth. These beings are plagued by the Enemy, whose followers live in underground cities and seek to bring as many people as possible over to their regimented way of living. When it is revealed that a prophecy may have foretold the coming of these men from Earth, members of the crew react in different ways to their possible destiny.

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.

1 comment:

  1. I will have to look up Meriol Trevor. Regarding your "what if..." question, have you ever read the Space Trilogy that C. S. Lewis wrote? (Perelandra in particular?) @oneaponceatime