The Moon Is Down

by John Steinbeck

Hardcover, 1995

Call number




Turtleback (1995), 112 pages


This seems a simple -- almost an obvious book -- until its overtones and undertones begin to do their deadly work. Then one realizes that, compact in less than 200 pages, is the story of what is happening to the conquerors and the conquered the world over, today. The yeast of freedom, of democracy, the soul of unconquerable man, is working to destroy those who deny freedom. No country is named -- but it might be Norway. No person nor persons are named -- but their types are truly drawn. Mayor Orden stands as a hero with none of the trappings of heroism. Curseling, the traitor, epitomizes the Quislings of the world. And the story? A tale of the unnamed men and women who are breaking the morale of the conquering beast with silence, hate, mass resentment, and the use of weapons forged by imagination and passion while the weapons of the enemy become powerless to break their strength, their unity of anger. An extraordinary achievement.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member DeltaQueen50
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck is a small gem of simplification whereby he shows that being the conqueror isn’t quite the pretty picture of victory that many believe. A seemingly easy invasion has this army celebrating it’s victory and making plans for the future. They slowly become aware
Show More
that although this country has lost the battle, the war goes on. The populace is sullen and proud, and the conquerors dare not turn their backs. Soldiers who go out on their own seldom return. Reprisals only seem to make the people more determined to quietly fight on for the freedom they have lost.

Published in 1942, this propaganda piece tells the story of the military occupation of a small mining town, bringing to mind the invasion of Norway by the Germans during World War II. Without specifically naming the Nazi’s, this is obviously a literary work that was meant to inspire and motive the resistance movement throughout Europe.

Steinbeck writes of the trials and tribulations of both the oppressed and the oppressor, and he avoids the trap of making the Germans unnecessarily evil and the Norwegians overly heroic. Yet, evil is present and the heroic quietly stand tall. These are real people caught up in the drama of war, his characters from the gentle, patriotic mayor to the intelligent, conflicted enemy commander are well drawn and vividly portray the anguish and brutality that war and occupation brings to ordinary people.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Crazymamie
This book was originally published during WWII and was very successful as propaganda for the Allied powers. It was, in fact, so successful that merely being in possession of it in Italy during that time could get the owner sentenced to death. This is not vintage Steinbeck because it was part of the
Show More
war effort - the book was published for specific purposes with a clear message and a target audience. Still, there are Steinbeck moments that creep in, for example, Steinbeck's description of the mayor and his wife in the small town in Europe that is newly occupied by Nazi forces:

"The door to the left opened and Mayor Orden came in; he was digging in his right ear with his little finger. He was dressed in his official morning coat, with his chain of office about his neck. He had a large, white, spraying mustache and two smaller ones, one over each eye. His white hair was so recently brushed that only now were the hairs struggling to be free, to stand up again. He had been Mayor for so long that he was the Idea-Mayor in the town. Even grown people when they saw the word "mayor," printed or written, saw Mayor Orden in their minds. He and his office were one. It had given him dignity and he had given it warmth. From behind him Madame emerged, small and wrinkled and fierce. She considered that she had created this man out of whole cloth, had thought him up, and she was sure that she could do a better job if she had it to do again. Only once or twice in her life had she ever understood all of him, but the part of him which she knew, she knew intricately and well. No little appetite or pain, no carelessness or meanness in him escaped her; no thought or dream or longing in him ever reached her. And yet several times in her life she had seen the stars."

I liked this small book (it is only 112 pages) and I liked its message: you are not beaten until you give up. It reminded me of that moment in the movie Casablanca where the Nazis are singing in Rick's Cafe and Victor Laszlo, a Czech resistance leader, walks over to the band to tell them to play "La Marseillaise." He must sing alone at first, but then the other patrons stand and join in the singing, drowning out the Nazis. The bar is then ordered closed, but that moment of rebellion has united the people, and you just know that there will be other moments of rebellion, that they will refuse to be broken.
Show Less
LibraryThing member msf59
“The moon is down; I have not heard the clock.”


In a small unnamed country, (possibly Norway), an unnamed army (clearly German) invade and quickly conquer this bucolic nation. The invaders are interested in the coal, that this country produces. Both sides settle in for a long unsettling
Show More
In this fable-like novella, told in a simple style, Steinbeck examines the affects of war on both sides: the gradual frustration and alienation of the enemy and the cold determination of the conquered, outwardly cooperating, but inwardly giving no quarter.
At first glance, this seems like new territory for Steinbeck, but it becomes quickly apparent, that the major themes of his other lauded work, begin to shine through.
I liked this short novel and also have to recommend the fantastic introduction, which maps the origins of this book, which was created as propaganda and widely circulated in Europe during World War II. A small gem.
Show Less
LibraryThing member -Cee-
This is not a long book. There are no poetic and descriptive passages in which to get lost; no lengthy philosophical arguments to ponder. This is a book where you take your life experience and knowledge of human behavior to tenderly fill in the blanks. Steinbeck takes us in directions that are not
Show More
common, obvious, or expected. The protective layers are peeled back to reveal the vulnerability of the lonely heart and the sharp, courageous edges of the soul.

It's a delight to read about Steinbeck's take on the irony of victor - vs - victim, the triumph of inner strength in adversity, and the illumination of truth as they are masterfully conveyed. In the words of a disillusioned German soldier on the brink of sanity:

"...'The enemy have learned how crazy the Leader is... Flies conquer the fly paper. Flies capture two hundred miles of new flypaper!' His laughter was growing more hysterical now."

Steinbeck writes in simple language and profound insight. The Moon is Down is one more impressive example of this talent. Short and brilliant. Recommended.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jnwelch
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck was conceived as a propaganda piece during WWII to encourage resistance in occupied countries, but it surprisingly reads like two-sided fable that reminded me a bit of All Quiet on the Western Front. Although not called such, Nazis conquer and occupy an unprepared
Show More
small Northern European coastal town and the colonel leading them tries to convince the populace, through their unwilling mayor, to accept their fate peaceably.

Not gonna happen. A flare-up over forced work in a coal mine results in a Nazi death and reciprocal execution of a townsman, and the hostilities commence. The occupiers gradually realize they are trapped with a populace determined to undermine and oust them, and the phrase "the flies have conquered the flypaper" begins to circulate. Steinbeck gives us a feel for the young Nazi soldiers' perspective, as they yearn for the locals not to hate them, and to return home where life would be so much better. Some soldiers behave by the book, others try to befriend locals with disastrous results. As the Nazis become increasingly desperate to control the situation, it becomes clear they cannot. The mayor and his doctor friend exemplify that, but the town's will is widespread and adamant.

It was fun to see how Steinbeck brought his poetic talent to this patriotic project. The book has generated worldwide popularity, and its themes still have the power to move us today.
Show Less
LibraryThing member danconsiglio
I do loves me some simple tales with huge, timeless ideas. If there was a way to force elected officials to read certain books before taking office, this would be on the top of my picks for the list. Also members of military bodies. Also children born of mothers. Also dolphins. They only play
Show More
stupid. I know they can read.

"Free men cannot start a war, but once it is started they can fight on in defeat. Herd men, followers of a leader, cannot do that, and so it is always the herd men who win battles and the free men who win wars"

"The flies have conquered the flypaper."

I worry about the country that I live in when I read books like this.
Show Less
LibraryThing member cbl_tn
I remember how I felt on 9/11 when the news kept getting worse as first one, then another, then another passenger plane crashed into buildings in New York and Washington, D.C. I also remember how I felt when I heard about Flight 93, whose courageous passengers changed the terrorists’ intended
Show More
outcome of their flight and saved countless lives in the process. That news gave me hope that this nation would survive because it is filled with millions of brave and resilient people just like the passengers on Flight 93.

The Moon Is Down fulfilled a similar purpose in Nazi occupied Europe. Steinbeck apparently captured the spirit of the resistance, and copies of this book were surreptitiously translated, printed, and circulated in many of the occupied nations. I didn’t find the characters and story particularly appealing, but then Steinbeck wasn’t thinking about readers like me when he wrote this book. (Even so, I did like it much better than The Grapes of Wrath!) It’s worth reading more for its historical context and its influence during the war than for its literary qualities. Readers with an interest in World War II in Europe should add this to their reading lists.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DanStratton
My wife has always read the classics. I have pretty much stuck to science fiction, fantasy and spy thrillers. She told me once that she had said she would marry someone versed in the classics. While I'm sure it wasn't a disappointment that I'm not, I figured it couldn't hurt. I picked up this book
Show More
to read mainly because it is by Steinbeck, one of those authors everyone should read. I wasn't disappointed.

This is a short tale; took me all of a couple hours to read. It is a commentary on the fruitlessness of war told through the story of a fictional town invaded by a non-specific army battalion of an unnamed country. The only reference to the real world is a couple mentions of England, but the names are not even a giveaway as to any particular side. It is through this method that Steinbeck makes the commentary that it doesn't matter who is the conqueror or the conquered, the results will be the same.

The town is invaded because the Leader needs the coal mined there. The invader starts off nicely enough, but of course, one person rebels, so they feel they must make a show of force. That starts the inhabitants on the path to rebellion and the army to harsher and harder crackdowns. He shows how the conqueror will never win in these situations - they will be overthrown regardless of their tactics. Free men must be free again.

Written in 1942, it is obvious to what world events Steinbeck was speaking, but they are no less true today. You can see the exact pattern today. This is definitely a recommended read.
Show Less
LibraryThing member edwinbcn
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,
Show More
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.
Show Less
LibraryThing member starbox
1942 wartime novel where the unnamed enemy invade a British island (I'm thinking Germans on Channel Islands?)
We get to know the Germans- the indoctrinated rule follower, the depressed one, struggling with the silent hatred of the locals.
And, too, the locals- the traitor, the quietly courageous..
Show More
the overarching message that whatever the invaders do to individuals, they can't stop the uprising:
"They know that ten heads lopped off will destroy them, but we have people, and in a time of need leaders pop up among us like mushrooms."
In a time of gov control and censorship...and with more enlightened folk every day refusing to comply with covid lies, this felt a really relevant book...
Show Less
LibraryThing member jeffome
Wow, what a perfect little book!!! What a delight to have a book about war and all of its absurdities that can capture the essence without all of the blood and is about the human spirit and the its response to the tragedy from both sides. And i also enjoy books that are about something
Show More
specific (Nazi attempted domination in WWII) without ever coming out and saying it. I literally could not put it down! Odd that i have heard virtually nothing about this book anywhere, good or bad, and i am a fan of Steinbeck...Grapes of Wrath is one of my top 5. I highly recommend this.....a nice book for a young or new reader of literature to get their feet wet with (a personal cause of mine...I love reading so much, that i want to encourage as many as i can to do it as well). Bravo, Steinbeck!!
Show Less
LibraryThing member flybait
This was a book that caught me completely by surprise. It turns out that this short novel by Steinbeck was written as a propaganda novel during WWII and tens of thousands of copies circulated around Nazi occupied Europe. It is unique in that it gave a realistic depcition of the Nazis in that they
Show More
were people, they had hopes, and most of the soldiers didn't want to be in the occupying country any more than those that were being occupied. Because of this level of humanity that he gave them, there were several major critics in the US that despised the book and some even went as far as to call him a sympathizer, which hurt and infuriated Steinbeck. His depiction of the occupied citizens as hurt, demoralized, but resilient is fascinating. This is probably the first piece of propaganda literature that I've read that has left me feeling both hopeful and determined. Equally approachable and thought provoking, this is an excellent read for anyone interested in modern day expansionism.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ChelleBearss
Another great reading experience brought to us by Mr Steinbeck
This novella was written in 1942 and is based in an unnamed town in Europe during an unnamed war. The town is taken by an invading force with surprisingly little resistance, at first. The townsfolk do not like being conquered and are
Show More
willing to fight for their freedom. While there is not much they can do without weapons or an army of their own the townsfolk find ways to resist. That's basically what this novel sums up to: resist. Every person can help resist. Every person can play their part and make a difference.

Anyone can read between the lines and see Nazis and WWII here. Steinbeck doesn't name Hitler direct, but references to "The Leader" make it somewhat obvious. This isn't Steinbeck's typical work and it is said that he wrote it as propaganda for the war effort. While the book was quite popular in Europe, it was also banned. The punishment for being caught with it was death.

This was a short easy read with a big message. Worth the read in my opinion.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
A stirring novel about the Norwegian underground during WWII. The extremes to what good men will do when under pressure.
LibraryThing member xtien
I read this book in school, I don't remember a lot of it. Must read it again, I suppose a lot of memories will come back to me.
LibraryThing member exlibrismcp
Good read. Definitely not Steinbeck's best literary effort - the characters are some-what flat and the story-line is simple and straight-forward. However, when read with the context surrounding the writing of the book in mind, these flaws are easily over-looked. Written and published during the
Show More
time of Nazi Germany, this novel was widely distributed throughout occupied areas as propaganda against that destructive force.

Steinbeck chooses to show the occupying force in a sympathetic light. The soldiers are not cast as purely evil men; instead, they are human beings who are unfortunately caught in a situation where their only choice is to follow orders. Thus, the reader is allowed to place himself in a variety of roles so as to empathize with a range of emotions and to consider what choices he might make in the same situation.
Show Less
LibraryThing member koalamom
The country was invaded and conquered, but the people weren't. They were made to work in the coal mines, but still they resisted. They were starved and killed. Still they resisted.

Nowhere in the story does Steinbeck actually come out and name conqueror or conquered, though the time the book was
Show More
written gives a big clue. Yet with a couple of changes to a few allusions this story becomes timeless; it could be anywhere, anytime and the ending is open.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ben.wildeboer
This story chronicles how a previously free, happy, laid-back people react to being conquered; as well as how conquerors expecting to be treated well react to the hatred and violence the run into from the people.

An easy read and a thought-provoking book.
LibraryThing member YossarianXeno
If you read this novel without knowing when it was published, you'd assume that it was written after the Second World War, when the author had accounts of Nazi occupation, and the birth of resistance movements to draw upon. But the novel was published in 1942, while the Nazis still occupied Norway,
Show More
which is where the story appears to be set, although that isn't stated. Describing the occupation of a small town Steinbeck, seemingly effortlessly and with great simplicity, chronicles the occupation of a small town, sketches the lead characters of the town and its occupiers, and dilemmas and challenges they endure. A short novel, but superbly written.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Borg-mx5
Not my favorite Steinbeck. At least it only takes a day to read.
LibraryThing member Scaryguy
Not the greatest book -- and I generally love Steinbeck. Whether it's the curious little French town that is never really identified as French and all the inhabitants with very English names, or the generalizations of WWII that could only come from someone thousands and thousands of miles away,
Show More
this novelette lacks substance.

Even the execution of Alex is shabby. Is he shot or has he been saved in time, since the German officer comes back injured. It isn't for several more chapters that the reader finds out Alex is, in fact, dead. Then the German commander states that the collaborator will become mayor -- only to find out a few chapters later that it didn't happen.

One word: confusion.

Not a great Steinbeck book at all.
Show Less
LibraryThing member MrsLee
This book is why I continue to read Steinbeck. Though some of his works are very discouraging, they are beautifully written and have great insight into the soul of man.
This story is set in an anonymous country, in an unknown town which is occupied by the enemy. Written in 1942, is seems obvious
Show More
that the enemy was Germany and the town one of many in Europe which was occupied. What is important about this story however, are the insights into the differences between cultures, between those who have been ingrained with independence and freedom, and those who have been taught blind obedience to a great leader. It is a story each political leader should read and memorize before they try to occupy a land with military forces. For me, it had very clear implications for today's world.
Show Less
LibraryThing member ccookie
First line:
~ By ten-forty-five it was all over ~

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.
Show More
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.

Some of my favourite passages:

Steinbeck comments on the futility of war:

‘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. Lanser told himself he was a soldier, given orders to carry out. He was not expected to question or to think, but only to carry out orders; and he tried to put aside the sick memories of the other war and the certainty that this would be the same. This one will be different, he said to himself fifty times a day; this one will be very different.’
'We told them they were brighter and braver than other young men. It was a kind of shock to them to find out that they aren't a bit braver or brighter than other young men.'

About resistance:

Mayor Orden whose town has been occupied, says to Colonel Lanser:

'There is no law between you and us. This is war. Don't you know you will have to kill all of us or we in time will kill all of you? You destroyed the law when you came in, and a new law took its place. Don't you know that?'
'And over the town there hung a blackness that was deeper than the cloud, and over the town there hung a sullenness and a dry, growing hatred … the people of the conquered country settled in a slow, silent, waiting revenge … the cold hatred grew with the winter, the silent, sullen hatred, the waiting hatred.'

Poignant description of the loneliness of the soldiers who are away from home:

‘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.’

'gradually a little fear began to grow in the conquerors, a fear that it would never be over, that they could never relax or go home, a fear that one day they would crack and be hunted through the mountains like rabbits, for the conquered never relaxed their hatred.'
'Thus it came about that the conquerors grew afraid of the conquered'

'I'm lonely to the point of illness. I'm lonely in the quiet and the hatred.'

His language is beautiful.

I can't wait for more Steinbeck! Onward to the Grapes of Wrath
Show Less
LibraryThing member LovingLit
The exact location of the setting of this book is kept a secret, as the more important message is the theme of brutality and tyranny that come when a powerful nation occupies a not so powerful nation. We can guess that it is Northern Europe, though and that the tyrant is Nazi Germany.

I was
Show More
interested to read in the introduction to this book, that it was disseminated as a tool for allied propaganda during WWII. That it was so effective as such was quite thrilling. The story itself does come over as quite simplified. The message contained within though, is pure and basic. That free people cannot and do not want to be oppressed. That they will fight for freedom any way they can, and that eventually they will get it even if it is through death. A great story with a great story behind it, and a nice change of scenery from Steinbeck's usual stage.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jamesfallen
Steinbeck writes extremely well. I can see why he won the Nobel Prize. The book is set in a Scandinavian town that was invaded by the Nazi's in WWII. It is a testament to the human spirit of people who don't accept repression.




0808554271 / 9780808554271
Page: 0.9859 seconds