The Wind on the Moon by Eric Linklater

September 15, 2010

“When there is a wind on the moon, you must be very careful about how you behave.  Because if it is an ill wind, and you behave badly, it will blow straight into your heart, and then you will behave badly for a long time to come.”

So says the Major to his daughters, Dinah and Dorinda, before heading off to a foreign country.  Unfortunately, when the girls’ attempts to help their father with his packing go wrong, they decide that they must indeed be naughty girls, and as the wind has now got into their hearts, that’s the way they must act.

So begins one of the most bizarre children’s books I have read.  For the next 300 or so pages, the story twists and turns in the most unlikely directions as the girls visit a witch, turn themselves into kangaroos, make friends with a Puma, solve the mystery of the missing ostrich eggs, and rescue their father from the evil Count Hulagu.  Along the way, they meet a wide cast of characters including a singing vicar, a newspaper reading bear and an incompetent giraffe detective.  All this sounds very wacky, but what lifts the book up into the top league is that fact that, regardless of the off-the-wall nature of the characters, there is something very real about them, with more than a hint of satire in the actions, and a darkness at the heart of their nature which can be unexpected in a children’s book.

What impressed me most about the book, however, was that despite the seemingly random paths the story takes, all of the apparently insignificant diversions are there for a reason, and they all tie up in a satisfying conclusion.

The Wind on the Moon won the Carnegie Medal when it was published in 1944; I can’t believe I only heard of it when a friend bought my daughter a copy for her birthday. If you know a child age 10+, buy them a copy and then borrow it.  Better yet, buy your own.

The Wind on the Moon, 364pp, Jane Nissen Books. Recommended.