Suppose that the Earth didn’t have a moon. And suppose that a science fiction story said that we did have a moon and that the moon rotated on its axis in the same amount of time that it circled the Earth. The timing of this made-up moon would be so unlikely, the story might succeed from its sheer improbability.

Really? A moon that rotates and orbits in such a way that from Earth we can only see one side of it and never the other? Entertaining idea. Crazy, but entertaining.

Our moon – or more properly, our Moon – is so exquisitely timed in its rotation and orbit that were it not real, no one would believe it. However, a fictional Moon is not necessary to inspire great stories, the real one has inspired plenty of its own.

I like the idea expressed in Ludovico Ariosto’s 1516 poem, Orlando Furioso, that things lost on the Earth end up on the Moon. In the poem, Orlando, having been unlucky in love, loses his sanity and rampages through Europe and Africa, causing much destruction and woe. A knight, Astolfo, flies to the Moon in Elijah’s flaming chariot, finds Orlando’s wits, captures them in a bottle, and brings them back to Orlando, restoring his sanity.

Ariosto is not the only one to depict the Moon as a place to restore things that are lost.

J. R. R. Tolkien’s young son took a favorite toy, a little metal dog, to the beach. The boy accidentally dropped the dog somewhere along the shore. Unfortunately, there were many stones about the same size and color as the toy, and though the family looked and looked for it, the little dog couldn’t be found. To console his son, Tolkien wrote a story, Roverandom, about a dog named Rover that gets turned into a small toy by a wizard. Rover goes under the sea and also to the Moon looking for a wizard to turn him back into a real, normal-sized dog. A wizard on the Moon changes Rover’s name to Roverandom.

In 1922, Johnny Gruelle, who created Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy, wrote a book called The Magical Land of Noom in which Johnny and Janey make an airplane out of boards and spindles. The plane works better than they expect. Not only does it actually fly, it takes them to the land of Noom on the other side of the Moon. They don’t encounter Orlando’s wits or a dog named Roverandom, but they do discover that the Princess of Nite has been kidnapped by a wicked magician, Old Jingles. In their efforts to rescue the princess, they meet many memorable characters. It’s a gentle, wise, fun book, not well-known today, but a worthy addition to children’s literature.

If these stories – as well as those by Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Arthur C. Clark, and many others – don’t strike your fancy, don’t despair. True stories of the Moon landings make great entertainment. As does just looking up at it. The side we can see.

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