*SPOILER ALERT* Eric Linklater's children's novel The wind on the moon has long held a place in my affections. I first heard it on the BBC's book reading strand Jackanory when I was about 6. Most books on Jackanory just ran for a week but Wind on the moon (to me the childhood equivalent of War and peace) ran for TWO whole weeks. By the end of the first week I was enthralled and marched to the local bookshop with my pocket money to buy the book, so eager was I to read to the end before another week had elapsed.
I haven't read Wind on the moon for many years but it still stands up as a strong read, and I can see quite clearly why I loved it so much as a child. Two naughty sisters, Dinah and Dorinda, get into even more trouble than usual when they are naughty on a night when the wind is on the moon. Their behaviour leads to bullying by local children, and in an attempt to get their revenge they go to the local witch and get a potion to turn themselves into kangaroos. Although they succeed in frightening the villagers the plan goes wrong when they are captured and placed in a private zoo. Life soon becomes very exciting as a crime wave sweeps the zoo with Dinah and Dorinda involved in apprehending the criminal, making plans to free their friends the Puma and Falcon, and trying to find a way to turn back into children again.
By the second half of the book they are back home again and heading for a very different adventure, their father, a diplomat, has been imprisoned by a tyrant - the villainous and frightening Count Hulagu Bloot - and the children set off to rescue him.
Wind on the moon was written in 1944 and won the Carnegie medal for that year. It's clearly a wartime book - lots of affectionate mentions of food (heavily rationed in the UK at the time), travel, and luxuries from abroad. The wartime spirit is also clear in the status of liberty in the text - much of the book is about escape from one kind of prison or another, and although not Hitler, Bloot is clearly modelled on the kind of tyrant that the Fascism of the 1930s had allowed to emerge. He's an unusually well moulded evil character, although a caricature he is oddly creepy with his liking for peppermint creams and murder.
This is obviously a fantasy adventure - wild, sometimes daft, often funny, but also genuinely touching with its emphases on the importance of loyalty, friendship and liberty. It spoke to the children reading it at the time, nearly 30 years later I was still moved by it, and nearly 40 years on from my first reading there is still much to admire in it. Some of the jokes are aimed more at the adult audience (there are two wonderfully comical lawyers Hobson and Jobson, who are ahead of their times litigating for pleasure and profit), and of course returning to the book after many years I picked up on these references more than I would have done as a child.
Occasionally the novel shows its age, frequent quotes from songs that would have been widely known in the schools of 1940s' Britain will leave many modern children thinking "What??" but for all that it's a stunningly readable, endearing and enduring story, and is still one of my favourite books of all time.