In an article about Margaret Wise Brown, Laura Miller calls Goodnight Moon "less a story than an incantation." That word "incantation" is suggestive, and apparently memetic. Sarah Lyall, Joshua Harris, Noah Charney, Meghan Overdeep, and many more all use "incantation" to describe this popular children's book. Grasping for a useful turn of phrase, these writers have hit upon the literal truth: Goodnight Moon is an esoteric text whose colorful pages promise dangerous knowledge to those who know how to look.
To lay the groundwork for this extraordinary claim, let's consider the cryptographic expertise of the author and the prophetic genesis of the work.
At times, they attached emotions they had for each other to their dogs or had imaginary characters speak for them in their letters. Michael's was Rabbit and Margaret's, Bunny.
Illustrative for our purposes:
- The cipher was meant to be intercepted. Through steganography, they hid their message in banalities which disguised that there even was a cipher.
- Their code made use of animals given human characteristics, a recurring theme in Brown's work.
- The method Brown and Strange chose tells us something about their preferences and capabilities. This was not the only available scheme for clandestine communication. For example, a dead drop or a trusted go-between could facilitate their frank communication without the need for codes.
In interviews, Brown said the book came to her in a dream while sleeping in a big green room, was drafted in 20 minutes, and then took 2 years to finish "polishing." Comparisons to temple sleep are unavoidable—the prepared space, the nocturnal vision. And with even a passing familiarity with Goodnight Moon, you might wonder at the long incubation. What was she doing to the draft for 2 years?
Along with the text, the limited guidance Brown sent to the illustrator Clement Hurd included a photo of Goya's "Boy in Red". Goya's work occupies its own special grey area in terms of symbolism, and is a suggestive choice for inspiration. Of most interest to me is the "hidden" third cat, keep an eye out for it in what follows.
Okay, so she was capable of hiding things in this children's book, but would she? Let's look at a concrete, clear example. In a few pages of the work, the top half of the left wall is visible, on which hangs a picture of a rabbit fishing for another rabbit.
While pretty inscrutable in the context of this story (why would rabbits hunt rabbits, in a world with mush and presumably other, non-cannibal foods?), this painting makes sense as a reference to another collaboration by Brown and Hurd, whose title is the only readable one on the shelf below the painting.
Goodnight Moon does not arrive to us in its original form. To great scandal at the time, the publisher removed "a cigarette and an ashtray." The cigarette appears to have been in a photo of the illustrator, which used to be on the back cover.
Interestingly, I can't find any photos of this ashtray, wherever it was.
It's unclear how else the work has been tampered with over time. Seekers of heavenly riches should be prepared to part with their earthly goods in search of an original, unredacted copy of the book. All images in this blog post are from a much more recent edition, to protect the unprepared.
What are the next steps, once an esoteric Goodnight Moon no longer seems far-fetched? Start with the places the book seems to make the least sense, see where they lead.
Consider the page that just says "goodnight nobody," with no illustration. For me, this was the initial piece of the puzzle, the key that unlocked the door. When listing the objects in the room, why enumerate absence? Can "nobody" even be in a room so full of people and things?
Astronomers noticed a discrepancy between the moon's size in the window and how it would look from the Earth's surface.
An astrological mystery is especially amenable to our occult study, as the court astrologers practiced what we now call astronomy, before our recent, artificial seperation.
While the modern astronomers take this mis-sized moon and immediately proceed to triangulate the room in high earth orbit, we are free to savor not knowing and fully uncomprehend. Are the heavens not full of houses already, where the Moon might visit? Aren't rabbits welcome in the house of Aphrodite?
In the background of the painting of the three bears sitting in chairs, hangs the painting of the cow jumping over the moon.
Were they seated in the big green room when it was painted? Are they still there?
On the subject of recursion, the beside table has a copy of Goodnight Moon.
Are the rabbits reading from their own story? Or reciting it from memory? Is your copy of the book inside the big green room?
According to Hurd, the various people in the book are rabbits because he could draw them better than humans. What are we to make of human dolls in rabbit world?
Why are the arrow-shaped curtain rods different colors, and what are they pointing at?
In an earlier view of the "toyhouse," one of the curtains is drawn back.
It is no longer drawn back by the end. What moved it?
The Third Kitten
Where is the third kitten?
The Death of the Author
Brown died suddenly, absurdly, at the age of 42, immediately after doing a jig to prove how healthy she was. We're left to wonder if, in what she had to imagine were decades of life remaining to her, Brown planned to ever reveal what she had so carefully buried in the big green room.