The Garden Behind the Moon by Howard Pyle
I tag it as a fairy tale not because it's a traditional one, but because it has all the elements.
This is a more charming and less adventurous book than Howard Pyle's usual fare, I believe. Not that there isn't any adventure; it's just not The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood. It's a little reminiscent of George MacDonald -- Pyle was born only about thirty years after MacDonald, and it looks like he started writing (or publishing) about thirty years after MacDonald did, too. So roughly the same period, and "one of the late nineteenth-century writers who helped invent the fairy tale novel," as Jane Yolen put it (quoted on the back cover of my library copy), so it's not particularly surprising one would remind me of the other. Yay!
Now let's see if I can remember all the adjectives I was thinking of when I first finished the book. Hmm. Charming, I already mentioned that one. Beautiful, sad, and oh bother, one I could remember just yesterday, gaaah... I think it basically meant beautiful and sad (but not tragic!) at the same time, but still, the connotation is so much better than if you just use the two words... it started with an "m"... gaah. Delightful. No, it's not the word I'm looking for, but I think it was still one of the original adjectives. Sort of picturesque... Ah well. Someday I'm going to buy this book, a nice edition with all the original illustrations.
From the Foreword: "When you look out across the water at night, after the sun has set and the moon has risen high enough to become bright, then you see a long, glimmering moon-path reaching away into the distance. There it lies, stretching from the moon to the earth, and from the earth to the moon, as bright as silver and gold, and as straight and smooth as a turnpike road...
It looks like a path, and that is what it really is, for if you only know how to do so, you may walk upon it just as easily as you may walk upon a barn floor. All you need to do is to make a beginning, and there you are. After that it is smooth enough walking, and you may skip and play and romp as you choose. Then you may come and go whenever you have a mind to, and if you will take my word for it, it is the most beautiful and wonderful road that a body can travel betwixt here and the land that so few folk ever go to and come back again.
For the moon-path leads straight to the moon. That was why it was built -- that a body might go from the brown earth to the moon, and maybe back again.
But why, you may ask, should anybody want to go to the moon? That I will tell you. The reason is that behind the moon there lies the most wonderful, beautiful, never-to-be-forgotten garden that the mind can think of. In it live little children who play and romp, and laugh and sing, and are as merry and happy as the little white lambs in the green meadow in springtime. There they never have trouble and worry; they never dispute nor quarrel; they never are sorry and never cry.
Aye, aye; -- that beautiful garden. One time I myself saw it -- though in a dream -- dim and indistinct, as one might see such a beautiful place through a piece of crooked glass. In it was the little boy whom I loved the best of all. He did not see me, but I saw him, and I think I was looking into the garden out of one of the moon-windows. I was glad to see him, for he had gone out along the moon-path, and he had not come back again."
And from the end of the book (but without any spoilers, don't worry!): "Well, you may smile at this story if you choose, and call it all moonshine, but if you do not believe by this time that there is more in moonshine than the glimmer and the whiteness, why, I could not make you believe it if I were to write a hundred and twenty-seven great books instead of this short story."