Although written as a novel, The Moon Is Down was originally intended to be a play, and was written in such a way that it was easily adapted for the stage. Written in 1942, the novel is set in an unspecified small country in Northern Europe that is occupied by an un-named army from another nation that is at war with England and Russia. Although Germany is never specifically named as the occupying force, references in the book, such as references to "memories of defeat in Belgium" and a mention of "The Leader" strongly suggest it to be a representation of the political situation in Europe at the time; the small nation could easily be Holland or Poland, but was most widely believed to be Norway; the occupying force so easily be Germany. The German government apparently took the similarities personally and banned the book in Germany, France and all of the countries in which they had an army of occupation.
Despite the ban, the book was translated into French and distributed in an underground manner with the help of the French Resistance movement, who wanted to enable French citizens who were open to seeing it what the situation was really like in their neighboring countries; the only reports they were able to see were driven by the Nazi propaganda machine and therefore very unlikely to be an accurate portrayal of what was happening. The book also managed to make it to other Nazi occupied nations, and was the most well-known book by an American author in Russia during World War Two.
Steinbeck wrote the book with much the same purpose in mind as the French Resistance had in publishing it - inspiring resistance movements to keep going even in the face of seemingly impossible odds. Another factor that made Norway the most likely choice for the unnamed nation in the fact that King Haakon VII of Norway presented Steinbeck with the Freedom Cross for writing it.
Steinbeck adapted the novel for the stage himself later in 1942, and it opened on Broadway at the Martin Beck Theate, and later in London at the Whitehall Theater, in 1943. Theaterland remained open during the height of the bombing raids on the capital as an act of defiance against the enemy. The novel was also adapted for the big screen in 1943.
Reviews were mixed, and positively lukewarm. Some believed that Steinbeck was too soft on the description of the occupying army; the portrayal was considered unrealistic and lacking in the brutality that was seen on a daily basis. Others felt that the story was presented in a rather childish, goodies versus baddies kind of way, showing democracy as the man in the white hat and totalitarianism as the black-hatted individual. Reviews like this notwithstanding, the book was still named one of the best fictional novels of 1942, and nowadays it is considered to be one of the best examples of propaganda produced during World War Two.
Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature two decades later for his writing, having already been awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1940. His novels rank among the most notable works of the twentieth century and their silver screen adaptations among that century's most notable films. He is the author of sixteen novels, including The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, the latter popularized when a young, moody actor by the name of James Dean was cast in the film adaptation, and he has also published two collections of short stories.