“The moon?” cried Adam and Dora, both at once.

“Have the owls got a space-rocket?” said Adam.

“No, no,” said Ratatosk.

“But we won't be able to breathe, will we?” said Dora. “I thought there wasn't any air on the moon.”

“This is a different moon,” said Ratatosk.

“A different moon?” said Dora. “What do you mean? How can it be? There's only one moon, isn't there?”

“Well, it's the same moon really, but a different version. This isn't the moon of Urizen: that's just a big lump of rock.”

“But if it's really a big lump of rock,” said Dora, “how can it be anything else?”

“Tut, tut,” said Ratatosk. “That's just what Urizen would say.”

“But we don't have to go right now, do we?” said Adam. “Can't we have a rest or a sleep somewhere? We've been scrambling along tunnels and climbing up and down stairs for ages and ages. I'm ever so tired. My legs are aching like anything.”

“Yes, yes, there's not a moment to waste,” said Ratatosk. “The sun will soon be down, and the moon will soon be up. Then the black beetle will come crawling into his hole under the tree, to chew the biggest root. And the owls will be waking up, fluffing out their feathers, getting ready for their flight.”

“Okay, lets get out of here,” said Adam. He had jumped visibly when the black beetle was mentioned, and now he was suddenly in a hurry. “Come on, come on. Let's go.”

Ratatosk lit a small lantern and hung it on the end of a long pole, then led the way at a rapid pace. The lantern swung vigorously from side to side, and inky black shadows leapt and slithered amongst the piles of jumble as they went. Seven or eight caves of jumble they had come through to reach Ratatosk's fireside, and Dora thought they must have gone through at least that many again before they came to a plain uncluttered tunnel roughly cut – or gnawed – through the wooden flesh of the tree.

“Now you'll see a sight,” said Ratatosk.

Before long the tunnel grew wider and higher, and a wind blew against their faces. Then they suddenly came out into the open air.

Directly in front of them the burning sun, huge and orange, was just touching a horizon of tree-clad hills.

They seemed to be on the floor of a disused quarry. To their left and right were craggy grey cliffs, gradually spreading wider apart and losing height until they disappeared into the earth. Between these cliffs the ground was rough and scrubby, overgrown with weeds and small bushes, and in the middle lay what looked at first like the trunk of a fallen tree, wound round with ivy and brambles. Then they gradually realised that it was actually a giant, lying flat on his back with his eyes closed. But even after they had realised this, he still looked more than half like a tree. His skin was grey-green and craggy like the bark of an oak. His hair and beard seemed to be made of a mixture of twigs, leaves and roots.

“This is the Green Man,” said Ratatosk.

“Oh!” said Dora. “You mean, like the one on my clue card? Does he live here too?”

“Since he got sick. He used to roam the earth, in the old days. You will see him again, in a different form, when you get to the moon.”

Dora felt like grabbing hold of Ratatosk and giving him a shake. He seemed to be always saying things which didn't make sense. She was starting to think he did it on purpose. “But how can he be on the moon and down here at the same time?” she cried. “I don't understand!”

“Tut, tut, tut,” replied Ratatosk. “What a strong grip Urizen has on your mind, child!”

“But you always seem to talk in riddles!”

“That's true, I'm afraid. It's not in my nature to be straightforward.”

“Look!” said Adam, grabbing hold of Dora's arm. “What's that?”

“What's what?”

Dora looked where he was pointing, but she couldn't see anything in particular. The sun was going down, and the shadow of the horizon was lengthening across the earth towards them.

“What are you looking at?” she said. “Ow! You're hurting my arm!”

“Can't you see it?” said Adam in a terrified whisper. “Right in the darkest bit! Right under the sun! It's the beetle!”

She looked again. Directly under the sun was what looked like a blot of glowing darkness – or it might have been the after-impression of the sun itself. It seemed to pulsate. In fact it seemed to be crawling towards them.

“It's time we were going,” said Ratatosk, and then he made a chattering noise. They turned to look at him. His nose was longer than ever, and his eyes were brighter. He looked red all over in the light of the sunset. He leaned towards them, rubbing his hands together under his chin, and as he did so he grew, and he was suddenly covered in gingery fur. They were looking at a huge red squirrel.

Then they looked beyond him, and realised that they weren't really standing on the floor of a quarry at all. What they had taken to be cliffs, on either side of them, were actually enormous roots. Behind Ratatosk was the trunk of a huge tree, the world tree, as big to them as an ordinary tree would have been to an ant. If they'd had time to look at it properly and think about its size, or how high above them it went, it would have made them dizzy – but they didn't have time. Ratatosk had already run to the tree-trunk and scampered a little way up, with his tail hanging down to the ground. He looked as if he might whisk off up the trunk at any moment, leaving them behind.

“Quick!” shouted Adam. “Grab his tail!”

“But what if we can't hold on?” said Dora. “What if we fall?”

“Come on!” said Adam. He still had hold of her arm. He dragged her to the tree, and next moment she found herself half-buried in the red hair of the tail, clinging to it with both hands. It was unexpectedly rough, and smelt like the hair of an unwashed dog. Ratatosk seemed to be getting bigger and bigger. The tail was easily big enough for both her and Adam. And then they were moving. Her feet were off the ground and she was thrashing from side to side. She closed her eyes and hung on for dear life.

“Wahoo!” shouted Adam. “That beetle won't be able to catch us now!”

Dora could hardly breathe. They were twisting and turning, crashing through twigs and leaves, rocketing upwards. She didn't dare to open her eyes, or even think about how far beneath them the ground must be. She was going to let go in a minute, she knew it. Her arms were being torn from their sockets. Her fingers were going numb. She could almost feel herself letting go. She could almost feel herself plunging and cartwheeling through empty air, as helpless as a baby.

Time had stopped. She couldn't even tell if she was holding on any more, or if they were still moving. Perhaps she had already let go. She seemed to be sinking into something as soft and bottomless as a dream.


She heard a deep, fluty voice.

“What are you doing here, Ratatosk? Who are these two?”

“A couple of passengers,” said Ratatosk. “To be flown to the moon, if you'd be so kind.”

Slowly, Dora became aware of her surroundings. She was lying on something very soft, and she felt very warm.

“To the moon?” said another voice. “Is the Queen expecting them?”

“No,” said Ratatosk. “She doesn't know anything about it. I brought them here all by myself. I thought a journey to the moon might be a nice treat for them.”

Dora opened her eyes. She was in a dark place, but there was moonlight coming through a roughly oval hole a few feet away. She was lying on what felt like a deep bed of soft feathers. It was extremely comfortable, but it was also quite smelly. On one side of her was Ratatosk – no longer a squirrel, as she could see in the moonlight, but a stooped little man. Next to her in the bed of feathers was a dark huddled shape which she took to be Adam, curled up on his side; and judging by the sound of his breathing, he was fast asleep. On the other side of her from Ratatosk were two plump, soft figures: giant owls. The moonlight gleamed on their feathers, their big round eyes, and the curve of their beaks. They were looking at each other.

“It's a trick,” said the second owl, which sounded like a female. She blinked her eyes slowly, first one and then the other.

“Of course it's a trick, my dear,” said the first owl, and blinked his own eyes, as if in response. “Ratatosk always plays tricks.”

“Hoo yes, a trick,” said the second owl. “One of his tricks.”

“But what kind of a trick?” hooted the first owl. “Is he trying to make us take these children to the moon?”

“That seems to be what he's up to,” said the second owl. “But on the other hand, perhaps he's trying to make us leave them behind.”

“However, if we take them, and she's not expecting them, the Queen will be angry,” said the first.

“Or she might be cross if we don't,” said the second. “If she really is expecting them.”

“We could take one, and leave the other,” suggested the first. “Then she'd only be half as cross, if she didn't want them. One unexpected guest is only half as bad as two.”

“Or if she did want them, at least she'd get one of them,” agreed the second owl. “One guest would be better than nothing.”

“But she'd be a little bit cross either way,” said the first owl.

“Quite true, quite true,” fluted the second owl. “Whatever we did would be partly wrong. We must take them or leave them both.”

“Let's leave them both,” said the first owl. “We've never seen them before. We don't normally give lifts to children.”

“That's true, that's true,” said the second. “But if only one could be sure.”

“Throw them out of the nest,” said the first. “That's the thing to do.”

“But what if it's not?” said the second. “What if it's not?”

“My dear owls,” said Ratatosk, interrupting them, “it's really perfectly simple. The Queen knows nothing about these children. I'm the one that brought them here, just as I told you. I'm the only one that wants them taken to the moon. That's the plain unvarnished truth.”

“Oh no,” said the first owl, “that sounds like his tricking voice.”

“This is my normal voice,” protested Ratatosk.

“Hoo!” cried the second owl. “That's your tricking voice too! That too! Say it in another voice!”

“This is the only voice I've got,” said Ratatosk.

“No no!” insisted the first. “You've got another voice! Tell us in the other voice! Do! Do!”

“All right!” said Ratatosk loudly. “Look. The truth is, the Queen is expecting these children, and she asked me to bring them here, so that you could fly them to the moon.”

They stared at him in silence for a few moments, taking this in.

“Hoo-hoo, hoo-hoo,” cried the first owl suddenly. “We don't know what to do!”

“What's true, what's true?” chorused the second. “Whoo! If only one knew!”

Then both the owls started hooting and complaining, blinking their eyes and swivelling their heads round from side to side, as if this would somehow help them to see things more clearly. Dora, even though she was terrified of being thrown out of the nest, couldn't help wondering how owls had ever acquired their reputation for wisdom.

“Well, I must be going,” said Ratatosk impatiently, and he made a move towards the entrance-hole. “I can't stay here all night. I'll leave you to make up your own minds. Throw them out of the nest when you're finished, if you decide not to take them. At least that'll make the black beetle happy.”

“The black beetle?” said the first owl.

“Whoo!” exclaimed the second owl. “What's he got to do with it?”

“Oh, nothing,” said Ratatosk. “He just seemed to be after them, that's all. If they hadn't grabbed my tail, he would have caught them. He's probably waiting at the bottom of the tree right now, just in case you throw them down. Fed up with gnawing that root all night long, I should think. Fancied two nice tender children as a change.”

“The black beetle!” exclaimed the first owl. “How we hate the black beetle!”

“Tree-destroyer!” said the second.

“Root-nibbler!” said the first.

“Insulter of owls!” cried the second.

“Upsetter of nests!” hooted the first.

“Those poor children!” declared the second owl. “He shan't have them!”

“Hoo-hoo! I agree with you!” agreed the first owl. “We'll save them from him. We'll fly them to the moon.”

“Very well, then,” said Ratatosk. “If your minds are made up.”

“They are! They are!” cried the owls.

“Wake up, children!” said Ratatosk. “Time to be off again.”

He came and shook both children to wake them up. Dora was awake already, but she only sat up slowly and reluctantly. Now that there no longer seemed to be any danger of being thrown out of the owls' nest, she began to think for the first time what it was going to be like to fly to the moon. The first owl was already standing in the entrance-hole, spreading out his wings and evidently getting ready for take-off. Urged on by Ratatosk, she scrambled across the nest and climbed onto the owl's back. Her heart was thumping unpleasantly. She tucked her knees under his wings and threw her arms round his neck.

“Ooh-hoo! Not so tight, you!” exclaimed the owl. “Let me breathe a little, do!”

She slackened her grip ever so slightly, and buried her face in the feathers between the owl's shoulders, with her eyes squeezed shut. The next moment there was a lurch, and a rush of air, as the owl threw himself forward into the emptiness. Dora couldn't help tightening her grip again. For a few horrible moments he seemed to be plunging downwards, as if he couldn't cope with her weight on his back; but then he steadied; and she felt the great silent beats of his wings as he started to climb through the air. A wave of relief rolled through her. And now that he was flying, the owl no longer seemed silly or confused. He seemed powerful, skilful and magical instead. Despite her terror, she felt something new growing inside her: the sheer thrill of flight, the wild freedom of it.

She opened her eyes. There, above her, pale and blotchy and enormous, was the face of the moon.


They were descending towards a huge circle of white dust, with a rim of sharp-looking rocks all the way round the outside. Everything was bathed in harsh colourless light, like moonlight but ten times as powerful. In the middle of the circle of rock was a massive oblong stone slab, and on the slab, flat on his back, lay a giant with his eyes closed. He was a bit like the Green Man they'd seen at the bottom of the world tree, and a bit like the picture of Adam being created by Elohim in Dora's box, but unlike them too. Wound round him was something which might have been a snake or a worm.

Perched around the edges of the stone slab were twenty-six owls. The owls carrying Dora and Adam, when they landed, made the count twenty-eight. They landed near the giant's head. A tall dark-haired woman was standing next to that edge, and Dora guessed immediately that she must be the Queen of the Night. In her right hand was a wand with a crescent moon on the end, and round her head was a silver circlet with another crescent moon on the front. Her dress was white, and her dark hair cascaded all the way down the back of it, almost as far as the ground.

“Now we are all here,” said the Queen. “But I see that we have visitors. Why have you brought these children, you silly owls?” Her voice had an odd quality: it sounded extremely clear, but also as if she were a long way off; and when she stopped talking, the silence was absolute.

Dora and Adam climbed stiffly off the backs of the owls and stood awkwardly on the stone slab.

“We thought you were expecting them, your Majesty,” said the first owl.

“Ratatosk told us,” said the second.

“Ratatosk,” said the Queen, with a nod. “Ratatosk told you that I was expecting them, did he?”

“Well, not exactly,” said the second owl.

“As a matter of fact,” said the first owl, “he told us that you weren't.”

“But he said it in his tricking voice,” said the second owl. “So we didn't believe him.”

“I understand,” said the Queen. “In other words, he has made fools of you again.”

“Hoo, hoo,” said both the owls sadly, and ruffled their feathers. All the other owls round the stone slab hooted softly and ruffled their feathers in sympathy.

The Queen looked at the children. “Well, children?” she said. “Perhaps you can explain why Ratatosk would go to the trouble of persuading my owls to bring you here, tonight of all nights?”

“We don't really know,” said Dora.

“Except he's sort of helping us to solve a puzzle,” said Adam.

“Hm,” said the Queen musingly. “How unusual. Ratatosk normally sets puzzles, rather than solving them. What sort of puzzle is it?”

“It's just some cards in a box,” said Dora, and she got the box out. She knelt down on the stone slab – feeling a little bit uneasy, because the giant's head was only a short distance away – and spread the cards out for the Queen to see.

All the clue cards but one were now blank. The last one showed a pin or a nail, stuck into some floorboards, with a length of thread attached to it, and a loop on the end of the thread.

The Queen looked at the cards in silence for a moment, then pointed to the one which showed a man with a torch standing next to a woman with a pot. “I can help you with this one,” she said. “Do you know who this man and this woman are?”

“No,” said Adam.

“The man is Prometheus, and the woman is Pandora.”

“Oh!” exclaimed Dora. “I hate that story.”

The Queen looked at her.

“I'm sorry,” she explained hastily, “but it's my real name – I mean my real name is Pandora, but I never use it, because it's so long and funny-sounding – so I make everyone call me Dora; and I don't like that story, because it says that everything bad in the world is Pandora's fault.”

“What story are you talking about?” said Adam. “I've never heard it.”

The Queen looked at Dora again.

She took a breath. “Well,” she said, “in the olden days people couldn't cook their food or keep themselves warm or light up their houses, because they didn't have any fire. So Prometheus, that man with the torch, stole fire from the sun and gave it to them, because he felt sorry for them. He was nice. But the gods were angry with Prometheus because he'd stolen their fire, so they sent him a pot as a present and told him never to open it. But he was married to a woman called Pandora, and they knew she'd be too nosy to leave the pot alone, so they did it as a trick. One day when Prometheus was out, Pandora couldn't stand it any more and she opened the pot. All the bad things in the world were inside it – things like illness and starvation and war – and they all flew out, and they've been in the world ever since. There was only one thing left in the bottom of the pot, and that was hope.”

“Well told,” said the Queen, and all the owls ruffled their feathers and hooted again, as a kind of applause.

“So it was all Pandora's fault,” said Adam.

“But we tell the story differently on the moon,” said the Queen. “The name Pandora means 'all the gifts', and originally Pandora was queen of the world, and in her pot she had all the good things, like harvests and health and beauty. They would fly out into the world, then come home to rest in her pot again. But Urizen stole them one by one, claiming that they all belonged to him in the first place, until the only thing left in the pot was hope. Then Pandora was no longer queen of the world: Urizen banished her from daylight, and she became queen of the night instead.”

“You!” cried Dora.

“Yes, me,” said the Queen. “My name is Pandora, like yours. But listen to the end of the story. Pandora's husband was Prometheus the Titan, but another name for him is the Green Man. When Prometheus saw that all the good things in the world, except hope, were under the control of Urizen, he felt sorry for all the people, so he lit his torch from Pandora's pot, and went all round the world passing on the fire to anyone who would take it. The fire he took with him is called imagination, and it gives both light and warmth. But Urizen was furious, of course, so he chained Prometheus to a slab of rock on the moon.”

The children both turned and looked at the giant on the slab.

“Is this him?” said Adam.

“This is him,” replied the Queen. “The chain which fastens him to the rock – the thing you see winding round him like a snake - is made from his own bowels.”

“Yuk!” said Adam.

Dora felt queasy.

“It grows for twenty-eight days,” persisted the Queen, “and on the twenty-eighth, according to an ancient prophecy, he will one day wake up and break free. That's why we're here tonight: we meet here every twenty-eighth night, when the moon is full, in the hope that the prophecy will come true. But instead of that, something else always happens. Have you heard of the black beetle?”

Dora looked at Adam, who suddenly looked very frightened.

“There was a black beetle that took my Dad,” she said. “Adam's really scared of it.”

“I think it's trying to get us,” said Adam.

“And Ratatosk said there's one that tries to eat the biggest root on the world tree,” said Dora.

“And we thought we saw it at the bottom of the tree this evening,” said Adam.

“Hoo hoo! Hoo hoo!” muttered all the owls in agitated voices. “The beetle – they're talking about the black beetle.”

The Queen nodded. “The owls are scared of it as well. During the day, this beetle pushes the sun across the sky. You can't see it, because the sun is too bright - but if you look straight at the sun, then look away again, you see a blotch in front of your eyes, don't you? That's the beetle. And if you stare at the sun for too long, the beetle will eat your sight, and you will be blind. The owls won't take to the air during the day, when the beetle is in the sky.”

“Hoo hoo! That's true, that's true!” agreed the owls in a muted chorus.

“Then at night, as Ratatosk told you, the beetle crawls under the earth, and gnaws at the biggest root of the world tree,” continued the Queen. “But on the twenty-eighth day, just before sunrise, the beetle comes up here -”

“That's when we leave!” cried one of the nearest owls. “We fly away!”

“The owls all fly away,” agreed the Queen, “and I am the only one left to watch. Then the beetle gnaws away at the bowel-rope of Prometheus -”

“Oh, how horrible!” exclaimed Dora.

“- until almost all of it is gone. After which, the beetle leaves, and the bowel-rope grows back again for another twenty-eight days.”

“We'll have to get out of here before it comes,” said Adam.

“I agree,” said the Queen. “That is no sight for children's eyes. My owls will fly you back to the tree. Collect up your cards again, Dora.”

Dora collected them, and put them back in the box.


“So have you still got the pot with hope in it?” said Adam.

But the Queen sighed. “I am afraid not,” she said. “I know that Urizen can't have got hold of it, because hope and imagination are still around in the world, and not under his control. But although he hasn't got it, I haven't got it either. I must have been as careless and silly as the Pandora in your story. I must have put it down somewhere, then forgotten where I put it. I've been looking for it ever since.”

“Oh!” said Adam, in a surprised voice, as if something had just occurred to him. “I bet I know where it's gone!”

But nobody except Dora heard him, because just then there was a great fluffing and flapping from all the owls. “The beetle's coming! The beetle's coming!” they cried.