I – and all my friends who have read the Malazan Book of the Fallen series – have wondered why the first book in the series is titled Gardens of the Moon. The only Moon-related entity in the book is Moon’s Spawn, the flying fortress of Anomander Rake’s Tiste Andii, but it doesn’t possess any gardens. In fact, the only garden that finds prominent mention in the book is the one on which a festival named Gedderone’s Fete takes place. So the title has always been confusing.
Yesterday, in the middle of my third reread of the series, I came across a curious statement in Dust of Dreams, the ninth book: that Olar Ethil, the bonecaster of the Logros T’lan Imass, is called ‘Ayala Alalle’ by the Forkrul Assail. ‘Ayala Alalle’ means ‘tender of the Gardens of the Moon’. Now, Olar Ethil is a particularly interesting character in the series: she may be the mother of Draconus’s daughters Envy and Spite, was an Azathanai who may have created the Imass, and she may be Burn the Sleeping Goddess (keeping with author Steven Erikson’s persistent use of an unreliable narrator throughout the series). She was certainly the bonecaster who conducted the First Ritual of Tellann.
Olar Ethil, a.k.a. Ayala Alalle, as Burn is what is relevant here. The Malazan world is thought to be kept in existence by the dreaming of Burn. Should her dreams be poisoned, the Malazan world will be poisoned; should she awaken from her dream, the Malazan world will be destroyed. Now, if the person who was Ayala Alalle was also the person known as Burn, then ‘tending to the Gardens of the Moon’ may have been a reference to Burn’s tending to her dream or the subjects of her dream – i.e. in effect serving as a broad introduction to the world and peoples of the books.
I know this is tenuous and based on Olar Ethil being Burn and that is something Erikson never confirms, not even in the first two books of the Kharkhanas Trilogy (the third is yet to be published), which discuss the Azathanai before K’rul created the Warrens. However, I’m going to go with it because Erikson does not provide any other material in Gardens of the Moon that might suggest why it is named so. All the other books in the series are also very specifically named according to people or events in each book.
Finally, I am going to take heart from the fact that we find out only in the series’s last book, The Crippled God, as to why the series is called so. It is just another example of Erikson being perfectly okay with explaining things as and when he pleases and not when he thinks the reader ought to know.