A couple of months ago, I went into my local bookshop looking for books for my six year old grandson. One of the assistants said, “How about the Moomins? Has he read those?”
Well, no, I thought. And neither have I. There’s too much text for my grandson, but not for me.
I picked up Comet in Moominland and took it to the counter. “Ah,” said another of the assistants, nodding wisely. “The Moomins.” “Are you a fan?” I asked. “Oh yes. Any book would be better for having a Moomin in it.” (Now there’s interesting. War and Peace, with Moomins? Oliver Twist and the Moomins? I'm not sure it would work, but it shows how much the Moomin books mean to him.)
I read my first Tove Jansson book about four years ago. It was called The Summer Book, and it was on the adult shelves. It was the cover that attracted me first. It’s a paperback, but it has flaps, so you can easily mark where you stop reading. I like that. And I’ve no idea why, but the cover is nice to the touch – soft and smooth, but substantial. It shows a deep blue sky (Aquamarine? Ultramarine?) with just a couple of light cloud trails, and in the bottom quarter of the page is a small wooded island, edged with a pale stony beach, set in a dark blue sea.
|On the real island|
It’s about an elderly artist and her six year old grand-daughter and a summer they spend on the island. Nothing huge happens. When the southwest wind was blowing, the days seem to follow one another without any kind of change or occurrence… It was just the same long summer, always, and everything lived and grew at its own pace. It’s a small world, with only a few characters, and Tove Jansson simply takes you right into it, so that you come to know the place and the people very well, in all their apparent simplicity. You enter deeply into the way they experience life. And that isn’t an easy thing to do, either as a writer or as a human being.
I’ve read her other adult books too, though I think The Summer Book is my favourite. But the Moomins are what she’s famous for, and until now they have completely passed me by. I had vaguely thought I might have seen a television series, but then realised I was confusing it with something else – was it called The Clangers? About triangular shaped characters who lived on the moon and made funny squeaky noises?
|Tove and a Moomin|
Anyway, the Moomins are not at all like that. They are small creatures which look a little like smoothed-out hippos, or possibly – given that they’re Scandinavian – tiny trolls. They go on epic journeys and have great adventures away from the safety of home, but all in a slightly Winnie-the Pooh sort of way; I don’t mean it’s like Winnie-the-Pooh, but the characters have that quite grave way of thinking and speaking. And after the adventures, they come back home again. This is the last paragraph of The Moomins and the Great Flood:
And then she (his mother) took Moomintroll by the hand and went into the sky-blue room. And there in the valley they spent the whole of their lives, apart from a few times when they left it and travelled for a change.
It’s the same voice as it is in the adult books: cool, clear, utterly unpretentious and essentially rather serious. I love it, and though I’ve come a bit late to the Moomins, I intend to make up for it and read my way through the rest of them. Are there any other fans out there? And if so, can you explain what it is that you like about them?