The Finnish children’s books about the Moomin family are among my favourite in that genre. Unlike many other beloved children’s books these are not part of my childhood memories. My mother thought they were too dark and melancholy for children and preferred Astrid Lindgren and a wide range of Danish and other Scandinavian authors. So I didn’t read these books until far into adulthood. When I finally did read them I was very taken by them. They are indeed very melancholy but also full of twinkle and affection.
Reading Moominpappa at Sea I found this typical paragraph:
But Moominpappa didn’t look into it straight away. First he looked at his grimy paws, trying to collect all his vague, scattered, and troubled thoughts. When he was feeling as sad as he possibly could, he looked into the crystal ball for consolation. Every evening of that long, warm, beautiful, and melancholy summer he had done the same thing.
Long, warm, beautiful, and melancholy summer! That sentence perfectly encapsulates Nordic summer melancholy. At last when summer has arrived and the evenings turn into mornings without ever reaching deep night you feel happiness and sadness at the same time. It is here, summer. But it is so short. Yesterday was solstice which means these days are the most light of the year. June is the entrance to Nordic summer meteorologically speaking but astronomically speaking it is the middle – Midsummer. This makes it seem as if summer is to leave us the moment it arrives. The departure is intertwined with the arrival in other words, prompting the classic Nordic melancholy. The Moomin books portray this to perfection.
My favourite book is Moominland Midwinter when Moomin wakes from his hibernation and is carried off the mystical world of winter that the Moomins normally never experience.
Everything looks different and strange and unknown beings populate the otherwise familiar places. The book is quite creepy but challenges our ideas of what the truth about the world is. Moomin walks into the backside of his world and is deeply depressed by it, but on the other hand it is an exploration and with friends such as Too-Ticky and Little My his depression has to lift.
Right now I am reading Moominsummer Madness (I’m not really content with this translation as the books is actually entitled Dangerous Midsummer). In this part my all time favourite character Little My is portrayed very well by this exchange between her and Moominmamma:
“So very annoying, this volcano,” she remarked.
“Volcano?” asked Little My, and thrust an interested head out of the wool (she’s in Moominmamma’s sewing basket).
“Yes, it’s a mountain not so very far from here, and all of a sudden it’s begun spitting fire and smoke over the whole valley,” explained Moominmamma. “And soot. It’s always kept quiet and good ever since I married. And now, after all these years, exactly when I’ve finished my washing, it has to sneeze once again and blacken all the things I hung out.”
“Everybody’s burning up!” shouted Little My happily. “And everybody’s houses and gardens and playthings and little sisters and their playthings!”
Little My is so wonderfully mean, but also the exact opposite of melancholy. She prefers to be angry. But most of the time she’s just maliciously happy and sure of herself.
In Moominland Midwinter she scorns Moomin’s sadness and just gets the best out of the snow and the cold by sliding down the hills on a silver tray wearing a tea cosy having a lot of fun.
Just to give you an idea of My’s size.
The illustrations are by Tove Jansson herself and they are wonderful. I just found out she also illustrated Alice in Wonderland which is just marvellous!
To see the front pages of various editions of the books go here.I found some of the books in the Swedish original in the Swedish house my parents just bought. I rather like to read the books in Swedish to get the original flow of the text. But my warmest recommendations for these volumes – in any language.
Hooray for Tove Jansson and the Moomins!