Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Final Moomin Tales

c1965; trans. by Thomas Warburton
And now we come to the book in this series that I found most unsettling. In this one, Moominpappa is going through a midlife crisis, and decides to move the whole family to an island he's seen on a map. He wants to take over the lighthouse on this island and live at the edge of the sea.

The core of this book is loneliness and anomie. It was almost frightening in the sense of isolation between characters and the comfortable settings of the previous books. It's like a long dark night of the soul for the Moomin universe. At least that's the sense I get from it.

Thankfully, Little My is in this one, quite happily exploring the strange island and living in the moment, fully herself as usual. Tough, cynical, practical, ironic, Little My is always fully herself. She exists; she does not have an existential crisis of any kind.

Each of the Moomins is trying to find a reason for living, a purpose of some kind. Moominpappa is restless and unhappy, Moominmamma tries to make everyone comfortable as best she can, and subdues her own longing to go home, back to her comfortable house and garden - until she discovers an unusual artistic talent. Moomintroll, meanwhile, makes himself a snuggery in a patch of scrub forest on this odd island where even the trees move away from unknown things in fear. And he encounters sea horses on the night beach, as well as the reappearance of The Groke, who has followed them there. It's an unsettling read, and one that I found many-layered, with multiple readings possible. It's complex and disturbing, and yet on another level, it's a kind of Swiss Family Robinson story that child readers might enjoy -- Jansson is always an astonishment. 

c1970; trans. by Thomas Warburton

This final entry into the Moomin series does not feature the Moomins at all; or at least, it features only their absence and influence, and their home in Moominvalley.

It follows various characters who arrive in Moominvalley expecting to find the Moomin family, and particularly the welcome of Moominmamma -- but nobody is there (because they are still all on the island in the sea). Is the comfortable Moomin world gone forever?

Snufkin, Fillyjonk, Mymble, Toft, Grandpa-Grumble & the Hemulen all gather in the Moomins house and try to make it their own, while waiting for the Moomins to show up -- from where or when they aren't sure.

They have to form their own social understandings - who is sleeping where, who is responsible for what in this unintentional community, how long they'll stay, and so forth. Each of them has their own reasons for coming to Moominvalley, and Jansson reveals each character through their behaviour. It's an interesting look at the various other occupants of Moominland, and an interesting structure: a Moomin book in which the Moomins never show up. Until there is a hint of a return in the spring....

Throughout a long dark winter, however, the six lonely characters must find a way to help one another without the cheer of the Moomins (perhaps reflective of a depressed, post-war Jansson). Thrown on their own devices they come to a sense of community and help one another grow and develop, to the point that if and when the Moomins return they can meet them on an equal level, not as supplicants for emotional support. 

It's another sophisticated story, full of different levels to explore. There are quiet mystical moments, parties, petty arguments, and a bit of introspection going on. Everything is off kilter in these last two books, but in the final pages of this one there seems to be a hope that normality and cheer will return. 

What a series! Finnish weirdness at its best, thoughtful, surreal, funny, dark... so much to explore. The skill with which Jansson both wrote and illustrated this whole series means it's something that can be read repeatedly, with new insights from the familiar characters each time. Highly recommended for adult readers; you'll have to judge for yourself if these books are something your children would like to read. 


  1. This series sounds quite appealing. Terrific reviews!

    1. It was a great reading experience to go through them all at once. And to see the various development of the imaginary world and the characters. So much to dig out of each one.

  2. Aren't the books dark at the end! I remember being quite shocked that these were for children...


    1. So dark! Moominpappa At Sea continued to feel disturbing to me after I'd finished; the dark mood hung on.


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