I just finished Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson (trans. Elizabeth Portch), and it’s made me long for the seashore… Teasing the waves, as Snufkin does, building a “house” on the sand out of driftwood and a sail, exploring cliff-side beaches and hidden harbors, picnics on the beach and naps in little sand-nests. I did it all and more as a kid, and as a big kid too, and I’ll never be too old for sea-side adventures or for the Moomins either.
‘”Wait!” screamed Sniff. “Don’t leave me behind!”
But Moomintroll didn’t stop until he came to the sea, and there he sat down and solemnly watched the waves rolling in, one after another, each with its crest of white foam.’
– p. 16 Comet in Moominland
I read Comet in Moominland in April and although I can’t remember reading the books when I was little, they are so familiar to me. Finn Family Moomintroll was just the same. The world of the Moomins is strange and funny, full of characters that seem at first glance to be rather simple, but which are actually complex and interesting and real. I can’t help wondering if I did wander into their valley when I was young, and left it with a better understanding of the world I lived in…at least it seems to me now that Tove Jansson saw things like I do.
Both Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll contain a mystery. In the first, Moomintroll and Sniff notice a pattern reoccurring around them, a star with a tail, and they set off to discover it’s meaning (well-provisioned by Moominmama with woolly stockings and packets of sandwiches). They encounter Snufkin along the way, a poet and musician and wanderer, and eventually find the Observatory where they learn that a comet is indeed heading for their valley. Then it’s a mad scramble to get back and warn everyone and survive the disaster.
In Finn Family Moomintroll, after the long winter sleep Moomintroll and Snufkin discover a mysterious top-hat that soon causes havoc, as it changes anything that’s put inside it to something quit different. The hobgoblin it belongs to is hunting for the King Ruby, which may or may not have found its way into the valley. Meanwhile, the Moominhouse is full of visitors, and with the moody philosopher Muskrat, the Snork Maiden and her brother, and the fanatic botanist Hemulen underfoot, Moominmamma might lose her patience.
These books were written for children, but they have important things to say, and they’re never preachy. Moomintroll and his hooligan friends fight and make up, are selfish but also drastically kind, comfort each other and take care of each other. Big, frightening things happen – the fall-out from the comet, terrible storms – but they have to deal with small disasters too, like the Snork Maiden singeing her pretty hair off, or Sniff not getting any garnets, or the Hemulen completing his stamp collection, and these things hold equal weight.
The Moomins take time to enjoy the good things in life – yummy pancakes and raspberry juice, the ocean’s song left in a seashell, funny little paths –
‘…winding here and there, dashing off in different directions, and sometimes even tying a knot in itself from sheer joy. (You don’t get tired of a path like that, and I’m not sure that it doesn’t get you home quicker in the end.)‘
– p. 113 Comet in Moominland
My favorite character so far is Snufkin. Moomintroll and Sniff find him camping in a lonely place along the river. He’s a self-proclaimed tramp, who wanders about, setting up camp when he finds a spot he likes.
‘“Do you like this place?” asked Sniff in surprise, looking at the desolation all around them.
“Certainly I do, said Snufkin. “Look at that black velvet tree with the beautiful grey colours beyond; look at the mountains that are deep purple-red in the distance! And sometimes a big blue buffalo comes to look at himself in the river.”
“You aren’t by any chance – er – a painter?” asked Moomintroll rather shyly.
“Or perhaps a poet?” suggested Sniff.
“I am everything!” said Snufkin, putting on the kettle.‘
– p. 55-56 Comet in Moominland
Snufkin takes up with them, adventuring around and eventually coming home to Moominvalley where he stays with the Moomins for a long time. He is never much bothered with stuff, thinking that it can be rather dangerous to “load yourself up with belongings.” By the end of Finn Family Moomintroll, despite the fact that he’s found a home and family with the Moomins, he sets off again. I like that he’s not afraid to be by himself – even yearns for it.
‘…they sat for a while swinging their legs over the water, without speaking, while the river flowed on and on beneath them to all the strange places that Snufkin longed for and would go to quite alone.
“When are you going?” Moomintroll asked.
“Now – immediately!” said Snufkin throwing all the reed-boats into the water at once, and he jumped down from the bridge and sniffed the morning air. It was a good day to start a journey; the crest of the hill beckoned to him in the sunshine, with the road winding up and disappearing on the other side to find a new valley, and then a new hill…‘
– p. 127 Finn Family Moomintroll
The difference now is that Snufkin will return in the spring – thank goodness! I’ll look forward to that with as much anticipation as Moomintroll. I’m eager to see what these sweet devils get up to next!