Posted by: Sally Ingraham | February 19, 2015

“The main thing in life is to know your own mind.”

Nailed it again, Snufkin!

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I’ve been hanging out with the Moomins pretty frequently this year, partially because I’ve been dealing with a lot of feels and the Moomins all feel so much, so honestly. And partially because they’re just great fun!

I began with the first volume of the complete collected comic strip, which contains the adventures Moomin and the Brigands, Moomin and Family Life, Moomin on the Riviera, and Moomin’s Desert Island. Half the fun of the novels are the quirky and charming illustrations scattered throughout, so of course the stories work wonderfully well as comic strips. As in the novels, the Moomins make friends and get up to mischief and casually drop profound bits of wisdom about how to live well in a weird world.

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This is one of my favorite strips, and I love how it pokes quiet fun at the ‘vanity and vacuity of the modern art world’, as Alisia Grace Chase writes in her little essay at the end of Moomin Vol. 1. Tove Jansson truly wrote what she knew, drawing inspiration from her own seaside upbringing in an eccentric household, where relishing the moment was forged into a life-long philosophy.

I relate so hard to the Moomins that it hurts sometimes. In Moominsummer Madness (trans. Thomas Warburton) Snufkin meets Little My for the first time and tells her “You’re a strange child” (which is rich coming from him!) and Little My replies, “You’re dead right there, pal!” I have been the Little My in this same conversation as recently as two weeks ago. It is increasingly rare for people to truly know their own mind…

As I read Jansson’s books I’m often startled by the way she captures the things that I feel that seem indescribable. For instance:

Later in the evening Misabel went for a solitary stroll by the sea. She saw the moon rise and start his lonesome journey through the night.

“He’s exactly like me,” Misabel thought sadly. “So plump and lonely.”

At this thought she felt so forsaken and mild that she had to cry a little.

“What are you crying for?” asked Whomper nearby.

“I don’t know, but it feels nice,” replied Misabel.

“But people cry because they feel sorry, don’t they?” objected Whomper.

“Well, yes – the moon,” Misabel replied vaguely and blew her nose. “The moon and the night and all the sadness there is…”

“Oh, yes,” said Whomper.

– p. 48 Moominsummer Madness

Ugh, yes…this.

I’ve just begun Moominpappa at Sea and it is already full of such passages, as Moominpappa struggles with the unease and restlessness of August, unexplainable melancholy, and the desire to be busy but the lack of gumption to get anything done. Been there. I’ve been here too:

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Heh. I love Moominpappa almost as much as I love Snufkin (who didn’t feature as much in these books as he did in the last couple I read.)

The most appropriate book I read recently was Moominland Midwinter (trans. Thomas Warburton), which features lots of snow and cold and all the pleasures and pains of wintertime. The Moomins usually sleep through it, but Moomintroll wakes from the deep winter nap for some reason and has to survive through the long dark cold while the rest of his family snoozes. At first he is frightened and very lonely, for the valley looks entirely unfamiliar in it’s blanket of snow, and someone mysterious is living under the stove, and his beloved sun is gone – perhaps forever!

The silence and stillness of the wood were complete. Only now and then a large sheaf of snow came thumping down from a tree. The branch from which it had fallen rocked awhile, and then all was lifeless again.

“The world’s asleep,” Moomintroll thought. “It’s only I who am awake and sleepless. It’s only I who have to wander and wander, day after day, and week upon week, until I, too, become a snowdrift that no one will know about.”

– p. 20 Moominland Midwinter

Even when Little My also wakes up, Moomintroll isn’t much comforted. He remains disconcerted, while she takes to winter like a fish to water, immediately embracing all of the snow sports and befriending the other winter wakers. But gradually, with the help of Too-ticky, who lives in the Moomin’s bathhouse during the cold months, Moomintroll starts to warm up to winter and with his usual resilience he finds things to admire and adventures to embrace.

There are such lovely passages in this book about a time of year that I struggle to enjoy myself, sometimes, and as per usual, many insights into the mystery of being alive.

“What song is that?” asked Moomintroll.

“It’s a song of myself… A song of Too-ticky…but the refrain is about wholly other things.”

“I see,” Moomintroll said and seated himself in the snow.

“No, you don’t,” replied Too-ticky genially… “Because the refrain is about the things one can’t understand. I’m thinking about the aurora borealis. You can’t tell if it really does exist or if it just looks like existing. All things are so very uncertain, and that’s exactly what makes me feel reassured.”

– p. 22 Moominland Midwinter

Too-ticky rubbed her nose and thought. “Well, it’s like this,” she said. “There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep – then they appear.”

– p. 46 Moominland Midwinter

And characters like Moominmama and anyone else who provides the tea and sandwiches, and makes sure people go to bed on time and keep their feet warm – the ones who keep watch at the window, and light the night lanterns – get a shout out:

Moomintroll was already on his way out to her rescue. Too-ticky stood looking on for awhile, and then she went inside the bathing-house and put a kettle of water on the stove. “Quite, quite,” she thought with a little sigh. “It’s always like this in their adventures. To save and be saved. I wish somebody would write a story about the people who warm up the heroes afterwards.”

– p. 141 Moominland Midwinter

Oh Moomins, kind, brave souls who are as comforting and funny and inspiring as my family and closest friends… What a pleasure it is to hang out with them.

I really want to read some of Jansson’s novels written for adults, and her memoir. I feel that whatever she has to share, it will teach me something new about how to get along in life, and relate to people, and be at peace with myself (and enjoy the whiskey again, in a week!)


Responses

  1. I haven’t tried a Jansson book that was not worth the time. You will enjoy the Moominness of some of the adult books – some of the dialogue, for example. The Moominness of real life.

  2. So true about Moomins and feels! I adored all the books I’ve read to date, but have yet to pick up any of the comic strips (even though I received one of the volumes as a gift like five years ago). She’s such a subtle and insightful writer and I love her so much.


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