Finn Family Moomintroll, by Tove Jansson
9/10, lovely sweet Finnish stories about a family in a magical world
I was somewhat apprehensive that the Moomin books would turn out to be pixibooks, but after picking up the lovely Drawn & Quarterly collections of Jansson’s daily strips, I finally bit the bullet and dropped five bucks to get Finn Family Moomintroll, the first in the series.
I don’t remember how many of these we had when I was growing up, but it was a lot of them. This one, though it is the first, seems to take place in the middle of the lives of the moomins. There’s reference made to the comet which is a story in a later book, and we seem expected to know all the characters already. Fortunately, Jansson is so sure of her characters that we have no trouble picking them up right away and growing very fond of them. They are more or less at the center of the stories, so a quick dramatis moominae is probably better than a plot summary.
Moomintroll, the main character, is sort of a young teenager. He lives with his parents, Moominmamma and Moominpappa, and his friends Sniff and Snufkin. He has a little thing for the Snork Maiden, who lives with them along with her brother the Snork. If that weren’t enough for a house, you have the Muskrat, whose favorite book is “On The Uselessness of Everything,” and the Hemulen, who is quite despondent when it turns out that he has collected all the stamps and his collection is complete; he has nothing more to do. Snufkin is sort of a tramp of a character, who loves his friends but also craves solitude and the open road. Sniff also loves his friends but also loves himself (when they discover a boat and are arguing about what to name her, Sniff’s contribution, yelled out loud, is “SNIFF!”). The Snork Maiden is a perfect teenage girl, young and romantic but also slightly insecure and prone to snubbing Moomintroll for slights against her that he hasn’t realized he’s made.
The gang have many magical adventures, many of which center around the Hobgoblin’s Hat, a large top hat that mysteriously transforms anything that falls into it. This is a children’s book, but doesn’t shy away from some mature problems: how do you get your friends to like you, how do you get something back that someone’s taken from you, what use is a lot of money? All of these problems, it turns out, have relatively simple solutions for the Moomins, but the wit and charm of this series lies in watching the characters go through the ridiculous predicaments and resolutions that Jansson’s vivid imagination concocts for them. Her little asides (Moominmamma makes orange-peel teeth for her children to play with; a footnote says, “Ask your mother how to make them; she is sure to know.”) are as delightful as the story itself.
If you like stories of children’s adventures and magical fantasy worlds, it’s hard to imagine that you would not enjoy Jansson’s Moomin books. Thanks to Drawn and Quarterly, her comics are enjoying a renaissance; let’s hope this spreads to the books as well.