Magical Books: The Moomins
As a child, I loved the Moomin books. The Moomins are a family of white roundish characters that look a little like mini hippopotamuses. Given the name, I think I assumed they were a kind of Finnish fantasy troll! What attracted me to the Moomin stories was the carefree nature of their lives. Moominpappa and Moominmamma are philosophical about all the magical and exploratory adventures their son, Moomintroll, goes on. Moominmamma is happy as long as Moomintroll has his woolly trousers with him, in case of the cold. And if another friend comes to stay, they quietly welcome them, adding another bed and another space at the dining table.
They are children’s books that give off an enormous sense of contentment in the small things of life: a day trip to an island, swimming in the sea in the early morning sun, or relaxing in the garden. Yet a sense of adventure pervades their everyday life as they deal with floods, comets, magical hats and an ever expanding cast of friends that need help.
My favourite book was the one pictured, Finn Family Moomintroll, in which Moomintroll and his friend Snufkin discover a strange magical hat. Whenever anything is thrown into the hat, it changes into something completely different. For example, water turns into raspberry juice, and eggshells turn into flying clouds. The story progresses through the adventures the hat initiates, and comes to a climax when the original owner of the hat, The Hobgoblin, comes to reclaim his property.
Good lessons come through the stories, in such a way that you don’t realise they are there. One lesson is acceptance. People come and go in Moomin’s life, and he deals with it. Snufkin, his best friend, is a wanderer at heart, and often disappears for months at a time. But Moomin always knows he’ll be back and lets him go without complaint. Each character has a flaw of some kind that is teased out of them by the others: The Snork Maiden is vain, Sniff is peevish, and the Muskrat is an eternal pessimist. They all gently come to terms with their faults, and either way, their friends still love and accept them.
What brought this book to mind in particular was a recent blog post by a friend of mine, Sylvia Heike. Sylvia is a science fiction and fantasy writer living in Finland. Recently on her blog she posted a series of new artistic impressions of some Moomin characters, called The Moomin Project, from Swedish artist, Ingela Hallberg. These pieces are dark and fascinating, and capture the original feeling of the characters, whilst at the same time giving them a fresh look. Pop over and have a look!
All together, nine Moomin books were published, between 1945 and 1970. To me, though, they are timeless, and I’m sure will be enjoyed by many generations to come.