Falling under a spell

Tove Jansson: Comet in Moominland
Kometjakten (1946)
Translated by Elizabeth Portch (1951)
Puffin Books 2019

A visitor from space is hurtling towards Moominland but it isn’t friendly, in fact it could cause devastation. Young Moomintroll and his friend Sniff set off to an observatory on a mountain to find out exactly when and where the comet will land.

Comet in Moominland is therefore a tale of their expedition — but it is not really all about that, for Jansson’s story is, as all good stories are, about the people involved and their relationships with each other.

For those, like me, faintly familiar or even strangers to the Moomin tales, it was an adventure in itself to meet with Moomintroll, his family, Sniff, a muskrat, a silk monkey, Snufkin, some Hemulen and others, all with their characteristics and idiosyncrasies.

I have to confess that I never understood the fuss made of the Moomins: I thought they looked sweet, even charming, but I hadn’t fallen under their spell, and I was dubious that I would after a few chapters.

And then something magical happened. Instead of a series of chapters with only loosely related incidents, what began to emerge was a picture of relationships. Some of these were close, others a bit fraught; but here were a bunch of disparate creatures thrown together by chance and circumstances who managed to rub along together.

Moomintroll, his family and the related Snorks are friendly cuddly animals, like furry hippos but without the aggression; Sniff is like a hybrid kangaroo rabbit but with short legs; the Hemulen are dour figures with big snouts and shapeless robes; Snufkin is a tramp with a big hat, shepherd’s smock and a mouth organ; but essentially these are all human children in disguise. There are humans as such, but the astronomers (grumpy to a man) and the woman in the village shop all refer to the assorted expeditioners as ‘children’, an indication of how we should regard the inhabitants of this world and with whom young readers (and not so young readers) might choose to identify.

The narrative takes Moomintroll and Sniff through a sequence of landscapes, first through woods to a seashore ringed with cliffs, later on a raft along an increasingly perilous river, up mountains and back across deserts and a terrain from which all water has disappeared. And all through the September and early October days the comet is getting nearer, the sky redder, the atmosphere hotter. Yet the underlying message — if message there is — seems to be that it is necessary to take risks, to see what one is capable of, but that there is always the expectation of a loving family to come home to.

Was I charmed? Did I fall under the Moomin spell? I must confess that I suspect I was, and that I’m grateful to all the urgings to try the series and indeed to begin with this, the second of the series of nine. And, as well as the humour, not a little of the enchantment came from Jansson’s delightful, delicate line drawings, and especially the scenic landscapes, which one has only to view to fall for, with their vistas and skies drawing the gaze. I’m now contemplating what title should now follow this.

A contribution for Tove Trove, Paula’s celebration of the life and work of Tove Jansson on her blog Book Jotter

26 thoughts on “Falling under a spell

    1. It’s partly thanks to your persuasive siren voice that I actually purchased a copy, my county library weirdly being unable to source suitable copies other than short picture books, and charity shops unable to oblige. Anyway, should I go in publishing sequence now or go with whatever takes my fancy?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I feel honored and burdened with responsibility at the same time! 😄

        I’d go with the publication sequence, or writing sequence if there’s a difference, with the exception of The Little Trolls…, which can be safely left as a bonus read. The reason for it is that the protagonists, the worldview and the general mood of the stories evolves gradually to something more serious, nostalgic, and altogether less carefree and, as you rightly noticed, less childlike in the process. I do prefer the later novels with their more mature themes but enjoy the early ones as well for their unadulterated sense of adventure.

        Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Paula, and thank you too for suggesting Tove Trove as a way to get into Jansson’s work. I shall see if I can get hold of a library copy of the book you mention about her artwork — I’ve been intrigued by the hints in the short story collection Art in Nature and now I’ve also been impressed by the Moomin illustrations, such assured and accomplished line drawings (even if some were redrawn for later editions).

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Pingback: TOVE TROVE: Reading the Books of Tove Jansson – Book Jotter

  2. I leapfrogged this one, jumping from the very first book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, to Moominland Midwinter – for obvious seasonal reasons. The first book is a delight. Very short but a charming whimsical introduction to Moomintroll and his mama. By the time Moominland Midwinter was published the series had, as Ola describes, grown more serious and less carefree but I loved that book. I think my next one will be Comet in Moominland. I have high expectations and I’m confident I won’t be disappointed 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I might try the flood book next, it wasn’t in the bookshop when I looked — but it would have been highly appropriate given what England and Wales (and elsewhere in Europe, I’ve no doubt) has suffered over the last few weeks.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Glad you enjoyed this one. I’m yet to read a Moomin book but they’ve always been favourite characters since my mother read them as a child and I’ve been familiar with them through her. The Flood turns 75 time year so I want to pick it up if I can find a copy.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s a good idea, I’ll see if I can get my hands on a copy too. The Moomins were never in evidence when I was a kid, and maybe when I first became aware of them I’d become an awkward teenager who didn’t really know what he wanted except that it wasn’t what he was being offered! The Moomins wouldn’t have been his cup of tea…

          Liked by 1 person

  3. piotrek

    Moomins are so charming and uplifting! One more classic I’m rediscovering with my nieces, but it’s only a pretext, I’d enjoy them almost as much by myself 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank heavens for your nieces, then, what would you do for a pretext for reading classic children’s stories?! I have no such excuse, except perhaps a descent into second childhood. 😁

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Winding Up the Week #110 – Book Jotter

      1. I hope to write a post this weekend. Maybe. The switch to online teaching appears to have been more draining than I thought, so perhaps I’ll just keep reading instead 🙂 . I’m really glad that it is Easter holiday now.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Comet in Moominland – I read that in a book

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