Finn Family Moomintroll
(Trollkarlens hatt, 1948)
by Tove Jansson,
translated by Elizabeth Portch.
Puffin Books 2019 (1950)
Another delightful instalment in the Moomin saga, Finn Family Moomintroll is indeed about the extended Moomin family but also introduces us to several new characters in addition to those who joined in the preceding novel, Comet in Moominland.
This novel takes us through a whole year, from when the first snow of approaching winter starts to fall through to late August when the smell of autumn is in the air.
But the thread which winds its way through the seven chapters is the strange hat which is discovered early on, leading up to the appearance of the owner of that hat, the Magician, who appears as the Trollkarlen in the original Swedish title but who I think is misleadingly called a Hobgoblin in this translation.
Trollkarl or Trollkarlen might be better translated as Sorcerer or perhaps, literally, as Ogre-man. He has a swishy cloak and a top hat, in the manner of old-fashioned stage magicians, but his glowing red eyes and the black panther he mounts to fly through the air and to the moon tell us that he is rather more than a mere mountebank. Despite the fact that the cover of the original publication depicts the Trollkarlen on the moon, we are only given hints about him until he makes his appearance in the final chapter.
A series of mini-adventures precede his appearance, in which the core of Moomin children — Moomintroll, the Snork and the Snork-Maiden — get themselves involved in magical happenings and, of course, scrapes. The discovery of a top hat on the Lonely Mountain leads eventually to a further discovery of its random transformative power; there is an expedition to the Hattifatteners’ Island by the Moomins, the Hemulen, Sniff and Snufkin, where unexpected things take place, plus a perilous fishing expedition; then the transformation of the Moominhouse into a jungle; and finally, after the appearance of the spoonerising Thingumy and Bob and of the Groke, the nature of the Trollkarlen’s long quest is made clear.
The seeming unrelated incidents that take place give the novel an episodic feel, and for the intended readers (or maybe for those who are being read to) the focus is almost entirely on the nature, virtues and foibles of the individuals, and on their interactions. There are minor squabbles and irritations, but also rapprochements and generous acts; there is anxiety when someone new appears, but soon they will be warmly welcomed into Moomin family life and even the stove-pipe home; there are natural dangers like storms and flooding and excessive heat but also there are games, and parties, and picnics. Old and young alike can’t fail to be drawn to the comfort food that abounds, principally pancakes and raspberry juice, though many will baulk at the diet that sustains the Moomins through their annual hibernation — pine needles.
And who can fail to be intrigued at the book titles referenced here — The Dictionary of Outlandish Words, Moominpappa’s Memoirs, and On the Uselessness of Everything — even if the latter later morphs into the more humdrum On the Usefulness of Everything?
Ultimately it’s the love of nature which seeps through these pages and provides the life force that buoys up the Moomin community. Whether the valley’s inhabitants are climbing mountains, exploring caves, beachcombing, gardening, sailing, preparing food, fishing, or botanising the exotic foliage that grows in Moominvalley, these activities provide the background to the beings’ existences, who at the end of all repair to their warm, cosy, sheltering home, and to their beds. It’s pretty much what, in exchange for the Trollkarlen’s treasure, they wish for, and what leaves us closing the book contented and at peace.
With a map, a personal message from the author (in the guise of Moominmamma) to English speakers, and a set of wonderful line drawings, Finn Family Moomintroll is a work to enjoy, to share, and to wholeheartedly recommend.