A Finnish microcosm

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Moominsummer Madness.
Farlig midsommar 
written and illustrated by Tove Jansson (1954), 
translated by Thomas Warburton (1955).
Puffin Books 1971.

‘A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they’d like to be if they dared to, and what they really are.”
— Emma, in Chapter 8

It is almost midsummer in Moomin Valley when flakes of ashy soot start falling about the Moomin house. A nearby volcano is erupting, accompanied by cracks in the ground, and soon creates a tsunami, with the sea invading their home. When a strange new house comes floating by their dwelling the Moomin family — Moominmamma, Moominpapa, Moomintroll — along with the Snork Maiden, the Mymble’s daughter and her sister Little My, plus castaways Misabel and Whomper all decamp to the apparent houseboat. This will eventually float into Spruce Creek, during which time the mystified passengers will explore what they’ve embarked on.

It soon becomes evident to the reader, if not the Moomin Valley residents, that this is part of a theatre, where both stage and backstage have become separated from the rest of the building. With help from what they at first took to be a ghost they decide to put on a tragic play, but when certain individuals become separated and find themselves in various pickles, it will take a series of lucky coincidences to bring everything to a successful conclusion on Midsummer Day.

But will the Moomins ever get back to their valley?

Reading the Moomin stories out of sequence has so far not proved hugely disadvantageous as it becomes quite easy to slip into each situation and to make the acquaintance of characters both old and new. Often outside events intrude on Moomin Valley — a visitor from outer space in Comet in Moominland, say, or the finding of a magician’s hat in Finn Family Moomintroll — or the valley is faced with an unexpected absence, as in Moominvalley in November. Whatever the scenario Jansson manages to persuade the reader that whatever idiosyncratic personages we meet there will be interactions that are gentle, humorous in a quiet way, logical in terms of reaching outcomes, and coincidences which will feel entirely natural and to be expected.

In Moominsummer Madness Jansson’s set piece will be the play The Lion’s Bride, or Blood Will Out. Distantly inspired (it seems to me) by Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the one-act tragedy composed in blank verse by Moominpapa will in fact morph into a farce where all will be well that ends well. The thrilling tale of a tragic heroine and a roaring lion will find it’s more than matched by offstage events –escapes and chases, audience participation and friends reunited.

But the secret of the Moomin magic for the reader must surely be in its gloriously diverse cast of characters, all blessed by extraordinary names, attributes and roles, and distinguished by delightfully individual characteristics: Hattifatteners and Hemulens and Fillyjonks and woodies mix with old friends like one of my favourites, Moomintroll’s pal Snufkin:

Snufkin was a calm person who knew an immense lot of things but never talked about them unnecessarily.

Chapter 1

Yet even in the height of summer darkness threatens, as the author knew full well:

But still, Moomintroll reflected on his quiet walk along the river. There ARE Grokes and policemen. And abysses to fall in. And it happens that people freeze to death, and blow up in the air, and fall in the sea, and catch herring-bones in their throats, and a lot of other things.

The big world is dangerous where there’s no one to know one and no one to know what one likes and what one’s afraid of.

Chapter 1

Moomin Valley is a true microcosm of the world we know, where there’s great delight but also a sense of melancholy. As always the author’s own illustrations not only add to the charm but also without being in any way mawkish ensure the valley’s inhabitants find their way into one’s heart.

NordicFINDS: AnnaBookBel.net @gaskella

20 thoughts on “A Finnish microcosm

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

    1. I sense that darkness every time, Karen, modifying and and transforming any tendency to see the Moomins’ world as simply cutesy. Odd too that the NordicFINDS choices I’ve made this last month have involved potential disasters, from volcanoes (Moonshine and this Jansson) via a tsunami to Gaarder’s warning of climate disaster in The World according to Anna.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. These books have a very poignant mood all of their own, which I only noticed re-reading them a few years ago. Also a series – like, say, Pooh – in which the illustrations complement the text so perfectly it’s impossible imagine one without the other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ‘Poignant’ is the mot juste here, Aonghus, love and friendship and family and even bickering all contributing to something heartfelt that’s almost painful. And the illustrations will forever be essential ingredients to the magic, integral and indispensable.


      1. I must admit that I thought these books might be just a teeny bit saccharin; such a relief to know I was wrong. I’ve noticed that the best “children’s” literature frequently has a dark or melancholy edge; guess that’s what makes it great (and why adults keep reading it).

        Liked by 1 person

        1. And you put your finger on the mistake some readers (and even critics) make when they disregard children’s literature as “childish matters” to put aside — truly worthy literature remains worthwhile, whatever its genre, once preconceptions are laid aside.

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Pingback: #NordicFINDS is here! (Sticky) – Annabookbel

  4. Oh, I wish I’d known about this for Reading the Theatre last year, it would have been perfect! Even though I’m not running the event this year, I may read it myself in March for some cheering up (and a bit of a salutary dark undercurrent) in the gloomiest days of late winter.

    Liked by 1 person

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