The Magician and his hat

Moominvalley map by Tove Jansson

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.

Continue reading “The Magician and his hat”

A light in the darkness

Sophia Jansson with Signe Hammarsten (circa 1968 image: Margareta Strömstedt)

Moominvalley in November
written and illustrated by Tove Jansson,
translated by Kingsley Hart.
Puffin 2019 (1971)

Set as autumn is on the turn towards winter in Moominvalley, this last of all the Moomin novels is, as expected, a bittersweet tale of friendship, absence, loss and hope. Six disparate individuals feel a yearning to visit the Moomins in their valley, but when they all get there they find the family gone and the house empty. How do they react when they realise that and how do they get on with each other while they wait for the Moomins’ return?

I loved this for so many reasons — the apparent whimsy hiding psychological insights, the individual quests the characters found themselves on, the autumnal atmosphere beautifully recreated with hints of hibernation and the faint promise of spring, and of course for the delicate line drawings that delight the eye.

While it’s common knowledge that the author wrote this after losing her 88-year-old mother Signe, and that a deep sense of loss pervades the novel, most readers will be intrigued by the interaction between the six characters in search of a meaning for the empty home they visit, and of their reasons for undertaking their quests.

Continue reading “A light in the darkness”

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.

Continue reading “Falling under a spell”

Fierce wistfulness

Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson:
A Winter Book: selected stories
Sort of Books 2006

It seems that everybody who’s heard of Tove Jansson knows her as the author of a series of illustrated books about some Finnish trolls. Though I’ve yet to fall under their particular spell — and heaven knows enough people have urged me to — I’ve instead been captivated by her writing for adults.

My admiration began with the collection of short stories published in English as Art in Nature and continued with The Summer Book. Now, with the selection of pieces known as A Winter Book, I revisit some of the sense of wistfulness I’ve noted before, coupled with a fierce independence of spirit that permeates virtually every story.

Though there are references to ice and snow in some of the offerings, this alluring ragbag of writings (selected and introduced by writer Ali Smith) doesn’t deal exclusively with winter, but in a series of vignettes it does perfectly sum up that end of year feeling when one looks back to review what one’s life has accomplished and what it might all signify.

Continue reading “Fierce wistfulness”

Reading Tove, and more

Tove Jansson

Paula Bardell-Hedley of Book Jotter is running an open-ended reading project focused on Tove Jansson which she’s calling Tove Trove. She launched it a month ago, in August, when the author and artist would have been 105 — if she’d still been with us.

Best known for her Moomin books (which I’ve yet to fall under the spell of, but shortly hope to remedy) Jansson also wrote novels and short stories for an adult audience. Of these, I’ve read and reviewed what is arguably her best work, The Summer Book (1972), and a collection of stories called Art in Nature (first published as Dockskåpet or Doll’s House in 1978).

After her death in 2001 a selection of tales was put together under the title The Winter Book (2006), a copy of which I intend to read soon. The project is intended to include not just reading books by her but also about her: her art, her life, her philosophy. Paula’s enthusiasm has persuaded me to read more by and about Jansson, and perhaps her enthusiasm may rub off on you too!

In other news

We’re coming up to the end of Cathy Brown’s annual event 20 Books of Summer during which, over three months, I aimed to complete … twenty books. I will, with the final pages of Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf, have indeed finished a score of titles (yay!) — only it won’t actually be the twenty I listed (oops).

In the frame are seven children’s books (a mix of fantasy and realism), three whodunits (two by Agatha Christie), two classics (one Victorian, the other mid 20th-century), the final two parts of a trilogy (by Robertson Davies), two short non-fiction books (one on environmentalism, one on children’s fiction), and one each of speculative fiction, a graphic novel and a Gothic romance.

A whopping fifteen titles were by female writers. Of the nineteen listed two were library books, and two were borrowed from the shelves of a holiday let within sight of Agatha Christie’s writing retreat on Burgh Island. Just ten of these (including Steppenwolf) will have figured on my 20 Books of Summer wishlist. My 10 Books of Summer, I suppose.

I’m finding time-constrained projects, challenges and events a little, well, constraining, so for the next few weeks I’m going to read just what I fancy. But, contrary to what I’ve just implied, there will be a title or two from my Classics Club list, the odd ‘summer’ book, and at least one ‘winter’ book — can you guess which one it will be?

Tove Jansson