There was Moominpapa with his fondness for boats, Moominmama who liked to sleep when it was raining outside, and their son Moomintroll, who once tried to capture an Ant-lion. There was the vain Snork-Maiden with her blonde fringe, Snufkin who smoked pipes, Little My who could always find amusement in anything, and a whole host of other strange characters that would wander in and out, but were mostly independent of each other. There were also darker characters – such as The Groke, who made everything cold, and wanted nothing more than to stare longingly at lamps. The characters often verge on the borders of melancholia, and it is this, and their independence of each other, that really attracted me as a child, as I strongly identified with both feelings.
There are nine books in all (as well as various comic strips), and out of the nine I own five, pictured here. My favourite without a doubt is Moominpapa at Sea, and the poor state of the book pays testament to this. It has been many years since I last read the story, but I remember the obsession that Moominpapa has about understanding the nature of the sea, the way Moominmama tries to grow a garden in unyielding earth, and the way the Groke slowly encroaches on the island, making the trees shift shape in their bid to escape. It is an amazingly engrossing story, filled with treasure and sea-horses and lighthouses and danger – perfect for children who like to ‘think’.
‘It’s strange,’ thought Moominmama. ‘Strange that people can be sad and even angry because life is too easy.’
That was how it had been with Moominpapa. He had been feeling unnecessary, out of things. The only thing to do was to make a fresh start. Somewhere out to sea there was a tiny rocky island and a lighthouse, just waiting for him.
‘I’ll capture the lighthouse,’ thought Moominpapa. ‘I’ll present it to my family and say ‘this is where you’re going to live. When we are safe inside, nothing dangerous can happen to us’.
I also very much enjoyed Moominsummer Madness – the family are flooded out of their home and find a floating theatre in which to live, although they have never seen a theatre before and have no idea why things seem different. Eventually they realise and decide to produce a play to keep everyone’s spirits up, not realising the theatre has a spirit or two of its own. This book showcases the ‘comic/tragic’ nature of the theatre, the split personality and the glamour.
Whomper hunted for marmalade. ‘Perhaps jam will do just as well,' he said and tried to take the lid off a jam-pot.
‘Painted plaster,’ stated the Mymble’s daughter. She took an apple and chewed at it. ‘Wood,’ she said.
Little My laughed.
But Whomper felt worried. All the things around him were false. Their pretty colours were a sham, and everything he touched was made of paper or wood or plaster. Their golden crowns weren’t nice and heavy, and the flowers were paper flowers. The fiddles had no strings and the boxes no bottoms, and the books couldn’t even be opened.
Troubled in his honest heart, Whomper pondered over the meaning of it all, but he couldn’t find any solution. ‘I wish I were just a tiny bit more clever’, he thought. ‘Or a few weeks older’.
Although the Moomins have appeared in many guises over the years – mainly in TV shows – I never felt they captured the original essence of the books, that strange ethereal spookiness that makes the books so completely compelling to both children and adults.