A few months ago, I was in Finland, and I asked two education professionals over dinner, “What are the books that every Finn has read, whether in school or outside?” They gave me two: Seven Brothers, by Aleksis Kivi (published in 1870), and the Moomin books, by Tove Jansson (published between 1945 and 1993).
When I returned home, I picked up Finn Family Moomintroll from the library and read it aloud with my 6-year-old daughter. It is delightful and crazy and continually surprising. Moomintroll is the protagonist, a good-natured, roundish creature who lives in Moomin Valley with his mother, his father, and a whole pile of other creatures. Early on, Moomintroll and his friends Snufkin and Sniff find a hat. Back home, they use it as a wastebasket and discard some eggshells in it. The eggshells then turn into mini-clouds that Moomin and his friends are able to fly around on. All kinds of other adventures ensue. At one point, a character discovers a significant amount of gold.
“I wonder what you’re all thinking of doing with the Snork’s gold?” said Snufkin.“I think we shall use it to decorate the edges of the flower beds,” said Moominmamma, “only the big bits, of course, because the little ones look so rubbishy.”
Two creatures — Thingumy and Bob — show up who speak largely in spoonerisms: “‘Don’t nake any totice,’ whispered Bob.” Ultimately, a magician called the Hobgoblin shows up — it turns out the hat was his — as he realizes that the ruby he was seeking in the valleys of the moon is actually in Thingumy and Bob’s suitcase. The Hobgoblin then grants wishes to everyone, not without a little mischief: The Muskrat had been reading a book entitled On the Uselessness of Everything; his wish is merely for his book to be returned, but when he gets it back,
“‘On the Usefulness of Everything’,” read the Muskrat. “But this is the wrong book. The one I had was about the Uselessness of Everything.”But the Hobgoblin only laughed.
Peppered throughout the inspired lunacy are these little nuggets of anti-materialism and optimism. I keep wanting to compare these books to others: They’re like Winnie the Pooh but less safe (in the best possible way). They’re like the Smurfs but smart. But it’s ultimately a futile task: the Moomin inhabit their own world entirely. What the book lacks in narrative momentum, it makes up for in inventiveness and hope. I loved it.
Bits and pieces
- My daughter and I are now reading Tales from Moominvalley (another book in the series), and I’m reading the collected Moomin comic strips that Jansson also wrote to all my children together.
- Moominmamma on education: “Moomins go to school only as long as it amuses them.”