Moominpappa’s Memoirs by Tove Jansson

Moominpappa’s Memoirs – Tove Jansson
(translated from the Swedish Muminpappans memoarer)
Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1994
I read the Dutch translation.

In Moominpappa’s Memoirs, Moominpappa sits down to describe his life of adventure before he became the father of Moomin. The story alternates between Moominpappa’s memoirs and scenes in which he reads the pieces he has written to his family, who then continue to comment on it and ask questions.

Ever since I visited Sweden, I knew I had to read the Moomin books. Two of my friends there were great fans of the TV series, and I gave both of them a mug with one of the Moomin-characters on it for Christmas. This made them so happy that I knew the series could no longer be ignored. Unfortunately, now that I am on a book buying ban I am dependent on the library. And it appears (unsurprisingly) that this book is the only one the University deigned to buy in Dutch translation, the others are all in Swedish. I expect this wasn’t the perfect place to start, and yet, Moominpappa’s memoirs convinced me that I need to read the rest of the series.

In many ways, Tove Jansson’s book reminded me of Winnie the Pooh. I am sure I would have loved exploring the world of Moomin back when I was a child, but I expect that many of its subtleties would have passed me by back then. The descriptions of the different kinds of fantasy creatures, all with its own faults and qualities were things I found hard to grasp when I first read Winnie the Pooh and I expect I would have felt the same with this book. Yet, I cannot help but lament how I never had the chance to experience these stories as a child.

Anyway, as an adult, what I found most worthwhile in Moominpappa’s memoirs were its discussions of the many ways people can choose to cope with life. Many stories really deal with questions of our approach to life, while none of them are described as perfect. Moominpappa himself is described as a character keen on fantasy, who prefers to use his imagination. Other characters are either absorbed in thinking and/or scientific discovery, or collecting seemingly random things. Perhaps there is one kind of creature that Jansson describes more negatively: the Hemulen, who stick closely to what should be done and wish to restrict children in their exploits. Unsurprisingly, after reading The Summer Book earlier this year, Jansson feels little sympathy towards these creatures. Nevertheless, they somehow find their place in the end too.

I can imagine Moominpappa himself can get on the reader’s nerves. He is rather full of himself, emphasising his special destiny since birth, his claims to adventure and fame. At first, I found it hard to deal with his self-importance, until I realised that perhaps Tove Jansson meant us to feel this way and actually meant to ridicule memoirs: a genre that is usually written by people who consider themselves important enough to be read about by others.

I thoroughly enjoyed Moominpappa’s Memoirs, though I suspect I may have liked it better if I had read this after first getting acquainted with the world of Moomin through earlier books.

I read this book as part of the Nordic Challenge hosted by Zee.

15 thoughts on “Moominpappa’s Memoirs by Tove Jansson

  1. Val

    I’ve come across these books in discussions and noticed they have avid fans but never actually felt that I’d wish to dip into one until your review…I find the idea of discussing approaches to life interesting enough to go off an hunt for a copy (I think I may be lucky and the library may have one) So THANK YOU!

    Reply
  2. zibilee

    I have heard a lot about the Moomin books, but have never come across on in the wild. It sounds like they are very complex and worth a little time and attention. I will have to keep a better eye out for them.

    Reply
  3. Karoliina

    Oh, the Moomins. I’m Finnish and I of course love them. But I _really_ found them in my teens. I learned how to read when I was 3, but before and after that my parents also read a lot to me. When I started reading the Moomins in my teens I asked my parents why we didn’t really read the books when I was a child, and my mum said me and my sister never liked them so much, even if she had tried reading them to us. I’ve heard a theory that only “weird” kids like Moomins, and I think without judgment that there might be some truth to that.

    Now I think Moomins are the greatest philosophical children’s books alongside Winnie-the-Pooh, so I thought you made a good comparison there. And this particular book is one of my favourites (I’s like to be like Moomin Mamma, but I’m more like Pappa)!

    Reply
  4. Jen

    This is awful, but I never realized until now that Moomins are book characters. I know they are characters, and Scandinavian, but that’s about it. They are my bank’s mascot so they are on my bank card and bank book but I never thought much about it otherwise. Must get an English version now!

    Reply
  5. winstonsdad

    I read a couple of them as a kid and found them a little twee as a young boy I enjoyed the cartoon of the books thou it was so different to a lot of the cartoons about in my youth but since reading summer and winter books I ve been thinking of a return to moomin just to see if it was male bravado that put me off a bit in my youth ,all the best stu

    Reply
  6. Aarti

    I really enjoyed Tove Jansson’s The True Deceiver, and so I really want to read these Moomin books! I think they must have a very different feel than The True Deceiver, but also be very well written!

    Reply
  7. Elizabeth

    I know I read a Moomin book or two when I was a kid but I don’t think I really understood them well (at least that is what I remember). I had no idea they were written by Tove Jansson and I’m so tempted to pick them up again, perhaps after I’ve read The Summer Book waiting on my shelf.

    Reply
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  9. Josefin

    How wonderful to see non-scandinavian people discovering the moomin books! Being a swedish-speaking Finn just like Tove Jansson herself, I grew up with the moomins – first in the shape of the lovely japanese tv show, and then the original books.

    I actually find the books to be too dark and complex to read to children – I’m in my twenties, and I enjoy the books much more now. The simple, poethic prose never fails to inspire me, and the deep philosophy combined with the sheer quirkyness of these books is just fantastic. I especially recommend Moominsummer Madness and (the much darker) Moominvalley in November!

    Reply
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