Comet in Moominland – Tove Jansson
Translated from the Swedish by Ernest Benn Limited
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990 (original: 1946)
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There is a reason why I love Tove Jansson’s fiction for children. It has to do with quotes such as the following, showing Moomintroll and Sniff returning from a day playing outside and meeting Moominmamma in the garden:
“We’ve had supper, ” she said. “You’d better see what you can find in the larder, my dears.”
Moomintroll was hopping with excitement. “We’ve been at least a hundred miles from here!” he said. “We followed a Mysterious Path, and I found something terribly valuable that begin with P and ends with L, but I can’t tell you what it is because I’m bound by a swear.”
“And I found something that beging with C and ends with E!” squeaked Sniff. “And somewhere in the middle there’s an A and a V- but I won’t say any more.”
“Well!” said Moominmamma. “Fancy that! Two big discoveries in one day! Now run and get your supper, dears. The soup is keeping hot on the stove. And don’t clatter about too much because pappa is writing.”
In short, it is in being able to capture the homey feel of a loving home in a short scene. It is the fact that Tove Jansson takes the characters who are children seriously. She does not explain their exxageration, or unnecessarily emphasises it. She feels no need to explain it away or ridicule it. The parental figures take their child, and their (I guess?) adopted child (Sniff) seriously. They allow them to go on adventures, they allow explorations and questions and finding things out for yourself, they allow them to take risks, but they are also there as caregivers. Moominvalley feels like a utopian society in that way, but one that doesn’t come with a bitter unfolding. It is simply a world where people have different interests, they seek different forms of fulfillment, creatures are allowed to smile at that, but never to question those motives or to ridicule them. I rather like to find myself lost in a world such as that, knowing I will encounter a number of surprising and intriguing characters along the way.
In Comet in Moominland, Moominvalley is threatened by a comet. Sniff and Moomintroll set out on a journey to visit the observatory in the lonely mountains to learn more about the comet. Once there, they encounter a stock of interesting characters, but they also realise that they will do anything in their power to protect those they love.
Comet in Moominland is the second Moomin book I have read. The first I read a little over a year ago, Moominpappa’s Memoirs. The one thing I had to get used to in these books is how everything is presented as taken for granted. There is no “hello children, this is Moomin, he is a strange creature that we’re not familiar with, and he lives here and here, and he does this and this, and his parents are Moominpappa and Moominmamma, and his friends are..” (but perhaps that can be found in the first book of the series, The Moomins and the Great Flood?) Instead, Jansson throws you into this world as if it is an accepted thing, which I had to adjust to at first? although really, I much prefer it this way.
Actually, I would argue that the world and its creatures are presented as fact more than works, because it has that “fantasy which you know can’t be real but still feels real nonetheless” thing going for it. Perhaps an explanation for this can be found in the familiar settings? The homes, the weather, the sea, even the explanation of the comet once Moomintroll arrives at the observatory..
As always, Jansson writes in her quiet style, that is sparse but invites engagement and silent contemplation. Similar to the only adult book written by Jansson that I have read, The Summer Book, she does an incredibly job at describing the setting of this tale. But more than that, her writing just invokes the pleasure of knowing that Jansson must have loved these characters and this world.
I feel as if I could ramble on and on, but perhaps the only thing I really want to say is that this book made me glow a little inside, and made me want to have my very own Moomin to hug close (with preferably the same will of his or her own).
Actually, there is one more thing that I would like to mention. I am afraid that I might make this sound almost too idyllic and unreal, and because of that rather bland. The thing is, there are real treasures buried here. On their journey, Sniff and Moomintroll encounter dangers. Moreover, they are sometimes endangered because of their own mistakes. There are lessons buried in this book, even though they are luckily not -in your face-. Last but not least, this book, set at the time of a possible apocalypse, infers some interesting reflections on the different ways people deal with a threat to the only world they know. Again, all that is done in an open-minded, funny, and non-judgemental way, but one that at the same time foregrounds love, hospitality, and (extended) family. It might sound insipid and sugar-coated, but it does not feel that way when reading it. I, for one, only found Comet in Moominland endearing and surprisingly reflexive.
Other Opinions: Presenting Lenore, utter randomonium, My Favourite Books, Yours?
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