Tag Archives: Tove Jansson

This weekend.. I managed to read!

I finally finished a book this weekend..

Moominvalley in November

Moominvalley in November by Tove Jansson

I thought it was my first book of February, but apparently I had finished reading Indigo’s Star at the beginning of this month. So perhaps my reading slump is not as bad as I imagined it? It has nothing to do with the books I am reading, btw, but everything to do with lots of other things taking over my life at the moment.

However, I am hoping that this will actually foreshadow a return to reading and blogging :-)

More soon..

Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

Comet in Moominland - Tove JanssonComet in Moominland – Tove Jansson
Translated from the Swedish by Ernest Benn Limited
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1990 (original: 1946)
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *

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?

* These are affiliate links. If you buy a product through either of them, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

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.

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

The Summer Book - Tove JanssonThe Summer Book – Tove Jansson
NYRB Classics, 2008 (translated by Thomas Teal, published in Swedish in 1972)

Oh, Tove Jansson. I feel as if I was destined to fall in love with your story. Your characters. Your observations of life. Of course, I should have known. After the endless praise by other book bloggers. After seeing Moomin merchandise every where in Sweden. Maybe I should not have waited this long to give one of your books a try. On the other hand, having been in Sweden, getting acquainted with a few Finnish people who I now consider my friends, this book felt extra special to me.

The Summer Book consists of twenty-two short stories, or rather, short glimpses into the life of Sophia, a six-year-old girl, and her grandmother, who spend their vacation on a small island in Finland. It could be one vacation, one summer, it sometimes feels like it is, but the fragments are non-linear, and I could not tell you if they cover one, or three years.

What I loved:

  • The descriptions of life on an island. As isolated & complete. Having everything you need, but nothing more. This makes the atmosphere that is described very pure. I wonder if this is what makes Jansson’s observations of the relationship between Sophia and her grandmother, of their ways of dealing with things, so direct and easy to grasp and beautiful.
  • Both Sophia and her grandmother are taken seriously. They are persons in their own right. With their own thoughts, feelings and manners. With their own flaws. These flaws are openly named, exposed, but they do not keep grandmother and child from loving each other. You can feel it everywhere in the story. This bond.
  • Sophia, as a child, is taken seriously. Even if her outbursts could have been viewed as simply childish, or as obstinacy, they are not described as such.
  • The melancholy. It feels weird to say you love the melancholic feel of a story, but in this case, it is so very true. The death of Sophia’s mother is all around. It is everywhere in the story, even if it is only named once or twice. But there is no hiding it, no walking on your toes because we shouldn’t disturb the child by mentioning death. No, when Sophia asks her grandmother when she will die, her grandmother answers “Soon. But that is not the least concern of yours.” And it is this direct approach that makes me respect Tove Jansson so much. She does not cuddle the children in her story. There is realism. Kindness, but also realism.
  • The many many beautiful observations on life. Small things. Or small things that signify bigger things. I have written 4 sides of A4 paper in quotes. Things I want to remember. I wish I could mention them all. The observations on the lives of angleworms, “Nothing is easy when you might come apart in the middle at any moment.” Words that could be applied to worms, but also to the life described in the book, the life of the grandmother and Sophia who are trying to keep their life together.

But no, I will not keep you longer, with more quotes, more observations. I will simply tell you to read this book and find your own gems to cherish.

One last quote, maybe. I read this when I had been back in the Netherlands for about a month. In Sweden, a Finnish girl, Emmi, became a very dear friend. She used to describe nature, the beauty of winter, summer, but also the melancholy she would often feel, in ways I could not but remember when I read Jansson’s words. Especially, the passage on the approach of winter. And because I miss Emmi, and Elsa, a lot, I had to remember it here:

Every year, the bright Scandinavian summer nights fade away without anyone’s noticing. One evening in August you have an errand outdoors, and all of a sudden it’s pitch-black. A great warm, dark silence surrounds the house. It is still summer, but the summer is no longer alive. It has come to a standstill; nothing withers, and fall is not ready to begin. There are no stars yet, just darkness. The can of kerosene is brought up from the cellar and left in the hall, and the flashlight is hung on its peg beside the door.

This book counts towards Zommie’s Nordic Challenge, as well as my personal NYRB Project.