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?

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12 thoughts on “Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

  1. sakura

    I don’t think I’ve ever properly read a Moomin book, maybe as a small child but I don’t really remember (although Moomin is familiar to me). I saw a documentary about Jansson on the telly a few weeks ago and am now rather fascinated by her.

  2. winstonsdad

    love the tv series and read one of her other moomin books as a kid but will be reading others in next few years I feel and this one sounds great for winter ,all the best stu

  3. Arrela

    As a person from the Nordic countries, it was impossible for me to grow up without knowing Moomin (or Mummi). But Tove Jansson’s actual books and artwork are far from as well known as the film and the tv-series (which are excellent, by the way, the Snow Queen still scares me more than any other character and the Groke (omg that’s a terrible name for Hufsa) is my favourite tragic character of all time). I’ve been led to believe that the books are a lot darker? At least I remember starting one as a child and putting it down because it was too scary. But I definitely want to read them now! (Also “Kometen kommer” which I suppose is the film loosely based on this book was my favourite movie as a child omg I miss it).

  4. zibilee

    I have never read a Moomin book, but now you’ve made me want to go out ad try one! Just because a book is innocent and loving doesn’t make it too saccharine to enjoy, I don’t think. It sounds like this is an incredible book that manages to juggle excitement with a homey flavor just perfectly. Excellent review today, Iris!

  5. bibliomouse

    Lovely review, Iris. The Moomin books are one of my favourite series – so wonderfully heart-warming but also dark. You’re right, Jansson doesn’t speak down to children, and I think that is partly what makes them loved by adults too.

  6. Scott W.

    I inhaled the Moomin books when I was a kid, and, coincidentally, had just ordered the new re-release of The Moomins and the Great Flood when I saw your post. Jansson does something few children’s book writers – few fiction writers period – achieve, with that infusion of genuine, intimate warmth and a sense of protectiveness with a sharp consciousness of the gravity of the world. She grounds her work in big themes and vast, menacing conflicts. And as you point out, she’s utterly un-condescending in her treatment of children. I’m also delighted to have found that, as demonstrated by my goddaughters’ effusive reactions to these books, her work manages not to be dated.

  7. Debi

    Oh my, such a lovely post! I’d never heard of Moomins, or even Jansson, before Ana posted about them. And after one of her reviews, I went and bought five (yes, literally) of the Moomin books. But I still haven’t read a single one. Should I finish the two books I currently have going for Long-Awaited Reads month in time, I’m definitely going to read Comet in Moominland next! Thank you!🙂

  8. Simon T

    You make this sound so wonderful, Iris! Jansson is one of my very favourite writers, but I only liked (rather than loved) my first Moomin book. I did like it a lot, but I’d hoped that I’d fall in love with the series.

    I don’t have this one, but I have Moominsummer Madness on my shelf.

  9. Pingback: Wrapping Up Long-Awaited Reads Month | Iris on Books

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