And Then I Read: MOOMIN Volume 3

I don’t recall when I first encountered the Moomin books by Finnish author Tove Jansson (pronounced something like Two-Vey Yonsan). It was probably in grade school, in a library, one of the editions looking like this:

The books were odd fantasies about unusual characters called Moomins, a sort of troll, and their friends of various sizes, descriptions and personalities. I found the books puzzling at times, but enjoyed reading them. The Moomin family spent their time in a mostly idyllic coastal landscape resembling the author’s Finland, having all kinds of adventures, some funny, some exciting, some merely odd. The characters all have strong personalities and pursue their own interests, coming together at times when those interest coincide, or when danger threatens. The writing is simple, yet rich in description and full of great dialogue. I searched for more Moomin books for years, gradually finding seven of them, complicated by the fact that some have more than one title. You can read more about the Moomin books on Wikipedia here, where I learned that there are two more longish books I haven’t read yet, as well as five picture books for younger readers, of which I’ve seen only one. Though born and raised in Finland, Jansson wrote her books in Swedish, the tongue her family spoke, and they were later translated into English, and many other languages. I read some years ago that she had also written and drawn a comic strip about the Moomins, but assumed it was in Swedish, and that I’d probably never get to read it.

Turns out it was commissioned by a British newspaper, and originally appeared in English. And Canadian publisher Drawn & Quarterly has now published three hardcover volumes of the strip, of which the one shown above is the third. It’s not easy to tell, the only place it says so is on the title page and in the indicia, a design or editorial flaw in my opinion. (And speaking of design flaws, why is the Moomin’s nose covered by the binding on the cover?) I bought the first volume happily, enjoyed reading it, and ordered this one when it appeared, but I missed Volume 2, and now have to order that. I probably saw it pictured in the Previews catalog and assumed it was the one I already had.

In any case, the strip is fun to read, though I can’t say I like it quite as much as the books. Jansson’s drawings are in the same style used to illustrate the books, and it works fine, but there just isn’t room in the strip to capture the kind of nuanced storytelling available in the books. It’s close at times, but tends to fall into visual jokery, like the example above. Still very much worth reading for fans of the Moomin books, but I would start there rather than with the strip.

Information on this series is sketchy. I haven’t been able to find out how many volumes are planned, or possible, though the strip went on for five years, so there could well be more. The strip is a series of storylines, and this volume covers stories 9 to 13. The Wikipedia article says there were 21 stories in all, so perhaps one or two more volume are planned. The best in this book for me is “Moomin and the Sea,” where the family moves to a lighthouse. Jansson spent much time on small sea islands off the Finnish coast as a child, and her love of that environment comes through most strongly in stories like this, full of mystery and adventure, but taking time to explore the nooks and crannies of shore life.

I certainly am happy to have these strip collections, and will buy as many as come out. I recommend them, but as said, suggest the Moomin novels written for children are a better place to first explore their world. Here are some links.

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