I first encountered the Moomins in novels written for children by their creator Tove Jansson in libraries in the late 1960s-early 1970s. Jansson was a Swedish-speaking citizen of Finland, and her characters are not only charming and funny, they inhabit an environment and are part of a mythology very different from any I had found elsewhere. Moomin Valley is full of odd characters and an atmosphere of the far north in Europe. Their adventures are inventive and sometimes thrilling. It’s fantasy unlike any other, having little to do with Norse or Celtic myths or any other European traditions. Most of it comes from the imagination of the author. There was also a long-running Moomin comic strip in English that ran in newspapers in Great Britain, but I didn’t see that until it was reprinted in America a few years ago. The strip is fun, but lighter in tone, and restricted mostly to satire and comedy without the deeper thoughts and atmosphere of the books.
I bought or borrowed Jansson’s Moomin novels when I came across them, but I was never sure of the reading order, and the relationships of the main characters to each other was often puzzling. Moominpapa and Moominmama had a son Moomintroll, that was clear enough. The three of them are pear-shaped with long snouts something like a cross between a cow and a hippo perhaps, but more agile than either, walking on hind legs, and acting like humans in many ways. Then there’s the Snork and his sister the Snork-maiden who look the same. Are they Moomins? I was never sure, but it seems so. All the other characters look quite different from them, and each seems to be of a tribe or species of their own.
The first book Jansson wrote about Moomins is this one. It’s short, what’s now called a chapter book, sixty pages with Tove’s charming illustrations on nearly every page. She wrote it during World War Two in Finland, and there is an atmosphere of anxiety and fear hanging over the story that now seems likely to have been caused by real world fears. This book was not translated and released in English until 2005, and I didn’t know about it until recently. In it we meet Moomintroll and Moominmama on a quest through perilous terrain and past dangerous creatures in search of Moominpapa, who has gone off wandering with an odd tribe called the Hattifatteners. They are joined by a small fearful creature (called Sniff in the other books) and for a while by a flower fairy, Tulippa. Despite the short length of the book, it’s full of incident and characters, and the dangerous journey seems long, culminating in a storm at sea. It ends well in Moomin Valley, where the lives of the Moomins will continue in the other books, now a bit more clear to me. I am reading through all of them in the correct order this time, and will review the others here too.
This one is recommended and a good place to start.
Tove Jansson on Wikipedia.