The importance of small pleasures
One of the greatest gifts a children’s book can give you is to add future nostalgia to the small pleasures that will get you through the hard times when you’re older. The world of the Moomins is threatened by comets and subject to terrifying winters. The Moomins, however, concentrate on good manners, good coffee and enjoying the summer.
How to party
The party at the end of Finn Family Moomintroll – paper lanterns in the trees, all the neighbours round – is the template of the perfect party. The Hobgoblin himself turns up and is disarmed by the goodwill. Because the good in a good party is part of the Infinite Goodness.
The Moomins became a massive franchise in Tove Jansson’s lifetime. But she never left them to the mercy of the market. She made sure the ceramics were made in Finland where she could control them and where they would create jobs.
She kept pouring her heart into the books. After her mother died she wrote Moominvalley in November – where there are no Moomins in the valley – the wisest and most moving book about mourning I’ve ever read.
In Moominland Midwinter, Moomintroll wakes up in the middle of winter while the rest of his family are hibernating. I can’t think of a better evocation of loneliness, or of feeling an outsider. At the time it felt as if Kierkegaard had turned up for a playdate. I’ve never forgotten those stories.
Stuff the demographics
Some Moomin books are for toddlers, some you won’t understand until you’ve grown up. Jansson was an upper-middle-class bohemian lesbian, living on a tiny island in the Gulf of Finland. I was a suburban scouser on a new-build housing estate. It felt as though she was writing just for me.
Family can be liberating
In most fiction, family is what you escape from if you want to fulfil yourself. For Jansson, family is a place of tolerance, where we can fail and become ourselves. Her experience of growing up gay is there in Snufkin – who is all the more loved for being different.
Like the prodigal son, everyone is so thrilled to see him, no one ever asks him where he has been. It’s there too, in Too-Ticky, Jansson’s portrait of her partner. And above all it’s there in the wonderful story where Moomintroll is transformed into the bug-eyed King of California, and his mother recognises him straight away.
by Frank Cottrell Boyce