Thursday, June 24, 2010


Growing up, I never read Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books, but I wish I did. I always had it in the back of my mind to try them, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out. Maybe because there are eight books—daunting!—or because the covers just never really spoke to me. But then it happened that the British reissued them and they looked like this. And, feeling a bit foolish, I asked my mom’s friend who was off to London (the same friend who bought me the complete Calvin and Hobbes as a graduation gift) to pick up some copies. And lo and behold she did, and I was introduced to the joy that is Moomins.

As I have quoted before, although they are fat and shy, Moomins have the most amazing adventures. They're always going off to sea and having picnics and exploring their surroundings, with the aid of their friends. And I'm hungry just thinking about the parties they throw, the food they eat. Though each of them has their quirks—mostly absentmindedness—things have a way of working out for them.

In addition to the children’s books, there is a hilarious set of comics, which were serialized in the British Evening News. They’ve since been collected by Drawn and Quarterly, and rarely have I laughed so much as when reading them.

Tove Jansson herself is a mysterious, magical sort of character. She lived for many years on a small island with her partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. And in fact most of Jansson's books are rife with islands, sea storms, the sense of quiet adventure that comes from living in a deserted place. This is also true in the books Jansson wrote for adults; I just finished the wonderful Fair Play, which has to be somewhat autobiographical—it’s the tale of Jonna and Mari, two artists late in their lives (or are they? a ninety-two-year-old visiting puppeteer accuses Mari of being only seventy and not knowing how the world works) who live together and travel. Much like the Moomin family, they’re always getting into arguments, receiving strange visitors, and exploring. The book is a series of vignettes, much like the Moomintroll books, but gives a full picture of a life shared by two women who love their work, their home, and each other. This doesn't mean they don't argue, or that they are content at all times, of course. But there is something perfect about their balance of work and companionship and play. If I can be half so wise when I grow up, I'll be lucky indeed.

Here are some comics; here is Ms. Jansson herself. Do yourself a favor and read some of the books if you want cheering up. Yes, even if you live in the US of A; in the time since I picked up my copies, someone else evidently decided I was right about the appeal of the British covers...

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