To the Moomins! (And Beyond)

Michael Hayward

Most North Americans have not heard of Moomins, a race of vaguely hippopotamus-shaped creatures who have an enthusiastic, almost cult-like following in Finland, where they first appeared (in 1945) in The Moomins and the Great Flood. Last year was the centenary of the birth of Tove Jansson, the creator of the Moomins, and the occasion was marked by a major exhibition of her life and work in Helsinki (thanks to my niece, who was in Helsinki at the time, I can now drink my tea from a commemorative Snufkin mug). Closer to home, Drawn & Quarterly in Montreal (“the hottest publisher of graphic novels in the English-speaking world” according to the CBC) came out with Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, a handsome, oversized hardcover volume in slipcase that collects all of the Moomin comic strips written and drawn by Jansson (her brother Lars took over the strip in 1961). In this excerpt from the book’s introduction, the comic book artist James Kochalka explains Jansson’s appeal as well as anyone: “The Moomin books quite simply reveal the poetry of our world: sad, joyful, dangerous, enchanting. A deep longing feeling, a longing to experience all life has to offer, realized magically through words and pictures. Tove Jansson is my favorite kind of genius: the quiet kind.” Amen to that. And when you’ve read these strips, and all nine of the Moomin books, you’ll want to try Jansson’s writing for adults. The Summer Book is a classic; and New York Review Books recently published The Woman Who Borrowed Memories (translated by Thomas Teal and Silvester Mazzarella), an excellent selection from her short fiction.

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