Tales from Moominvalley, by Tove Jansson

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.
–Auden, “The Fall of Rome”

Some read young adult fiction, some read children’s fiction. This collection of Moomin stories by the Swedish-writing Finnish author is odd and ironic and a bit of a bewilderment for those who don’t already know a hemulen from a Moomintroll. If you know Tolkien’s stories such as “Farmer Giles of Ham,” illustrated by Pauline Baynes, you might get a flavor for Jansson’s stories, though she did her own illustrations, charming and rude. There are no maps of Moominland in this collection.

In “The Hemulen Who Loved Silence,” the title character gets his chance for some quiet when his family’s amusement park (called a “pleasure-ground” in the translation), is destroyed by a torrential rain. He moves to another family property and resolves to live in peace, but the kiddies who miss the amusements follow him and deposit all the ruins of the park at his doorstep. Out of a sense of obligation, he rebuilds the park on the new property according to his own whim and logic. It is to be the “Park of Silence”–all fun is allowed, as long as no one is loud.

The last story in the collection, “The Fir Tree,” is a fable of Christmas to compete with the Grinch and Charlie Brown. The Moomintroll family is awoken from their regular hibernation and told that they must decorate a fir tree in preparation for Christmas. They have never heard of Christmas, so they think that he must be an enemy to be frightened off by a suitably outfitted tree. The trolls give the decorated tree to the small wood creatures and hide under a table on their verandah, mystified by all the joy, then head back to bed for the winter.

 

Tove Jansson and Finnish Children’s Culture commemorative coin

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