Since I am trying to read as much of Tove Jansson's work this year as I can, I thought I should read at least one of her famous Moomin stories for which, I think, she is best known. I'm afraid I never read any of her children's books when I was little. I didn't even know such books existed. I'm not sure how well known her children's books were/are here in the US (but it might just be a case of me never coming across them). I discovered her work just a few years ago with her first story published for an adult audience, The Summer Book. Her very first book, however, was The Moomins and the Great Flood (Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen translated from the Swedish by David McDuff) published in 1945.
This is an excerpt from the introduction she wrote in 1991to the Sort Of edition I read.
"It was the winter of war, in 1939. One's work stood still; it felt completely pointless to try to create pictures."
"Perhaps it was understandable that I suddenly felt an urge to write down something that was to begin with 'Once upon a time."
"What followed had to be a fairytale--that was inevitable--but I excused myself with avoiding princes, princesses and small children and chose instead my angry signature character from the cartoons, and called him the Moomintroll."
I know she was an artist and illustrator, but I'm not sure if this was the first of the Moomins or if they had already appeared in comic form earlier. Apparently this "half written" story was forgotten until 1945 when she decided to finish it and publish it as a children's story. I like that it has a fairy tale quality without all the usual suspects (namely damsels in distress and princes coming to their rescue). She says that she was influenced by authors she had loved reading--Jules Verne and Collodi among others.
The Moomins and the Great Flood is an adventure story and a quest with all sorts of unusual creatures and action and a happy ending with these wonderful illustrations--both pen and ink line drawings and sepia watercolors as above. I'm not sure if she goes on to illustrate these books using more color? Perhaps, since the cover illustration is a color (though somewhat muted palette) watercolor.
So the story begins in August when Moominmamma and Moomintroll arrive in the deepest, darkest part of the forest. They were searching for a snug place to build their house for winter, because they cannot stand the cold. So time is of the essence. Right from the start they encounter strange creatures. First a tiny little guy who ends up tagging along though isn't really all that helpful to them and without the best of manners really, though I suspect he must turn up in the other stories as well. They are then joined for part of their journey by Tulippa, a lovely young lady who lives in a tulip and has the most beautiful blue hair.
Their journey is fraught with danger and excitement. As it turns out they are also searching for Moominpappa who has a fondness for wandering. It is common to find moomins living behind tall household stoves (that desire for warmth, you know), and Moominpappa liked to go from one stove to another. Never being particularly happy with his current habitation, he allows himself to be lured away by the even smaller Hattifattners who appear regularly in her other books. They like to wander the world without a single care or concern. It is even impossible to tell whether they are happy or sad or mad so bland are their face at all times.
The story follows the moomins and their friends as they look for a place to settle down and look for Moominpappa along the way. As they undertake their journey a bank of black clouds comes in and threatens their peace with a massive flood making their journey and search even more difficult. And indeed they come across all sorts of other travelers blown off their own paths. This is very much a magical sort of story where you can pick flowers that light up and illuminate their journey. As with many books for an younger audience there are a few lessons to be learned along the way, but by and large this is an adventure story where all's well that ends well. I only wonder how often Moominpappa manages to wander off thereby pushing them into dangerous yet exciting situations.
I can see where a story like this would be so very appealing and inspire further adventures of the Moomin family. I think along with books they must have been the stars of a comic strip that appeared in newspapers.
I'm not sure if I will read all the Moomin stories, though I quite enjoyed spending with this one! I think I will pick up Fair Play next, though I likely won't start reading right away (still trying to finish a few other books, so it is nice to have a little something to motivate me--the promise of another good read on the horizon!