When I was a kid, I loved The Exploits of Moominpappa*, a cheerful adventure and coming of age story a self-obsessed moomin troll. I read it several times a year and loved it’s quirky characters and beautiful pictures. As I grew up, other moomin books won me over. I still read them: there are not books just for children.
My favourite moomin book now is Moominpappa at Sea. On one level – the pappa’s – Moominpappa at Sea is about a midlife crisis. For the other characters, it is about other things: loneliness in particular, finding out who you are and where you fit. Jansson lets her characters do what they need to do to deal with the situation they find themselves in, however random their actions might seem. These are flawed, vain and silly character whose very humanity makes them lovable. If I could write characters that were that real, I’d be a very happy writer.
Tove Jansson died in 2001. She’s one of the few authors, like Kurt Vonnegut who passed away in 2007, that I actively miss, even though I never met them. It’s odd to me that you can miss someone you’ve never met, but I do. It’s a sweet melancholy, a regret, I suppose. And that makes sense because the thing about the moomin books that speaks to me is the melancholy that permeates them. Yes, there are cuddly critters and they are outrageously cute at times, but at the heart of Jansson’s writing there’s truth. It tells us that life is beautiful and sad in equal measures. That is something I think we need to be reminded of, regularly.
* The version of the text I know and love is not the one that was translated into English, unfortunately. I wish they’d issue a new translation because the revised book is better than the original and as a number of really nice touches.