Josna Rege

514. Moominsummer Madness

In Aging, Books, Childhood, Family, reading, Stories on July 20, 2022 at 2:49 am

Moominmamma: Where are we? 

I have just re-read a book that was one of my favorites as a girl, Moominsummer Madness, first published in English in 1955 by Ernest Benn. It was every bit as quirky, delightful, and gently disturbing as it was to me then. Moominsummer Madness has everything in it that one could possibly want: portents, climate catastrophe, high drama, a righteous crime, and joyful homecomings. Tove Jansson (1914-2001), creator of the Moomins, wrote and illustrated the book. I have introduced her and her world in Finn Family Moomintroll, but this novel demands dedicated attention, starting as it does in the summer with a flood that crashes into Moomin Valley and forces the whole family to leave their home. Fortunately they are able to board a strange-looking house that has been swept away by the flood wave, a house that appears at first to be empty; but nothing is what it seems.

   First encounter of the refugees with the reclusive inhabitant

The whole cast of characters is here, and more: Moominmamma and Moominpappa, their son Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, the Mymble’s daughter and Little My, Misabel and Whomper, and Moomintroll’s beloved friend Snufkin, who can never be tied down. Along the way we also encounter Hemulens and Fillyjonks, Hattifatteners and woodies. The dreaded Groke is invoked, but fortunately does not actually show up.

      Moonmintroll before the flood, feeling a vague disquiet

I will not spoil the story by recounting it here, but instead will show you just a little of what it has to offer through Jansson’s illustrations. My old hardcover copy is the original 1955 edition, bought in the student bookstore on the Hijli campus of I.I.T. Kharagpur in perhaps 1964 or 1965, when I was nine or ten. It is a darker story than Finn Family Moomintroll, but perhaps more suited to our times, since it shows us a family that can weather a crisis and still maintain loving bonds and a spirit of adventure.

             The flood wave crashes through Moomin Valley

                    Moonmintroll rescues some essentials

Hemulen and Hattifatteners

There are characters who know not why they are so sad, characters who are bitter and distrustful. Some are more thoughtful than others, some gleefully wicked, others bumbling and hidebound, still others timid and fearful. All of them have a place in the Moomin family even when the world is turned upside down. Their example is all the more important today, when disaster and displacement seem to be making people close ranks against those they perceive as outsiders.

The Snork Maiden and the Fillyjonk

Snufkin and the woodies

 

 

 

 

 

 

                      Heading home at last, with no regrets

                                                 Reunion

Adults who like this book will also want to read Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book, set on an island in the Gulf of Finland where she herself lived for many years, and centering on a relationship between a very old woman and her six-year-old granddaughter. I read it for the first time while sheltering at home during the first summer of the COVID-19 pandemic, and continued to inhabit the island myself for days afterwards.

I am certain that the world of the Moomins helped to shape my own worldview. Tove Jansson’s depictions are never sentimental. She presents us with idiosyncratic characters who are not always endearing and sometimes pokes gentle fun at them, but is always kind. Returning to Moominsummer Madness after nearly 60 years, I do not find it at all dated and think that readers young and old will still be enchanted by it.

                                 Little My, always in the moment

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

 

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  1. May we all be lucky enough to rescue a few things and find a house floating by when the floods hit.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This, and The Summer Book, are such wonderful books, heartwarming but with a whimsical touch of melancholy. And the illustrations here are magisterial: I’m a late convert to the Moomins but won’t hear a word against the original novels.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hari OM
    Oh my word you sparked some memories here – my sister is visiting me at the moment and we just spent a happy half hour recalling our readings of the Moomins in our childhoods and also about Tove herself and that there are clips of film and a biopic available to watch (somewhere… now to track it down…) Thanks of that! YAM xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad this delighted you and your sister, YAM, and sparked some reminiscences from your childhoods! Yes, back then I didn’t know anything about Tove Jansson’s own life, but the more I learn the more I admire her. And The Summer Book–if you haven’t yet had the pleasure, I can’t recommend it enough. Thank you! J xxo
      P.S. Since I first posted I’ve gone back and cropped the images so that the illustrations are more pleasing to the eye. -J

      Liked by 1 person

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