Moominpappa at Sea
by Tove Jansson
In the penultimate book of the Moomin series, we see not just Moominpappa at sea, but Moominmamma, Moomintroll, and Little My as well. But in another sense, the words "at sea" especially describe Moominpappa's frame of mind. Life has become too comfortable in Moominvalley. He has lost the sense of being useful to his family. So, dreaming of a lighthouse rock in the middle of the Gulf of Finland, he packs up his family and sets sail. Moominmamma shows how deeply she understands her husband when she says of Pappa's island: "That's where we're going to live and lead a wonderful life, full of troubles..."
Besides themselves, the only other characters in the story are the flighty seahorses, the frigid Groke, and the laconic fisherman who lives in a hut at the end of the island opposite the lighthouse. Oh, and of course, the sea itself. On a mostly bare rock swept by winds and waves, the family begins an adventurous new life... only to become discouraged, one after another, by the harshness of their environment, its loneliness, their own fears and unattainable desires.
The seahorses personify the romantic desires awakening inside Moomintroll. As his mother observes, he's growing up; he won't be a little troll forever. His fears, on the other hand, come in the form of the Groke, who freezes everything she touches, and who seeks light in the darkness for no other reason, seemingly, than to sit on it and put it out. The Groke has followed the Moomins to the island, and only Moomintroll knows that it is she who wails in the night, who dances in the moonlight, and whose freezing trail kills plants in Mamma's garden.
Between Moomintroll's struggles with the Groke and his Pappa's battles with the sea, the whole island seems to be in upheaval. No one can figure out how to make the lighthouse work. Mamma becomes so homesick that, for a while at least, she is able to step inside a painting of her garden back home. Little My seems to be there only to poke holes in everyone's conceits. Moving to the island has not solved anyone's problems; it has only placed them against a different background. The solutions will have to come from the people themselves, rediscovering their happiness in each other.
It is remarkable to see the direction this series has taken. To be sure, a thread of melancholy has run through all the Moomin books, supplied perhaps by the very nature of living in the subarctic climate of Finland. But one increasingly senses that, as the series developed, Tove Jansson used it to address her own spiritual and relationship problems, to work them out in a way that would amuse and touch readers of all ages. In her ink-and-paper illustrations, the Moomins appear as crude cartoon figures against a comparatively realistic background. But in spite of their silly, vacant looks, these characters have souls. Perhaps you will recognize them, sympathize with them. If so, you will take much more from this book than the enjoyment of whimsical nonsense. You may even deepen your understanding of people and your appreciation of nature. And you will certainly find in it a tale that engages your senses and touches your heart.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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