Tales from Moominvalley
by Tove Jansson
This collection of short stories about the happy Moomins and their friends dates from 1962, the year after Tove Jansson broke off her involvement with the Moomin comic strip (1954-75). These sweet, funny, often wistful tales contemplate such topics as anxiety, jealousy, restlessness, wanting to be left alone, and the drawbacks of having too vivid an imagination.
In "The Spring Tune," our carefree friend Snufkin loses a thread of musical inspiration when a hero-worshiping Little Creep crashes in on his solitude. This story cleverly makes the point that you must let other people be themselves.
"A Tale of Horror" is told of a young Whomper who doesn't mind the boundary between reality and make-believe. After frightening his parents with a story out of his own imagination, he gets sent to bed without his supper. He only learns his lesson when Little My gives him a taste of his own medicine.
"The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters" features a lady whose insides are twisted up by a constant sense of impending doom. She tries to confide her fears to a friend, the Gaffsie, but comes away feeling more alone than ever. Only when the worst really happens is she set free from her anxieties.
Moomintroll catches "The Last Dragon in the World," but the tiny creature seems to prefer Snufkin. This triggers Moomintroll's jealousy and a test of Snufkin's friendship.
"The Hemulen Who Loved Silence" seeks seclusion after a career of punching tickets at a pleasure-ground. After a stormy summer ruins the pleasure-ground, the Hemulen retires to a gated park. His quest for peace and quiet leads to a gently ironic destination.
"The Invisible Child" comes to live with the Moomins after being frightened into invisibility by an ironical old lady. Too-ticky brings her in hope that the Happy Family's light touch will bring Ninny back. The solution is surprisingly funny.
Then Moominpappa runs away to learn "The Secret of the Hattifatteners," silent wandering creatures who are said to lead a wicked life. Possibly the most psychologically profound story in this collection, it depicts lost people whose lives are an endless search for sensation - any kind of sensation that may fill their emptiness, overcome their numbness. The question is whether Moominpappa must become one of them in order to understand them.
Good old Sniff makes his last appearance in this series in "Cedric." When Sniff regrets giving away a beloved toy dog, Snufkin tells him an instructive story. But of course, the materialistic Sniff completely misses the point.
Finally, "The Fir Tree" finds the Moominfamily celebrating Christmas for the first time. Though they customarily hibernate right through it, this year they are awakened by all the fuss their neighbors are making about it. Struggling to understand what the holiday is about, they get entirely the wrong impression from the way everyone carries on about the decorations, gifts, and food. It's the ultimate satire on "missing the point of Christmas."
This is a children's book that can be profitably read by adults. It offers insights into emotional and ethical problems that grown-ups may understand better than kids. But it does it through the characters that inhabit a cuddly, fanciful version of northern Finland. The resulting stories combine depth and substance with lightness and generosity. Fans of L. Frank Baum, Lewis Carroll, Kenneth Grahame, Astrid Lindgren, and the Rootabaga stories of Carl Sandburg will take great pleasure from this book.
St. Louis, USA
Recommended Age: 10+
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