The Moomins: childhood perceptions made clear

the original cover for 'Finn Family Moomintroll'







The Moomins by Tove Jannsson, were trolls right? Just checking… I am entirely besotted with them and have been since I was young. But I only recognised their qualities and really began to appreciate them in my teens. They are very resonant stories, throughout Scandinavia and Japan. I just took it for granted that they were classics, because they were there on the bookshelves at home, alongside C.S.Lewis, Lewis Carroll, etc. And then there was the television series, adapted from the European format and voiced so atmospherically by Richard Murdoch.

original cover for 'Moominsummer Madness' a book which confused me but the memory of it stayed with me

Of all the qualities of the Moomin books and comic strips it is the bleakness that appeals to me. There is a sense of a lack of permanence and dislocation about them. Sometimes they live in Moomin Valley and sometimes they are on a floating theatre. At other times they lived in a lighthouse. My childish brain tried to get to grips with it all, but the translation failed to embrace some of the cosiness that might, I think, exist in the original. Therefore, the sense of melancholy is much enhanced and the light and shade of the stories is more contrasted and emphatic. Once removed from the first language of composition and all sorts of new interpretations can be placed on a writer’s work.


The Moomins are imprinted on my imagination because they offer something of the temporary, the edgy, the difficult in understanding relationships and also epitomising fears. There are monsters that lurk in the background of the text, but they too are ambiguous. As a child one fears lack of permanence and threat to one’s stability. Looking back now the stories helped me to understand that and now in later years to embrace that feeling and not to worry about it. A success in terms of fiction and storytelling I reckon.


About gabymalcolm

Author and Illustrator - on all things 19th Century and popular culture. Currently re-writing history ...
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