Reading my friend Jan’s wonderful article about Snoopy this morning brought back memories of my own love for the Peanuts Gang and other childhood favourites, including the Moomins so I felt inspired to write about them.
Here are some things you should know about the Moomins. Firstly, they were created by Tove Jansson, a Finnish author and artist who wrote in Swedish. Secondly, don’t ever call them hippos – only a complete ignoramus would do that because they’re trolls, obviously. Thirdly, I’m obsessed with them. It all started in the ’80s when the animated stories were shown on children’s TV in what I later realised was an awful dubbed version. Still, to my untrained ears, they were perfect. Stories about the most extraordinary range of characters, each with their own distinctive personalities, going on adventures. I still know all the words to the theme song too. But then I discovered the books and how much richer and better they were. My mother and I read them together at first and then I returned to them time and again myself. Most of all, they reminded me of my own family. They lived in a strange house far away from everyone else like we did. As an only child, I identified strongly with Moomintroll and my reclusiveness and taste for solitude was just like Snufkin’s. My mother is Audrey Hepburnesque and doesn’t look at all like Moominmamma but she frequently wore aprons for baking, always carries her handbag with her and is able to rescue me in self-inflicted chaos. My father with his eccentricities and taste for adventure could only be Moominpappa.
As I grew up, I somehow lost sight of them until the day I visited a small Moomin exhibition on Mehringdamm in Berlin. As the only adult in a sea of children with colouring books and Moomin toys, an amused guide kindly took me to a small exhibition of photos about Tove Jansson and her life. I learned about her artistic parents, her own journey as an artist, that she had written so many other amazing books, how she and her female companion spent whole summers on a wonderful island on their own every year until the end of their lives. As luck would have it, The Summer and Winter Books along with many of her other novels were published to great acclaim and I devoured them all. At the Iittala store on Friedrichstrasse in Berlin, I discovered Moomin items, even getting the last Moomin limited edition winter mug in stock. Since then, I have been collecting various items with them on – not just china but also bed linen, handbags, T-shirts and toys. My addiction even continued in the UK with the opening of a wonderful Moomin shop on Covent Garden a few years ago. Returning to the Moomin books themselves, I came to realise that these are stories for all ages, full of adventures, good humour but also plenty of dark moments, loneliness and disappointments, rather like life itself. The final Moomin book, Moominvalley in November, is almost unbearably sad and doesn’t feature them at all in fact, only others waiting at their home for them to return some day.
I use the Moomin china every day but have a special place in my heart for this plate on the left showing Moomintroll eating at the table with his parents. I remember it was called something like ‘Together’ and that I bought it from the Arabia store in Helsinki shortly after my father had died. It reminded me of something that I loved the most – meals with my parents and that nothing would be the same again. Today I still cannot look at it without feeling some sadness but the Moomins also inspire me with their independence, good humour and rebelliousness. I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.