MOOMIN reviewed in the Toronto Star

“It's back to Moominland” / Toronto Star / Deirdre Baker / January 21, 2007

Despite the decades, Finnish tales and Beatrix Potter still delight, finds Deirdre Baker

Oh, to be a Moomin and to dance in the waves while the sun gets up!" writes Finnish artist and writer Tove Jansson in the middle of Finn Family Moomintroll (Puffin, 151 pages, $9.99, ages 6 to 10). This has to be one of my favourite lines from children's literature, with its joyful exuberance at the glories of midsummer, holiday time and the sea. Maybe because Jansson's so good at expressing this kind of childhood feeling, the Moomin books are still doing well after more than 50 years, even on the shelves of those big box bookstores.

No doubt because of that, we have another manifestation of Moominland to celebrate: Montreal publisher Drawn and Quarterly's Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip (96 pages, $21.95, ages 7+), a collection of the daily Moomin comic strips that ran in newspapers from 1953-59.

"Moomin and the Brigands," "Moomin and Family Life," "Moomin on the Riviera" and "Moomin's Desert Island" – the very titles hint at the comically grandiose plots of these hare-brained stories. The Elixir of Life (honey, pepper and hot water) turns old ladies into old men on the lookout for can-can girls, and Moomintroll into a balloon that is punctured just before he and his friend Sniff have a chance to become "rich and famous."

"Is it always so difficult to become rich and famous?" Moomintroll asks. "If so let's give it up and have a nice time instead!" But thanks to a couple of brigands and the enterprising Snork Maiden, the love of Moomintroll's life, Moomintroll breaks free of his parasitic relations – at least momentarily – plus gets his half-eaten house back and becomes noteworthy too. All in one story.

The eccentric twists of Jansson's imagination are wonderful in their weirdness. A box salvaged at sea proves to hold not whisky, but oaths: "Must be some sailor who's stopped swearing and tossed all his swear words overboard," Moominpappa muses, as the torrid little creatures have the Moomins covering their ears. In another story Moominmamma, decorously clutching her handbag, captures and roasts a wild boar. "Please, can't you forgive us for eating your husband?" she pleads when the boar's mate turns up.

It's such quirky, deadpan scenarios and dialogue that make this volume a delight. While Jansson mocks artistic and social pretension with carefree humour and urbanity, she is also tapping into the emotions of childhood that make all the Moomin stories memorable – desire for home, family love and adventure. These strips were written for adults, but there's plenty here to amuse kids as well.


Deirdre Baker is co-author of A Guide to Canadian Children's Books (M&S). Her Small Print appears every two weeks.

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