The Moomins, a wildly and internationally popular family of soft, hippopotamic creatures, originated in Finland in 1945, introduced in books and comics by writer/illustrator Tove Jansson. Moomintroll, the protagonist, lives in Moominvalley with Snork Maiden (his girlfriend), Moominmamma, Moominpappa, and their friends—family friend Sniff, the curmudgeonly Little My, and a slew of others—all with wisdom to offer. Jansson wrote the first Moomin book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, during World War II; she’d later say that the book was meant to counter the horrors of the war.
The Moomin books were hits—Jansson became the most successful Finnish children’s book writer at the time—and several of them were bestsellers, particularly in Finland. The “Moomin Boom” didn’t happen until the 1990s, following the premiere of an animated series, Moomin (or Tales From Moominvalley) by Dennis Livson and Jansson’s brother, Lars. The Moomins’ popularity quickly spread; the show sparked a merchandising industry, a set of new comics, and the opening of an adorable amusement park, Moomin World. Finnair decorated its Japan-line planes with the Moomins. These days, there are Moomin-themed “anti-loneliness” cafes in Hong Kong and Tokyo.
Though they’re not nearly as popular in the U.S., that has more to do with the location of the franchise and less to do with the Moomins themselves. To understand their charm, it helps to recognize why they were so loved back home in the first place. The Moomins are awfully cute, and the life of Moomintroll is not unlike the life of other sweet cartoon heroes—the characters are adventurous sorts, and after their journeys, they consistently return to the familiarity of sitting round the table, balanced restored.
But there is a special, warm poignance to their existence. In the books, comic strips, and even the later shows, the Moomins and their ilk touch on the pain of longing, the tenderness of love, the importance of solitude, the struggle between a desire for recognition and wealth—often for one’s art—and the need for quiet dreaming. In one comic strip, Sniff insists Moomintroll produce art that’s “bewildering,” demanding, “How are you going to be rich and famous if you are not inclined?” “I don’t want to be famous,” he replies. “I only want to live in peace and plant potatoes and dream!”
The Moomins would almost always prefer to plant and to eat. The simple bliss of sharing meals, whether potatoes or jam, is mentioned throughout the franchise; in the television series, food—particularly breakfast—is an accidental focal point. Their appetites are not just ongoing schticks, but a means to make them more real. Tea is constant and food is everywhere: Little My snacks on toast while the others panic. Moominmamma deliberates with a hot mug in hand and—always in an apron—never stops making pancakes. Their food obsession adds to their anthropomorphic believability. In Moominvalley, a sunny, jam-scented world, food is a predictable comfort, the kind we desire as children. Here are a few favorite instances in which the pleasure and importance of eating makes an appearance on Moomin: