Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson
Since discovering the wonderful prose of Tove Jansson, I’ve been gradually making my way through her whimsical and wonderful Moomin books, reading them in the published order (which is now possible, thanks to Sort of books having brought out the first volume, “The Moomins and the Great Flood”, previously unavailable in English).The latest volume, “Moominsummer Madness”, is a strange one (well, they all are really!) and tells the story of yet another flood hitting the Moomins, this time flooding the Valley so that the poor family and their friends are reduced to sitting on top of the house, surrounded by water. Fortunately, a strange object floats by that will do as a substitute house – though it is in fact a theatre, complete with backdrops, curtains, and a hidden resident who laughs in a rather alarming way. A number of new characters are introduced; Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden get separated from their family; Little My falls overboard but is rescued by Snufkin who somehow ends up ‘adopting’ 24 small Woodies; Moominpappa writes a play for the theatre; and there are coincidences and confusion until all is resolved.
If I’m honest, Janssons’s Moomin books are a little, well, unusual. There is no namby-pamby political correctness, sanitised and bland characters, or pandering to the supposed frailties of childhood – instead, the creatures are grumpy, spiteful and downright unpleasant; and events are unsettling and often traumatic, though usually with some kind of acceptable resolution. There is a constant theme of separation, with characters frequently getting lost or abandoned; there is peril and the threat from other hostile creatures; and the Moomins and their friends are very vulnerable to the elements.
Thinking about it, though, these events could be seen as a useful way of teaching youngsters that life is not always straightforward and that they would be best off developing the ability to cope with changing situations. After all, Jansson lived through a century of much change and instability, and this seeps through into the tales of the Moomins.
Apart from looking for deeper meanings, the stories are just a fun read; the characters are appealing and funny, and Jansson’s illustrations are wonderful. Looking forward to reading the next volume! 🙂