Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson

I’ve been gradually making my way through Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomin series over the last year or so, and I’m aware that I’m edging ever closer to the final book. These stories, though written for children, seem to me to have many deeper, hidden themes, and the latest, “Moominpappa at Sea”, is no exception.

Why does this cover have so many characters on it that aren't actually in the book?????

Why does this cover have so many characters on it that aren’t actually in the book?????

The book opens with Moominpappa having a crisis; live is going happily on in Moominvalley, with everyone getting on with their tasks. All is calm and happy and perfect, and Moominpappa in fact feels somewhat superfluous. In fact, he’s having a male mid-life crisis and so his solution is to uproot the family from their comfortable life and drag them out over the high seas to a precarious life on a lighthouse on a bleak rock. There is no-one else there except a solitary fisherman and no explanation of what happened to the last lighthouse keeper.


The Moomins take this very well; Moominmama is as practical as ever, trying to make the best of the situation and a nice home for the family wherever they might be; and Moomintroll is his usual adventurous self. Little My is, well, just Little My – annoying and rude as ever! However, there are plenty of oddities here; for a start, only these four characters make the journey and everybody else, including the Snork Maiden, is left behind! As if this wasn’t strange enough, there is a persistent threat following the Moomins in the form of the Groke. She’s there at the beginning of the book, frightening everyone by approaching the house and freezing everything in her wake, and she pursues them across the sea. It’s not clear what her motives are, and only Moomintroll seems to know she’s there.

And the island itself is an odd place; it almost seems alive at times, shape shifting and subject to the vagaries of the sea. There are a number of dark mysteries here, and the Moomins seem at odds with the island itself, with Moominmama in particular struggling with the change; so much so that she starts to paint a garden on the inside wall of the lighthouse which almost comes alive…

Is the lighthouse symbolic? :)

Is the lighthouse symbolic? šŸ™‚

There are several resolutions after quite a dramatic ending and it seems (if I’m reading the book correctly) that the Groke’s needs are actually simpler than we might have thought. Nevertheless, Moominpappa has regained his status as pater familias, Moominmama is reconciled to life on the island, Moomintroll is starting to grow up, and Little My – is still Little My!

I found this book one of the most absorbing of the Moomin books I’ve read, and also one of the strangest. Little My’s character is really quite brutal at times, the whole concept of the relationship of the sea and the island is unexpected, and there are even more surreal elements than usual. The illustrations are perfect, of course; but I did find myself wondering about the characters left behind. Hopefully, all will become clear in the last volume of the series….!

(Another title for Women in Translation month – and Tove Jansson is probably the translated women writer I’ve read most of recently. She’s one of my favourites!)