Moominvalley in November – Tove Jansson
And so I come to another ending. “Moominvalley in November” is the last, and possibly oddest, Moomin book and I’ve been kind of putting off reading it – I’ve grown so attached to the strange little creatures and all their friends. In the previous book, “Moominpappa at Sea”, Moominpappa was indeed all at sea – having a mid-life crisis, he dragged the family off to live on an unsettling and often hostile lighthouse, with only Little My in tow; the rest of their friends were left at home, and many of them turn up in the last book.
As the story beings, autumn is coming to Moominvalley, and many of the creatures feel drawn to visit the Moomins. There is the faithful Snufkin, breaking camp and heading off to visit his friend Moomintroll; the orphan Toft, who lives in the Hemulen boat, and is obviously in need of a family; the Hemulen himself, who seems unsettled and acting out of character; Fillyjonk, who has a cleaning crisis with a near-miss accident and decides she needs to see Moominmamma straight away; and Mymble, come to search for her sister Little My. Add in some newbies like Grandpa-Grumble and you end up with a whole lot of creatures converging on Moominvalley.
However, when they arrive they’re met by an absence. The Moomins’ house is empty and unlived in; there’s no note and no indication of where the family are; and all of the characters are unsettled by this. There seems to be an unspoken agreement that they’ll await the family’s return for winter hibernation, and while they’re at the house they try to take on the best characteristics of the family. So the Hemulen tries to emulate Moominpappa by buildings things, which he really can’t do, and going out in his boat, which he hates; the Fillyjonk attempts Moominmamma’s role, but really doesn’t have the temperament, despite her best intentions, and Toft rejects her attempts to mother him. Snufkin tries to avoid everyone while searching for missing music and Grandpa-Grumble grumbles a lot and tries to track down and make friends with the Ancestor. The end is suitable nebulous, although everyone seems to decide they’re better off just being themselves.
There’s a strange darkness lurking in this book, which is really quite odd in a story intended for children. The Fillyjonk in particular seems incredibly highly strung, having what seem like several nervous breakdowns during the book and coping very badly with the concept of dust, dirt and insects; the Hemulen’s behavior is erratic and he seems uncertain of who or what he is. Most worrying is the orphan Toft; on his own, ungoverned and uncared for, he escapes into a world of imagination, summoning up a strange, dark creature out of nothing. Subject to strange rages, he seems desperate to find the family, idealising them and thinking that Moominmamma will solve everything. Fortunately, he comes to realise that even the Moomin family are human (so to speak!) and not perfect, but it takes him several crises to get to this point.
It’s hard not to see the book in autobiographical terms, as Jansson’s mother died during the year she was writing the book. Certainly there are themes of loss and absence, and the orphan child is central to the plot and action. It’s a strangely sombre piece, and although the ending carries a note of optimism, there is a sense that the Moomins and their world have had to grow up and will never be the same.
So – the end of my Moomin journey. I’ve loved reading about the family and their quirky friends, following them on their travels and through their adventures, seeing Jansson’s wonderful drawings of them; but I think I’m glad I didn’t read them as a child. I don’t quite know what I would have made of them, and the darkness in them might have been too much for me then if I’d grasped it. In many ways, I don’t think this is a book really written for children as its themes of madness, loss and compromise would be lost on them. A melancholy yet lyrical end to a fascinating series of books.