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A trip to see Tove’s paintings – plus *restraint*!!

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Timing is most definitely all…

I had a lovely jaunt to London on Saturday to meet up with my old pal J, taking in a wonderful exhibition, some rambling round the city and a little shopping. The weather was cold but bright, which was perfect for us – and by Sunday the snow had hit so I’m glad it waited till our day out was over!

We tend traditionally to meet up before Christmas, but J’s idea was that we should nip down to Dulwich to see the exhibition of Tove Jansson’s paintings that was on at the art gallery there. As I love her work, I was happy to agree, although it did mean getting a very early train at silly o’clock to get a reasonably priced fare and arrive in London allowing time to travel to Dulwich.

And this is what we were going to see. As we both love Moomins, we visited the Moomin show at the Royal Festival Hall in July. However, we both think *very* highly of Jansson’s non-Moonin work, and this exhibition showcased that, with some wonderful paintings, drawings, sketches and illustrations that really emphasised her versatility. Of course, there were some wonderful Moomin things there too, so the experience was fabulous. I did find myself wondering what Jansson could have produced if she’d pursued a fine art course, but then we wouldn’t have had the Moomins – so, swings and roundabouts!

Alas, photos were not allowed inside, but afterwards we visited the *very* well stocked shop, and oh! the temptation! Tons of Moomin things, of course, but books and postcards and memorabilia and… Well, I was pretty restrained in the end and came away with a set of postcards (I rather collect postcards…) plus a Moomin card:

J, however, couldn’t resist the exhibition catalogue as it had her favourite work in it (and it was rather lovely), as well as the Tove-illustrated “Alice in Wonderland”. The latter was particularly stunning, and if I didn’t already own at least two copies (including the Mervyn Peake one, which may be my favourite) then I might have been tempted.

After leaving Dulwich and heading back to the centre of London via Fortnum and Mason (don’t ask…) we ended up lunching at Chipotle in Charing Cross Road (where I could function as a vegan):

and then rambled around the Pushkin House Russian book sale and a very fancy stationery shop called Quill. Amazingly, I bought nothing…. !

Late afternoon found us in Foyles cafe (I *love* Foyles and I *love* its cafe, in case you hadn’t noticed) where there was time for vegan cake and tea before a long browse round the shop. Here again restraint was the order of the day! Both J and I had realised at the exhibition that although we’d read all the main Moomin books, we didn’t actually have the collection of short pieces called “Tales from Moominvalley”. Exploring the children’s book section of Foyles revealed only two copies – which are no longer there….

For me to come home from a London trip with so few purchases is some kind of miracle (and perhaps reflects the fact that Christmas and birthday are coming up, plus I am awash with amazing review books at the moment). However – ahem – towards the end of the day J presented me with two BLCC titles she’d picked up in charity shops, plus my Christmas and birthday gifts for later in the month – which are suspiciously book-shaped… So maybe it wasn’t such a non-bookish day after all!

Incidentally, we spent much of our day getting about London by hopping on and off buses instead of resorting to the Tube as we’ve done in the past. The latter has become so much more manic of late (and I get vaguely claustrophobic in it at times), and how easy are the London buses now!?!? And much more pleasant too – sailing over Tower Bridge at the front of the top floor of a double-decker in the sun on the way to Dulwich is a wonderful memory of our day out! 🙂

More Moomin Mania!

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Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson

Tove_Jansson_1956

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).Moominsummer.cov_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.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSIf 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.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSThinking 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.

MOOMINSUMMER MADNESSApart 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! 🙂

Recent Reads – The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

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My journey through the glorious Moominland continues apace, and I’ve reached book no. 4, “The Exploits of Moominpappa”. The story apparently has a bit of a chequered past, at least according to Wikipedia: The Exploits of Moominpappa, first published in 1950 and then considerably revised in 1968 under the title Moominpappa’s Memoirs, is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson. The story found in this book is mentioned in the previous Moomin books, as Moominpappa writes his memoirs in those stories. Unlike Comet in Moominland and Finn Family Moomintroll, both versions of the novel were translated into English.

Exploits_moominpappa

My version is the current Puffin, so goodness which I’ve got! However, not to worry – it’s still going to be an engaging tale!

As Wikipedia says, Moominpappa has been writing his memoirs for several books, and in fact the first book opened with him being lost and Moominmamma’s search for him, so it’s intriguing to hear the story of his life. The story is told to Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin and turns out to feature the two latter character’s fathers (which is quite strange, because it was Moomintroll who met Sniff and Snufkin and brought them home, and there was never any mention of their fathers before!)

Moominpappa came from an orphanage, ran away to find his fortune and had a number of adventures with new friends Hodgkin, the Joxter and the Muddler. They sail away on a houseboat, rescue a bossy Hemulen, have a run-in with some Niblings, and find a new land where the Mymble family live. After setting up home on an island and befriending the resident ghost, they go on to have further adventures under the sea. And then we get to the part where Moominpappa and Moominmamma meet – and the book stops!

exploits

Once again, Jansson’s storytelling is wonderful and the illustrations are just lovely! However, if I’m honest, this is probably the Moomin book I’ve enjoyed the least (and that’s not to mean I didn’t enjoy it at all) – possibly because it’s told from a different voice, or possibly because it just introduces so many different settings and characters without any warning. It kind of has the feel of retrospective writing, bringing in characters and plot that weren’t there earlier, and so it sits less comfortably with what I’ve read so far than I expected.

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Nevertheless, the Moomin world is always a magical one – the creatures are original and unexpected, the adventures quite challenging at times and of course the drawings are magical. Jansson can convey so much with just line illustrations, bringing alive the wonderful little characters who populate her books. The next book in the series is “Moominsummer Madness”, which will no doubt appear on Mount TBR very soon!

….in which I become acquainted with the Moomins!

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Tove Jansson’s wonderful Moomin books have been around for a long time; and they were certainly about in my childhood, so I find myself wonderful why I never picked them up before? Maybe I was too immersed in Enid Blyton, maybe I just never came across reasonably priced copies – I don’t know. However, having recently read my first Jansson book, and loved it, I then went on to watch the wonderful BBC documentary on her life and was transfixed, and also fascinated. I hadn’t realised quite how much of herself she’d put into the Moomins, how lovely her drawings and artwork were – so it’s definitely time I explored the stories of the little white creatures!

great flood

Being a bit of a pendant, I like to read series in order, and so t hat meant starting off with the first Moomin book, “The Moomins and the Great Flood”. I get the impression this is a slightly ‘pre-Moomin’ book in that the characters aren’t fully developed and named. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop it being a beautiful book (and so nicely produced by Sort Of Books, who seem to be the keepers of the flame for Jansson’s English translations). And oddly enough, this lovely hardback edition is translated by David McDuff who’s produced some of my favourite Russians in English – bonus!

“The Moomins and the Great Flood” tells the simple tale of young Moomintroll and his Moominmamma who are in search of Moominpappa, who has wandered off and become lost. Along their journey they are joined by a timid little creature and a girl with blue hair, and they meet hazards (the Great Serpent, the flood itself) and help (the old gentleman under the mountain, a sea troll). Will the Moomins discover their lost Pappa and find dry land?

moominsOne of the delights of this beautifully imaginative tale is of course Jansson’s artwork – as well as pen and ink drawings, there are some lovely sepia watercolours to illustrate the story, and these are really striking – my particular favourites are of the switch back railway under the mountain. The story of the quest is very involving too, as the Moomins meet all sorts of people on their travels and manage to make a difference to their lives.

“TMATGF” was written in 1939, that year of such change and upheaval in the world, and it’s hard not to see the Great Flood as representing the chaos that was about to wash over all of Europe (also bearing in mind that Jansson was something of a satirical cartoonist at that point, and so was well aware of the politics surrounding her). But putting all this aside, it’s a wonderful little story and a fine way to meet the Moomins. I can’t beat myself up for not reading this particular volume before, as it was only translated into English for the first time in 2012. Had I been able to, though, it’s the kind of book I would have loved in my youth – and I confess that, despite my increasing age, I shall be reading more Moomin volumes before too long!!

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