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54 people found this helpful
Well, this is a pleasant surprise!
on April 26, 2003
I didn't expect this to be available in English, for some reason, but rarely have I been happier to be wrong. If you favour the existence of good children's literature, you owe it to yourself to get all the Moomintroll books. Sure, you yourself might not get that much out of them, but if you have children, it is your absolute duty as a parent to give them these books. It's what you give them to read now that will determine whether they grow up to love literature, after all - are you going to let the likes of Animorphs and Goosebumps dictate their future tastes, with their assembly-line banality, hideous nature, and utter lack of any aesthetic qualities whatsoever? I didn't think so.
A key aspect of Tove Jansson's world is that there is no conflict in it, as such. There's plenty of danger and risk, as much as the adventurous exploits of the Moomintroll would require, but there are no villains, no good-versus-evil struggle, no battle to save the world that has to be hidden from the grownups for some bizarre reason. Some of the Moomintroll books are more pastoral in nature, featuring the Moomin family just lounging around and talking to each other and various other denizens of the neighbourhood. Others feature struggles, such as this one, but they are struggles of knowledge against blind cosmic forces - Moomintroll is trying to _discover_ and _conquer_ the nature of the comet that threatens his home with destruction. This makes for suspense aplenty, and one may even forget that there are no real antagonists, no one who is willfully malicious. The closest thing to that to be found here is the menacing character of the Groke, who freezes the ground under her feet, but she is viewed with sympathy, as a part of nature as well. Nor is she deliberately malicious; she's cold and frightening by nature.
Then there's Jansson's prose and gift of description. Oh my! It's like a gorgeous watercolour. Just read the bit in the beginning where Moomintroll finds the hidden cave, or the part where Sniff and Moomintroll are travelling downriver - there's an air of adventure and beauty to that that seems to have died a lonely death in children's literature sometime in recent history. The setting is a beautiful, undefiled Nordic paradise, where nature rages unfettered and beauty exists in its balance rather than in its placidity. And how about the weird denizens of Moominland themselves - the Hattifnauts, for instance, who can't talk or do anything other than wander from place to place, hauntingly, in vast herds, exhorted by something in their nature that they cannot articulate? What about the philosophizing Hemuls with their respective passions for collecting things and putting them in order? All of these different characters reflect different aspects of human nature. They are emotionally complex, contemplative, given to reflection. Jansson's realistic (the description even says "Naturalistic," which isn't that far from the truth) dialogue brings them to vibrant life.
Apparently, various corporations have gotten their hands on the rights to Moominland, and are exploiting them for all they're worth. There's a cartoon on this theme in Japan, so I hear. But fortunately, no matter what anyone does, the original books are still right here, in all their lyricism, poetry, wonder, melancholy, and aesthetic perfection.