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The Muskrat will find it unnecessary, but almost no one else will... Moomin-mania is no mystery
on December 9, 2014
Most great children's literature wasn't written strictly for children. Think of A. A. Milne, L. Frank Baum, E.B. White, Dr. Seuss, Wanda Gag, Daniel Pinkwater and of course Tove Jansson. All of these authors share the ability to write books that not only appeal to children and young adults, but also to fully grown adults. Tove Jansson's Moomins remain Scandanavian icons to this day. Though not as immediately recognized in the United States as in some other countries, a Moomin renaissance of sorts has occurred in 2006 following Drawn and Quarterly's publication of the complete Moomin comic strips that ran from 1954 to 1974. A series of books predated these strips and after an initial flop, "The Moomins and the Great Flood" in 1945, Moomin-mania finally took the world by storm in 1946 with the unforgettable "Comet in Moominland." Though Jansson ceased the series in 1970, the momentum never let up. Moomin operas, animated television shows and even a theme park followed. Jansson, who would have turned 100 this year, passed away in 2001 as the Moomins continued to capture the imaginations of new generations.
Anyone who reads "Comet in Moominland" will quickly discover the appeal of these marshmallowly hippopotamus-like creatures. Their strong personalities, endless curiosity and intrepid adventurousness take them and their friends everywhere, even into grisly danger. Things begin as Sniff, a ratlike creature that shares some of Piglet's traits, finds a mysterious path leading to somewhere so potentially interesting that he has to run and tell Moomintroll. Here they meet the silk monkey and eventually find a cozy cave. One night during a rain, Moominpapa lets in the muskrat, a pensive philosopher who claims to "sit and think about how unnecessary everything is." He tells of dark forebodings and of something "horrible and unnecessary" that will happen. All the while the Moomintroll, Sniff and the Silk-Monkey keep encountering symbols resembling stars with tails. The muskrat tells them of comets and that the Professors in the Observatory on the Lonely Mountains would know something about whether the comet would strike earth. Thus begins a grand Odyssean tale that leads them to aggressive crocodiles, Snufkin, a giant lizard, a deep watery hole, Hemulens who collect obsessively, a giant eagle and finally to the cigarette-laden Observatory (the professors like to smoke, how so 20th century). When they find out the comet will arrive in a short number of days, they head back home because "Moominmama," the matriarch, "will know what to do." Along the way Moomintroll saves a lovely Snork Maiden from a poisonous plant, they manage to buy items in a strange store despite the fact that they don't have a cent, they attend a dance lit by glow worms, cross the dried up ocean with stilts, nearly escape an octopus and arrive in Moominland just as everyone flees in terror away from it. Throughout, the comet looms over everything in a creepy, ominous way. It gets larger and larger and more and more intense. Yikes. Not to give anything away, but the comet does come to Moominland, Sniff spills his coffee, the cave really comes in handy and the Muskrat sits on the cake, though it was unnecessary anyway. Other things happen too, of course, such as the ending, but one must consult the book for succor. All along, the story moves with the pace of a hummingbird's heart and will even keep adults, supposedly secure in their maturity and dignified vintage, enraptured. Incredible fun.
This series by Square Fish begins with "Comet in Moominland," even though it's technically the second Moomin book. The beginning even references the flood from the real first book "(which is another story)". But the spine has a "1" on it, signifying the first book. Go figure. The details probably lie outside of most people's pay scales, but, in any case, seven more Moomin books follow "Comet in Moominland," all equally acclaimed. They encompass adventure, morality, love, family, happiness, dread, philosophy, doom, insights into humanity, humor, sadness and just life in general treated in a fantastically addictive yet serious cartoony manner. Moomin-mania is no mystery.