Greetings and Salutations!
Welcome to the third book in the Moomin series re-read, Moominpappa’s Memoirs. I hope you’ve been enjoying the Moomin merriment; we’re all a bunch of Moomin maniacs around here. I’m the editor of the beautiful new paperback editions of these books, and I’ll just admit it right now: I’d never heard of them before I started working here. I have no idea where they were when I was a kid. I missed them completely. But as an adult, I can say they’ve charmed me completely. So, let’s start with the story!
The book starts off simply enough: Moominpappa has a cold and takes it way too seriously. Facing the possibility that he might be about to die, he decides to write his memoirs so no one will forget him—and so people can learn from the marvelous life he’s lived. He feels it’s going to be educational reading as much as entertainment. So Moominpappa picks up his memoir-pen and launches into his autobiography.
He was dropped off in a shopping bag on the doorstep of the Moomin Foundling Home, which is run by the Hemulen. She’s not a fun-loving caretaker, and young Moomin (well before he became a pappa) bristles at her emphasis on washing and learning and holding his tale at a 45 degree angle. He wants adventure! And fame! And the freedom to “eat treacle sandwiches in bed and keep grass snakes and skunks under it!” So he runs away.
Moomin meets an inventor named Hodgkins, and they form a fast friendship. Hodgkins is happy to listen to Moomin talk and doesn’t object at all to his big dreams. Hodgkins has big dreams too, but his are motivated by entirely different reasons. He wants to make impossible things just to see if they can be made. Moomin wants to do things simply for the sake of the experience. Still, they’re a good match. Hodgkins has built a boat in a glade and Moomin wants to take a trip. Hodgkins nephew, the Muddler, is invited along for the trip, and the Joxter comes along too because he’s been squatting on the boat and no one thinks to tell him to get out even though it’s not his.
To get the boat out of the glade and into the nearby river, they ask Edward the Booble to take his bath in the river. Edward is a giant Booble—really, really huge—who has the unfortunate tendency to step on people. But he’s always sorry and always pays for their funerals. They convince Edward to take a seat in the river which floods the glade and lifts the boat into the water. The journey has begun!
A little way down the river Moomin spies a person on shore calling for help. He swims ashore to rescue her and is dismayed to find he’s saved a Hemulen. She’s not his Hemulen, however—she’s the Hemulen’s aunt. But she shares the same vigorous attitude of cleanliness and education and sets about to whip the crew into shape. It’s her Hemulic Duty. Not too much time passes before the ship is suddenly attacked by a swarm of Niblings. Niblings are nice and friendly, but they love to chew on things. And they chew off noses they feel are too big. Moomins and Hemulens have big noses. But Hemulen Aunt boldly and carelessly yells at them. The Niblings come aboard, grab Hemulen Aunt, and take her away. The crew is relieved, albeit a tad bit guilty for being annoyed at having rescued her in the first place and wishing her harm, especially since she’s just met with harm. But no real bother, the journey continues!
The crew awakes the next day to find the ship floating at sea. A Nibling had stowed away and chewed through the anchor rope, because “I simply had to gnaw at something.” (Yes, Niblings are totally adorable). But there’s no way to return the Nibling to its family from the middle of the ocean, so they let it stay. Then another uninvited guest comes aboard: a cloud. It drifts right down on to the deck and settles in for a nap. When a storm starts up, the cloud saves them by acting as a giant sail. The ship flies up and out of the storm raging below, and Hodgkins is struck by a new desire—to build a flying river-boat.
The ship lands in a strange place and they’re met by the Mymble’s daughter. She invites them to the Autocrat’s Garden Party. She’s been told to stay home because she annoyed her mother with her incessant fibbing, but no matter. People easily forgive and forget in the world of Moomins. The Autocrat is a huge jokester and they wander through his gardens meeting fake frights and dodging moderately-dangerous obstacles, but the party is great fun and worth the effort.
The next day they send the Nibling home to his mother and try to figure out what to do with themselves. Hodgkins is invited to invent for the king. Moomin wants to leave and continue adventuring. The Muddler and the Joxter don’t much care either way. After no debate, Hodgkins desire to build his flying river-boat wins out. Moomin, the Joxter, the Muddler, and the Mymble’s daughter found a colony. They don’t know what a colony is, so really they’re just each living wherever they like.
Moomin is living in a little house near the water, and one night a ghost shows up to frighten him. It promises to return next Friday at midnight to haunt him again. Moomin invites everyone over and tells them he’s going to produce a ghost. Then when it shows up, the only one frightened is the Muddler. The Joxter laughs at it. Everyday for the next week, the ghost drives them mad with his loud noises. Finally, Moomin invites him to move in with him, if he’ll just behave and keep his chain rattling to a minimum—five minutes each night at midnight.
Hodgkins’ invention is finally ready, and everyone in the land gathers for the grand unveiling. The little group sets out for a test flight and are surprised to find that it not only flies, it dives. Deep under water, the flying river-boat is attacked by the Sea-Hound. Then Edward the Booble shows up and tramples it, quite by accident of course—and he’s not paying for any more funerals!
Back on land, they find the Autocrat in a frenzy because the Muddler, who was too terrified to join the test flight, is getting married and has invited 7,000 Niblings and the Hemulen Aunt to his wedding. The Autocrat is not okay with surprises he didn’t plan himself, but when a boat finally does arrive, there’s just one Nibling, their little Nibling, with a gift and a letter from the Hemulen Aunt. Turns out Niblings love quizzes and she’s been happily living with them all this time, with her nose intact.
In the last little bit of the tale, Moominpappa tells how soon after all of this he spotted Moominmamma being tossed around at sea and he rescued her and fell in love with her instantly. Moomintroll, Sniff, and Snufkin want to know about his time with the Hattifatteners and what happened to the Joxter and the Muddler (particularly since the Joxter is Snufkin’s father and the Muddler and the Fuzzy are Sniff’s parents). But those aren’t part of Moominpappa’s story. Quite conveniently, there’s a knock at the door: Hodgkins, the Joxter, the Muddler and the Fuzzy, even the Mymble and all her children, have come for a visit, and they’ve brought the flying river-boat. Another journey is bound to ensue!
I’m delighted to say that I learned absolutely nothing from Moominpappa. He’s a great, big egomaniac, for sure, but he’s a very endearing one. I wanted the memoirs to keep going; I was very eager to read about his time with the Hattifatteners, but alas, Moominpappa doesn’t want to tell that bit of his story. It wouldn’t be instructive. His time with the Hattifatteners was wicked and so it remains a secret. I also quite adored the Nibling and Edward the Booble. They wreaked the most havoc but also had the best lines and made me laugh. Tove Janssen wrote the most surprising characters. When the Muddler said he hoped something might come along and eat the Hemulen Aunt I was slightly stunned, and very pleased—her characters are honest. The little interruptions in the memoir where Moomintroll, Sniff, and Snufkin commented on and questioned the memoir matched my thoughts exactly: Moominpappa left out details in his story that we all want answered. They even said something about his odd turns of phrase and flowery language. But that’s just how Moominpappa is. And he tells a damn good story, so naturally, we’ll forgive him his flaws.