Thu
Apr 22 2010 6:30pm

Moominsummer Madness Re-read

Summer has come to Moominvalley, and Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, the Mymble’s daughter, and Little My are all ready for the delights of the new season—but there’s something ominous in the air. A volcano that has been quiet for years is now spitting fire and smoke and flakes of soot. Moomintroll’s best buddy Snufkin has failed to return from his annual winter explorations, and he can’t help but to fear the worst—a dangerous encounter with a Groke, a tragic fall into a deep abyss, a herring-bone fatally caught in the throat. The air is dry and scorching, and squawking, anxious gulls signal that a thunderstorm lurks on the horizon. To brighten everyone’s mood, Moominmamma suggests a family sleepover in the garden—a slumber party that comes to a fast end when the ground begins to shake and crack, and Moomintroll loses his new blue toothbrush into the great black hollows of the earth. A great rumble sounds in the distance, and a massive wave rolls up from across the sea and crashes over the forest and into their beloved Valley. From the second floor of the house, the Moomin family debates their fate as they watch the water rise higher, higher—until one after another they are lulled to sleep by the rhythm of the thumping waves.

Morning comes, and the Moomin family wakes to find a changed world. Tree branches poke out from the water and mountaintops protrude like clustered islands. The Moomins are delighted by the prospect of cutting out a hole in the floor to peer down into their submerged kitchen—what a novelty it is to see a room from the ceiling rather than the floor! Swimming through specks of floating jam and schools of macaroni noodles, Moomintroll salvages food and coffee for a very exciting breakfast picnic. As the family swims back and forth to the drawing room to rescue their best furniture, Whomper, a very serious, reflective little beast from the forest, and the chronically mopey Misabel float over to the house for a visit. Just as the rising water threatens to devour the whole Moomin house, a strange new home happens to drift their way:

“It was quite clearly a kind of house. Two golden faces were painted on its roof; one was crying and the other one laughing at the Moomins. Beneath the grinning faces gaped a large rounded cave filled with darkness and cobwebs. Obviously the great wave had carried away one of the walls of the house. On either side of the yawning gap drooped velvet curtains sadly trailing in the water.”

No one appears to be living in this mysterious house, and so the Moomins climb on board and begin setting up their new home. As the family drifts further up Moominvalley, they watch their old home in the distance, the flag on the tip of their roof waving a fond farewell from across the water. It soon becomes clear that this new house is no normal house—door frames and stairwells lead to nowhere, floors rotate and spin, a room for “Mr. Properties” is filled with books that can’t be opened, food made from wood, and mirrors with no reflections. Canvases filled with beautiful scenes come and go with the tug of a rope. But most confusing of all, a curious and bitter laugh is often heard coming from a dark corner of the new drawing room. “What a very strange world the world is,” Moominmamma exclaims after observing all of these eccentricities. The family revels in their unexpected adventure, unconcerned with finding any type of explanation.

The Moomins quickly become accustomed to their fascinating new home, and were it not for the strange and unidentifiable laughter, they would have felt complete contentment. As the family prepares for dinner one evening, a grey and wrinkly creature at last emerges from the shadows and introduces herself as Emma. After insulting Moominmamma’s porridge and stealing a bit of the family’s cheese, Emma berates them for their complete ignorance about the theatre they now live in, and where her late husband once served as stage manager. While Emma busies herself with sweeping, the rest gather to excitedly observe a nearby tree, and it’s decided that Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden will spend the night sleeping in the branches. All is well until Emma breaks the moorings in the middle of the night, setting the theatre back off into the waters and leaving the poor, sleeping Moomintroll and Snork Maiden abandoned in the treetop.

Though Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden are at first dumbfounded when they wake to find themselves alone, they begin to climb from tree to tree until they finally make their way to solid shore. They come across a Midsummer bonfire celebration, and they are both hit by a wave of homesickness, fondly remembering the Moominvalley fire that always glowed the brightest for this special holiday. Meanwhile, Moominmamma and Moominpappa worry over their disappearance and wonder at how it could have happened. Just when it seems that things can’t get worse, the house is rattled and shaken after a collision with land, and Little My is sent rolling—over the floor and into the black water! She manages to stay afloat on top of Moominmamma’s workbasket, sailing along smoothly until a fishing hook latches onto her basket and pulls her ashore...and who is at the end, but none other than the missing Snufkin himself! However, as the two had not met in a long time, they both believe the other to be a stranger. Though Snufkin often thought of Moomintroll and Moominvalley, he had a score to settle with the Park Keeper before his return. The Park Keeper was horribly strict in his upkeep of the park, fencing the lawns and posting notices that forbid any kind of fun or playing. And so Snufkin has decided to pull down all of these signs, freeing the park from all rules and teaching the Park Keeper a valuable lesson. The Park Ranger is chased off by a crowd of electrifying Hattifatteners, the signs are removed and trampled, and twenty-four little woodies who were forbidden to play in the park now follow Snufkin and celebrate him as their rescuer and adopted father.

Meanwhile, Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden come upon a house in the middle of the woods, where a lonely Fillyjonk sits inside lamenting over her uncle and aunt who have neglected once again to visit her for Midsummer Eve. Her mood is quickly remedied by the prospect of celebrating with Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden, and the three are soon toasting and making merry. They find a pile of discarded notices and decide to use the rubbish as kindle for a bonfire. Festivities are cut short, however, with the appearance of a very angry, very ugly Hemulen who arrests them for pulling down and burning the notices.

Oblivious to the troubles that Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden are enduring, Moominpappa and Moominmamma and the others still living in the new house busy themselves with learning more about the theatre. Moominpappa—who has already proven his extraordinary skills with the writing of his Memoirs—sets about writing a grand tragedy for the family to perform with the hopes that word of the show will spread and find its way to Moomintroll. Even Misabel and Emma are caught up in the excitement, and despite a seemingly disastrous dress rehearsal, hopes are high for the opening night performance. As Moominpappa and company are caught up in preparations for their theatrical debut and Moomintroll sits in jail, Snufkin and his little children walk and walk through the pouring rain until they decide to settle in an empty house—the house that Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, and the Fillyjonk had been in only hours earlier! Birds scatter the playbills along the shoreline and into the forest, and both the Hemulen cop and Snufkin receive the notices and are excited to attend. Though wary at first, the cop decides to leave his captives in the hands of his kindhearted Hemulen cousin. Moomintroll and the Snork Maiden quickly befriend her and convince her of their innocence, and the three set off to the theatre to find the Hemulen and settle the score.

And so at last the time comes for all roaming parties to come together again—Little My, Snufkin and his twenty-four children, and the Snork Maiden and Moomintroll one by one step onto the stage for a crowd-pleasing and impromptu reunion. The initial burst of joy is dampened by the appearance of the angry cop. The woodies latch onto the Hemulen, and Snufkin bids them a loving farewell as he and Moomintroll flee in their getaway boat. They are soon joined by Moominmamma, Moominpappa, the Snork Maiden, the Mymble’s daughter, Little My, and the sweet Hemulen, and the group eagerly sets off in search of their beloved old home. Newly instated Stage Manager Whomper and Misabel, the thriving actress, choose to stay on at the theater, along with Emma’s niece, the Fillyjonk, and her new clan of woody relatives.

The world is slowly returning to normal—the water is receding and the land is starting to creep up and into the sunshine, new sprouts grow from the damaged treetops, and people everywhere are starting on their homeward journeys. At long last the Moomins catch a glimpse of a pointed roof with a cheery and fluttering flag. But before they can fully appreciate their return to Moominvalley, the Hemulen and his band of angry cops arrive demanding vindication. After his dear Hemulen cousin apologizes for Snufkin and a suitable punishment is negotiated—Snufkin will post notices around Moominmamma’s vegetable garden—all is right in Moominvalley and the Hemulens make their leave. Everything is restored, “as if nothing had ever happened, as if no danger could ever threaten them again.”

COMMENTARY:

Volcanoes! Floods! Floating theatres and mysterious disappearances! Holiday festivities gone awry, crimes and cop chases, epic theatrical performances and family reunions...is there anything that this Moomin installment doesn’t have? Here we see the Moomin family at their finest, in all of their simple and carefree, go-with-the-flow, adventure-embracing splendor. Where ordinary humans would find discontentment or anxiety, the Moomin clan finds excitement and joy. A flooded house? A wondrous water park! A potentially dangerous, haunted building? A fascinating new home! The Moomins bounce from calamity to calamity with spunk and cheer, delighting in all of the absurdities and surprises that the world throws their way. The Moomins go about life with an innocence and a sense of unshakable faith and optimism that often confuses and irritates those with a more jaded and bitter world perspective—Emma, Misabel, Little My, and so on and so forth.

Are the Moomins and their loved ones painfully ignorant, or just gloriously naïve? Would they ever be better off questioning the world around them or pausing to actually analyze the dangers or consequences of any particular situation? Should we as readers admire them, or should we instead laugh at their stupidity? When the volcano first shows signs of trouble to come, Moominmamma complains about her soot-covered fresh laundry and Moominpappa laments that the mountain is too far away for him to make a paperweight from real lava. They show no concern for their lives or their general well-being, a naivety that continues unabated after the flood and the rising water that threatens to consume them and the house in its depths. They fear no bad, and no bad happens. Of course there are moments here and there flecked with anxiety for potential doom—Why was Snufkin unable to return? Will Moomintroll ever find his way back home?—but these times are quickly washed away in the flood of curiosity and happiness that comes about with any strange new adventure.

At the end of the day—and the end of the book—all is well in Moominvalley. Tove Jansson gives us a perfect world, where good is always good and even bad can be turned into something good. It’s simply a matter of perspective and attitude. And so, readers, we leave this book with a valuable new philosophy to use in our own lives. Don’t fear the unexplainable or waste time worrying about things that can’t be solved or changed—embrace the adventure. If your house floods, go for a pleasant swim through your living room and enjoy the unprecedented upside-down-view of your kitchen. Find novelties in the old and make every day feel new. Live like a Moomin… unless there’s ever a volcano that’s about to erupt near your house. Then I would still advise you to evacuate.

4 comments
Gabriele Campbell
1. G-Campbell
That was the first Moomin book I read. I enjoyed it but there was a slight uneasiness, too. We had moved shortly beofre, and I obviously didn't cope well (according to my mother's later tales) with seeing all our furniture dismantled and the flat empty, and thus the flood episode scared me a bit. I didn't want the Moomins to lose their furniture. ;)
Too-TickLy
2. Too-TickLy
I'm relieved the Moomins survived the volcano eruption relatively unscathed and return for more fun-filled adventures. I love this Moomin re-read! Your descriptive, whimsical style suits Tove Jansson very well. Thanks for posting!
Barbara Gordon
3. bmlg
I think this may have been my first Moomin book (hard to tell from the far side of such a span of years). We lived by a lake that flooded every couple of winters, and my brother and I would paddle about over top of the neighbours' gardens, watching the grass and shrubberies wave below. So parts of the story seemed quite natural to me, and I hoped a theatre would float by some evening.
Too-TickLy
4. Bethanyfig
A floating theatre is about as awesome as a moving castle. :-) What a brilliant idea.

I think my husband would find the episode of choking on a bone to be the scariest element of the book...

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment