Tales from Moominvalley Re-read

Tales from Moominvalley is Jansson’s last prose book about the Moomins. It’s a collection of short stories:

  • A meditation from Snufkin about how sometimes people just don’t get it and you have to be mean to them. But then you feel bad about it. Luckily for Snufkin, the Creep he’s mean to doesn’t at all notice and becomes a better Creep for it. If only that was the universal experience!
  • An instructive story about how a person’s own faults seem all the worse when he or she sees them in someone else. This is especially the case when the situation involves person-devouring black fungi and cupboards that are only big enough for one person to perch on the top.
  • The story of a Fillyjonk who discovers that she quite likes losing all her possessions and becoming a new person. (Though perhaps it’s the adrenaline that’s making her feel this way; she’ll regret it later.)
  • A story about Snufkin and Moomintroll about how entirely unuseful it is for your friends’ pets (or siblings, or whatnot—in this case whatnot, or more specifically a partially golden dragon) to like you better than they like your friends. This is even the case when your friend’s dragon burns holes in everything and bites everyone (except you). He will still love it.
  • The next story is about a Hermulen who (in his retirement) builds a silent amusement park instead of the dollhouse he wanted. Everyone is skeptical (except the small children, who are usually either are the most skeptical of all or filled with implicit faith—it turns out that it’s the latter this time), but everything eventually turns out for the best.
  • The story of an invisible child. And apple-cheese, for some reason.
  • Moominpappa runs away from home (again) and has an entirely unsatisfactory escape from normalcy in which he thinks to himself, “If this is a wicked life I’d rather eat my hat.”
  • Sniff learns that if you give things away, you will not actually get them back ten times over and feel wonderful afterwards. You will only not have things. Luckily for him, sometimes people can be persuaded to give the things back.
  • The Moomin family awakes from hibernation just in time for Christmas—an event that seems to be causing a lot of consternation for their friends. What is this Christmas menace? Can they escape it?


“He’s got such a lot of feelings, this Moomintroll,” has to be one of the most poignant lines to ever exist. Is there a better way to describe how you feel when small children and cats and other things with large wobbly eyes look up at you in a filled-with-emotion sort of way? No, there is not.

And Tove Jansson clearly also has lots of feelings, which shine through in these stories–I feel like she went out into the world and had feelings, and then extruded them and strained them through some cheesecloth and poured them this book, which made me feel like going out into the woods to live deliberately, possibly with the companionship of a small partially golden dragon, if I could convince it to like me best through lack of endeavor. (I probably couldn’t–and I even know who it would fly off to be with instead).

One of the things I like so much about books for kids and teens is that sometimes, when an author does it right, there’s a great immediacy of feeling, and I remember what it was like to be a kid and feel everything close to the surface and deep down, both at the same time. Tales from Moominvalley is kind of a marvel of a book, because not only does it make me remember what that was like, but it pulled on my gut and made me feel like that, too–in nine separate stories peopled with different characters and situations. (Well, okay—I wasn’t scared of Christmas in the last one. But everything else.)

Moomins! Read them, people.


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