Anchors aweigh for adventure!
Moominpappa at Sea is Tove Jannson’s seventh book about the Moomins. It begins with a restless Moominpappa eager for adventure and bored of his pleasant and predicable life in Moomin Valley. The family packs up an assortment of their possessions and set sail for an adventure to “Moominpappa’s Island.”
Their travel is more difficult than anticipated, as the lighthouse of Moominpappa’s island is out. While on the sea, the Moomins encounter and mysterious and quiet fisherman who seems unresponsive to questions or conversation. Finally, their boat hits sand and they start to make themselves at home on their new island. The first night, the Pappa stays up all night protecting the family while they slept on the boat. His biggest wish is to make his home in the lighthouse, and his quest is to light the lighthouse’s lamp.
Throughout the story, the family encounters a variety of obstacles and insights. First, they cannot find the key to open the lighthouse, but Pappa finds it using his intuition. Moomintroll finds a perfect patch of glen only to find that ants have beaten him to it. Mamma starts a garden using seaweed to enhance the rocky soil, only to have her garden washed away in a storm. But that is only the beginning of their problems and the sea has a mind of its own!
In the end, and hopefully without giving away too much, Pappa’s skills become invaluable and Moomintroll makes an extraordinary discovery that reminds us not to judge a book by its cover!
This was not a traditional reread for me, as it was actually my introduction to The Moomins and the magical world they inhabit. Having just started at MacKids after working at St Martin’s Press, I had much experience with Young Adult Fiction, but had not had the pleasure of rereading middle grade fiction since, well, I was in middle school. (Excluding Harry Potter, of course.) I’ve read plenty of picture books to children through my volunteer work and babysitting, and have assisted in large scale YA publicity campaigns professionally, and this was entry point not just to a terrific series that is very important to the MacKids family, but also a reintroduction to a genre I have neglected.
Being a little bit older, and hopefully a little bit wiser, I was genuinely astounded by the degree to which this story resonated with me on an intellectual level. (Forgive me in advance for being over-analytical—my college English courses were not so long ago.) For me, Moominpappa at Sea felt like an incredibly timely account of a father grappling with his sense of self worth and yearning for a more traditional “Dad brings home the bacon” family dynamic.
Hear me out. Moominpappa’s melancholy begins when Moomintroll and Little My do not wake him up to put out a very small forest fire. While both Moomintroll and Little My put out the spark quite successfully, Moominpappa’s feelings were clearly hurt. When Moomintroll tells Pappa that he successfully put out the fire, Jansson writes, “Moominpappa stopped dead. He was feeling very angry.” Determined to keep his family safe, Moominpappa stays up all night watching the tiny speck of Earth despite his family’s protests. When Moominmamma lights a lamp at dusk, Moominpappa responds, “No lamps should be lit until summer is really over…In some families, it is the father who decides when its time to light the lamp.”
It is then that the family goes to “Moominpappa’s Island,” a place all his own out in the middle of the sea. He insists that Moominmamma relax as he handles everything. When the family begins to run low on food, Moominpappa catches so much fish that they no longer have containers to store it all. He goes out every morning and fishes all day. It is a cold and lonely island wrought with storms and one problem after another, yet the family makes do in support of Pappa. When he successfully completes his mission on the island at the book’s conclusion, Jansson writes, “He was completely alive from the tips of his ears to the tip of his tail. This was a moment to live to the full.”
Moominpappa at Sea is honest in its appraisal of fatherhood as sometimes difficult and challenging. It is hard to imagine now what would have resonated with me as a younger reader, but as an adult it made me consider my dad’s point of view and his influence on me growing up. I urge to revisit this classic and allow it to surprise and challenge you.