Tove Jansson (translated by Elizabeth Portch), Comet in Moominland (Sunburst Books, 1995)
First published in 1946, Comet in Moominland is the second in the Moomin series. The first, The Little Trolls and the Great Flood, was published in 1945 and has never been translated into English.
The cover shows the main character (Moomintroll) and his friends running across a blasted and desolate land, with a flaming ball of fire falling from the sky and a tall tower in the background. White italic text across a red strip at the bottom says "Can Moomintroll save his beloved valley?"
Looking at these books with a reviewer's eye has dimmed a bit of their glory. After some agonizing, I decided that Comet in Moominland is my least favorite out of the Moomin books. Jansson's light touch displayed in other stories feels heavier here, perhaps because of the prominence of several shallow, greedy characters such as Sniff and the Snork Maiden.
The format of this book, and the others in the series, bothers me as well. Each chapter has its own little summary: "Chapter One: Which is about how Moomintroll and Sniff follow a mysterious path to the sea, pearl-fishing, the discovery of a cave, and how the Muskrat avoided catching a cold." Each page has its own little heading "Sniff remembers the box," "Plans are made to explore the Mysterious Path," etc. I feel as if I'm being told what's going to happen before it happens, spoiling the fun.
The quest of Moomintroll and his friends to find out whether or not the comet will hit the Earth and specifically, Moominvalley contains many short and interesting stories woven into the larger tale. The philosopher-Muskrat manages to guilt-trip everyone into catering to his every whim while gloomily declaring everything to be unnecessary; Moomintroll rescues the beautiful Snork Maiden; glittering treasure is found in unexpected places.
The Muskrat has a perfect foil in the stamp-collecting Hemulen, who focuses on his precious collection almost to his own disaster more than once. The Snork Maiden and her brother the Snork are opposites as well, the male practical and the female "foolish." I didn't care much for that; the Snork is condescending and frequently complains about "girls" messing everything up, while the Snork Maiden was just flat irritating after a few pages, especially when Moomintroll falls all over himself trying to impress her. Even as a child, I remember thinking she wasn't worth his time. (Perhaps I was jealous? Mmmm... no comment.)
Peeves aside, this tale is still a grand trek over and under and through life, driven by lively characters and lit by Tove's trademark simple/evocative artwork.
For more information about Tove Jansson and her works, here are some wonderful sites:
The Official Moomin Web site.
Some great essays on the author and her works.
For the truly dedicated, visit the Moominworld Theme Park (in Finland!).