Tove Jansson, Moominvalley in November, Sunburst
For some years, I thought I had managed to net all of the Moominvalley books that had been translated into English. I was actually pleased when I discovered that I was missing one, and that Moominvalley in November was available in English.
(Well, maybe "pleased" isn't the right word . . . dancing around the house, jumping up and down, chanting "moo-min! moo-min!" . . . does that qualify as "happy" or as "obsessed/berserk"?
We all have our weaknesses . . . I make no apology. A previously unknown Moomin addition to my collection is cause, in my book, for wild celebration.)
Moominvalley in November was originally translated into English by Kingsley Hart in 1971. During my long years of searching, I was never able to find a copy in any bookstore -- until someone brighter than I suggested checking online. (All right, I'll admit -- it was my husband.) A quick search on Amazon.com turned up a gold mine, and within a week the book was in my trembling little hands.
I will also admit I am an addict, not only of the Jannson books, but of her artwork, so I'm going to have to go on a bit about this one. The cover art of this book is lovely. Previous Moomin book covers (the ones in my collection, anyway) consist of line drawings, blocky indistinct watercolors, and fuzzy experiments with pastels -- all good in their own right, but not nearly as precise as this cover. I feel that this cover "pulls together" what Jansson was trying for in previous attempts.
The artwork shows Fillyjonk, a beloved character to anyone who has read Tales from Moominvalley, running along the dock towards the Moomin's boathouse, looking back fearfully over her shoulder, while Snufkin (instantly recognizable by hat and perpetual pipe) sits in the foreground, talking to a young boy we've never met before. The grass Snufkin and his friend sit on is sketched in with browns and greens, allowing the bluish, textured watercolor paper to set the edge lines. A single large orange-gold leaf is falling just past Fillyjonk's frightened nose. It's a very simple but evocative cover; you get the feeling immediately that it's late fall, that there's something to be afraid of if you're easily scared (like Fillyjonk) but that everything is just fine if you're a calm type of person to begin with (like Snufkin).
All right, I agree -- enough artsy talk -- I'm opening the book now. Ooh -- wait -- one more note about graphics. The requisite map is in Jansson's typical, three-dimensional, playful style. It shows a split map; the bottom part gives us an idea of the terrific distances the characters in this story have to travel, while the top part details how the Moominvalley boathouse, ocean, and Moominhouse are positioned relative to each other.
The other graphics scattered throughout the book are also typical Tove work -- simple, clear line drawings that say more with less --
All right, all right. Hands off. I'm getting to the story now.
This book is a distinct departure from previous Moomin books in that is features none of the Moomin Family at all -- not one single appearance by Moomintroll, Moominpappa, Moominmamma, or even Little My. Those characters are all out exploring the little lighthouse island, as detailed in Moominpappa at Sea, the previous book. It was really very inconsiderate of them to just pick up and go without telling anyone they were leaving...because their departure acts as a psychic vacuum, drawing several people to their empty house. These people, some of them old friends and others never before introduced, now have to deal with each other without Moominmamma's calming influence to sort out their quarrels.
Snufkin is drawn back to Moominvalley to find a tune he left behind. The Hemulen is driven by a sudden longing for the peaceful chaos of the Moomin household. Mymble decides she wants to "go and see her little sister, Little My, whom the Moomin family had adopted some time ago. She imagined that Little My was just as down-to-earth and bad-tempered as ever and that she could still squeeze into a sewing basket." Fillyjonk, after a near-fatal accident while cleaning her windows, is so rattled that she wants to spend time with someone pleasant, in a place far away from her own compulsively clean home -- Moominvalley is the perfect destination.
The other characters are new, as far as I know; they might have been introduced in the very, very first book, The Little Trolls and the Great Flood, which still has not been translated into English and remains the only Moomin book I don't own a copy of.
The dark-haired, pale boy on the cover is revealed to be Toft. Toft lives "deep in the prow of the Hemulen's boat." He's lived there for years undisturbed; the Hemulen, while very proud of his boat, only lifts the tarpaulin away to clean and caulk the boat once a year. Toft is free, the rest of the year, to hide in the nice tar-scented dimness of the boat and dream about the Moomin family and how he'd love to meet them. This year, troubled by a strange difficulty with his stories to himself, he decides to carry through on that dream and set out to introduce himself at last.
Another new character is Grandpa-Grumble, who wakes up one day and can't remember his name. This actually makes him very happy; he creates a new name for himself and decides "to go to a valley where he had once been a very long time ago. It was just possible that he had only heard about this valley, or perhaps he had read about it." In any case, he leaves his family a scornful note, packs six pairs of spectacles into a basket, and wanders off to find the valley.
The resulting clash, with each character trying to capture his own version of what Moominvalley should be, is a terrific mixture of keen psychological insight and Jansson's trademark humor. All the visitors are forced to confront their fears and insecurities as they wait patiently, hoping that the Moomin family will return from their adventure soon. In the end. Moominvalley works its usual magic; they each resolve their various issues and depart for their homes. . . all except for one who goes into hibernation and one who stays awake . . . but I won't tell you who, it would spoil the book.
This book left me aching, wishing Jansson had written more in the series; but all good things must come to an end, and I wouldn't be pleased at all if anyone else dared to pick up the series in her wake. It's enough, for now, to know that I have -- almost -- all the books.
Perhaps one day I shall learn to read Finnish after all. . .