I have had a strange pre-history with Moomins. Several years ago, Dave Humphrey and Cyril Geurette and I ran a series of lectures called The Underground Canon. We invited various speakers to introduce the texts that they had found influential but that were not widely read or recognized. One of the speakers proposed to speak on Tove Jansson’s The Moomins and the Great Flood, which he characterized as one of the great children’s stories. I was teaching a Children’s Literature course at the time, so I was looking forward to Moomins, but the weather intervened, and that particular lecture had to be cancelled. I promptly forgot about Moomins altogether.
In a recent email exchange, however, TC also recommended the Moomin stories, even correcting my longstanding unwarranted assumption about their author’s gender. While a single recommendation can, in certain circumstances, be safely declined, I have an unofficial policy of not declining a book that has been recommended to me twice, so I went to my local library, only to be disappointed, as I often am. Of the many Moomin books that Jansson wrote, the library carried only two, one of which was on loan. I signed out Finn Family Moomintroll, sternly rebuked the librarian, who promised to see what he could do, and read the whole way home.
I was delighted. The Moomin stories are alternately comic and grave, fanciful and serious, fantastic and commonplace. They are both accessible to a child and interesting to an adult, which is my first criterion for any children’s literature, and they manage to avoid being merely didactic, which is my second. They do not consistently have the mystical quality that characterizes my very favourite works for children, touching this mood only on occasion, but they are beautiful nevertheless, and I will add them to the ever growing list of books that I need to acquire. More significantly, I will add them to the much smaller list of books that I will share with my children.