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If you’re wondering which Moomin book to read first, here are my tips. As my plushie collection very scientifically demonstrates, those trolls are very cute. I’ve been a would-be citizen of Moomin Valley ever since those almost-hippos captured my seven-year-old heart.
Since my first encounter, I’ve read the books, the comic strips, author Tove Jansson’s writing for adults… you name it.
But every time I go back to Snork Maiden, Little My and friends, I find a little something more to appreciate – that contemplative outlook, idyllic lifestyle and conflicting loves of home and adventure.
Artist and author Tove Jansson’s magical valley is populated from her own life: ‘fiction and reality get a little bit muddled up when you’re in the Jansson family’ – Sophia Jansson.
Places like the Finnish coast, her artist parents with their mix and match social circle (and even herself), are everywhere in the artist/author’s work.
You can find book lists online (click the titles below to visit them), but there’s nothing quite like a personal view.
Now, there are two ways to do this. Should I give you the first book in order of publication, or give the one I totally fell in love with?
You know what? I’m going to do both.
There are nine books, and five picture books (the most all-out kids’ editions of the collection) although two aren’t available in English yet.
So which `Moomin´ book is first?
Let’s start with the first book Janssen wrote about her famous trolls.
Moomintroll and Mamma are searching for Pappa and a home for the winter, crossing strange lands and meeting ghostly things, colourful things and new friends along the way.
Here, we meet the philosophical family before they build their their famous tower house yet, and see early versions of Sniff and the Hattifatteners.
Written during the War, political and social fears mixed with childhood memories, the English translation took 60 years to appear.
Thanks to that long wait, reading this feels like finding buried treasure.
And for new readers?
It’s really sweet and a must-have on my shelf, but also a little different from the later formula. Start here if you’re a purist – otherwise it makes a great prequel to return to later.
‘Wait, and I’ll shine a light on it. Everything looks worse in the dark, you know.’
I’ve loved this book ever since I found it in my junior school library. Who knew my favourite TV characters starred in their own novels?
Plenty people, but I sure didn’t, so this was a pretty big event.
Chapter Four’s illustration of the Hattifatteners gave me nightmares. On reflection, it’s not that scary, but my junior school self was terrified of that silent crowd of white wisps.
Actually they’re pretty harmless, and that ambiguity is part of their charm.
For me, this book is the most quintessentially Moomin of them all, and you couldn’t find a better place to start.
A Hobgoblin’s Hat, pop-up jungle and best of all, cloud rides (where can I get on one of those?). It totally captures the spirit of the whole series, and if you like this book, you’ll fall for the lot.
‘The clouds bounded wildly about… They had terrific fun, even floating up to the treetops and to the roof of Moominhouse.’
But there’s more!
A decade after the first book’s Swedish publication, Jansson was commissioned to draw a Moomin strip for the Evening News.
She had previously drawn Moomintroll and the End of the World for Finnish paper Ny Tid, (hard to find, but it’s out there), and if you’ve peeked inside her written word books, you’ll know about the beautiful illustrations hidden between prose pages.
Younger brother Lars Jansson took over writing duties a few years later, eventually drawing too. By the time the strip ended, Lars had created more strips than Tove.
His daughter, Sophia, is the next successor to the Valley.
Not a book, you say?
Lucky for us, the comic strips were recently collected in lush hardback editions although many, many strips remain unpublished (there are 73 stories in total, with just over 30 in the Complete series right now).
Want to start your journey with a comic collection? The writing is every bit as good, and the illustrations are just beautiful, so it’s actually a great choice!
But where to begin?
Try the first in the series – it also happens to be my favourite.
In one story, our trolls sail their tiny boat south to a casino-filled resort where they’re hopelessly out of place. In another, spring cleaning is a mistake.
The cute bits are irresistible, the poignant ones always make me pause, and I just can’t help giggling at the funniest bits.
One sequence that gets me every time?
A box of bad language, in the form of bristly little bugs, is accidentally salvaged from the sea.
If you get through that sequence without so much as a smile, what happens next will catch you for sure. Where do those furry swears end up? You’ll have to read it and find out…
‘Sniff! Father and Mother have been lost in the spring cleaning!’
‘There you are, never tidy up!’
Feeling inspired yet? I hope so!
These books will get you off to a great start, but you won’t miss too much if you jump in somewhere else. Whatever you choose, I hope you’ll fall for these lovable, philosophical characters.
Have you read any of the Moomins series?
If you can spare a moment from writing your memoirs or whipping up some homemade pancakes, we’d love to hear about it!