Recently back from a trip to Finland, I decided to revisit a book by one of the country’s most loved authors, Tove Jansson. She has written a series about the Moomin Family, a family of white trolls that live in Moominvalley. Her books have a cast of quirky creatures and although they are children’s books, they have a lot to offer the adult reader.
In Moominland Midwinter, the sixth book in the series, Moomintroll awakens in the winter. Moomins always sleep through the winter and he is the first Moomin to be awake during this season. While his family sleeps he goes out to explore. Moominvalley is a very different place in the winter. It is cold, quiet and unfamiliar. “Everything angular is now rounded,” he observes as we see the beautiful yet somewhat frightening winter landscape through his eyes. At first Moomintroll thinks the world has died and he becomes melancholy without his family’s company. Anyone who has experienced winter blues will relate to Moomintroll as he contemplates this new world and his loneliness. The book draws parallels to what many of us experience midwinter. Jansson’s writing allows you to feel the quietness of the moment and truly appreciate this characteristic of the winter season. Moomintroll tries various coping mechanisms to help his winter blues, such as winding the clocks to reassure himself that the winter is in fact passing.
The first winter friend that Moomintroll makes is Too-ticky who becomes Moomintroll’s guide to the winter, providing answers to Moomintroll’s questions about this most mysterious of seasons. Her answers to his confusion about snow and the Aurora Borealis show that she is a philosopher, usually providing further questions rather than answers.
A deep cold sets in and various uninvited guests arrive in Moomvinvalley, putting an end to Moomintroll’s loneliness. To escape the cold and hunger they come into the Moomin house, and quickly begin to wreak havoc. Moomintroll is afraid of what his mother will think when she wakes up, however he takes everything with his usual calmness, realizing it is outside of his control and recognizing that his fears of the home being disrupted are less important than providing shelter to those fleeing the extreme cold. His acceptance of the situation provides a lesson to readers of all ages.
This book offers a great deal of character development of the young Moomintroll who is on his own for the first time. It is a good read as a stand-alone book, however it is given a greater depth by having some knowledge of the characters and landscape of Moominvalley in the summer. Even if you are not familiar with the characters, the black and white illustrations throughout the book help with visualizing the strange cast. As a read aloud with your child (ages 10+) or for someone looking for a quiet book for a winter evening, Moominland Midwinter provides an enjoyable read. I have enjoyed the Moomin books and this book is no exception, although it has more serious undertones than other books in the series, which are characterized by their exceptional humour and upbeat tone. I suggest reading this book twice; it has a lot to offer that cannot always be absorbed in one reading.
Erika Anderson is the manager of Coho Books, where she will happily resume providing oral book reviews once she is back from her maternity leave. She has a B.Sc. in Natural Resources Management.