Saturday 27 February 2016

Moominmamma’s Maid - Tove Jansson (Original comic strips 1956; 2015)

I first became aware of Tove Jansson and her Moomins about seven years ago when a new colleague at the library revealed her Moomin tattoo. It was very striking and enticingly unfamiliar. She filled me in on both the Moomins and Tove Jansson, enthusing greatly about their weird charms, but unfortunately and somewhat typically it has taken me this long to actually read one of the Moomin books. I’m a notorious late starter, but really I had little chance of being exposed to such strange children’s literature growing up in the West Australian countryside in the 1970’s, particularly to an author from Finland, which seems exotic to me even now.

The Moomins are fabulous creatures that look like sophisticated hippos, with big rounded snouts and bellies and of course they are all totally kooky. During the course of Moominmamma’s Maid they reveal to their new neighbor, a certain Mrs Fillyjonk, that they are “...very fond of make-believe...” and that they have a tree growing inside their house because they simply can’t bear to fell it. The Moomins love to throw wild parties in which everything is happening all at once, including fireworks; they have a jungle for a back yard and also wash their dishes in the sea. Into this playful chaos comes the newly hired maid Misabel, accompanied by her unhappy dog - Pimple, whom harbours a shameful secret. Misabel is scared of everything and is also terribly neurotic. A great deal of humour is generated by the clash between Misabel’s fear of life and the Moomins happy-go-lucky nature. Of course there lies the message for both children and adults alike - be yourself, face your fears and have some fun while you are at it.

It is somewhat of a cliche for children’s books to carry an underlying serious message, however Jansson’s idiosyncratic artwork and odd way of telling a story carries the message home in a uniquely natural style. The artwork is beautiful and the general tone is one of gentle eccentricity. The Moomins world is fun-filled and appealing, but also has psychological and allegorical depth. This is a hard trick to pull off and I’m sure that it would have won me over as a child; I recall that I was always suspicious of any books or TV shows that had a message, I would roll my childish eyes and display my immature version of cynicism (I started early and grew out of it by my mid twenties). I’m sure that cynicism does not even feature in the Moomins vocabulary, nor Jansson’s for that matter. 

Moominmamma’s Maid is taken from Moomin comic book series that were originally published in the Evening News in the mid 1950s. No doubt the coulourful adventures of the Moonins would have been just the thing for a weary post war Britain. For myself it provided some Nordic whimsical relief from Franco satire and a weird counterpoint to Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch (1970), a book I only just finished yesterday.

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