Once a year, just as it truly begins to feel like winter never really had a beginning and can’t possibly have an end, I read Moominland Midwinter. My brother Gordy, ten years my senior, read all of Tove Jansson’s Moomin books to me when I was very small. (We’re a very Moomin-loving family. Have you seen my mother’s dolls?) I remember being most fascinated by Comet in Moominland back then, but as I got older—and a little darker, let’s be honest—Midwinter was the one I gravitated to the most, coming back again and again until it became this annual winter ritual for me.
I’ve had the same set of editions all this time. I’m sure my brother will claim that they’re his, but I’m not giving them up! The covers are all loose, and the pages are yellowed and falling out. Love.
What I love best about the Moomin books is that there’s nothing “childish” about them, despite being fully accessible and understandable by even very young children. The tone of a lot of them is quite somber, but in the best way—they always, even 30 years after my first exposure, bring me straight to a place of contemplation that’s sort of otherworldly. If you’ve read one of Jansson’s books, you’ll understand exactly what I mean.
The Moomin books are still in print, and English translations are readily available.
Here’s an excerpt from Moominland Midwinter:
And so Moomintroll was helplessly thrown out into a strange and dangerous world and dropped up to his ears in the first snowdrift of his experience. It felt unpleasantly prickly to his velvet skin, but at the same time his nose caught a new smell. It was a more serious smell than any he had met before, and slightly frightening. But it made him wide awake and greatly interested.
The valley was enveloped in a kind of grey twilight. It also wasn’t green any longer, it was white. Everything that had once moved had become immobile. There were no living sounds. Everything angular was now rounded.
“This is snow,” Moomintroll whispered to himself. “I’ve heard about it from Mother, and it’s called snow.”
Without Moomintroll knowing a thing about it, at that moment his velvet skin decided to start growing woollier. It decided to become, by and by, a coat of fur for winter use. That would take some time, but at least the decision was made. And that’s always a good thing.
Meanwhile Moomintroll was laboriously plodding along through the snow. He went down to the river. It was the same river that used to scuttle, transparent and jolly, through Moomintroll’s summer garden. Now it looked quite unlike itself. It was black and listless. It also belonged to this new world in which he didn’t feel at home.
Lovely, yes? I mean…isn’t that exactly what winter is, right there? It’s snowing very heavily in New York City right now. (We’ve had SO much snow this year!) The sky is dark and cold and the wind is gusting. It’s past midnight and the streets are empty. Tomorrow morning I’ll wake up and look out on white, rounded edges, then laboriously plod through it all as I make my way to the subway.
I’d never heard of Moomin until I found your blog. so wonderful. thanks for introducing me. keep warm!
My Moomin books! Where are you hiding them?
When it’s a real blizzard like tonight, and I’m out with the dogs, I keep a careful eye out for the Groke. (Kino’s about the same size as the Squirrel with the Marvelous Tail… and we all know how THAT turned out!)
Oh, poor Squirrel WTMT! 🙁 I cry every time. Every time!
I bought my daughter a collection of the Moomin comic on Tuesday and she was finished by Thursday morning. She loved it and I loved hearing her giggling as she read. I will need to have a look at getting her the books.
I actually think the comics are a little bit more “adult” than the books! I’d never seen them until the translated D&Q editions came out in the US a few years ago, and I was surprised by how sad and serious they are at times. Still fantastic, of course, but different. More direct, I guess.
I think it’s so great that you love the Moomins! My favorite (Moomin) book is Moominvalley In November, where the Moomin family is absent and it focuses on all the other characters but you can feel the impact of the Moomin family all the time. It’s melancholy, the characters are all quite lonely, but it’s a comforting read too.
I know I’m 2,5 years too late for this post but I just can’t help commenting when Moomins are involved! I’m sort of a Moomin fanatic, although I discovered and first read them when I was about 16, I think (I come from Winnie the Pooh family. The original Winnie the Pooh, not the Disney atrocity). I’ve read the books many many times and always admired their beautiful melancholy, which can be found in all Tove Jansson books. Moominvalley In November in my favorite, too. The book about the painful process of growing up and doing without, I think.
I wanted to share three things about Moomins here:
1. People are often surprised when they read Moomins as adults and discover that these books are not childish and simple, especially the later books in the series. I read somewhere that Tove Jansson stopped writing Moomins because she realised that she no longer writes for children. So there.
2. Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk mentioned once on a meeting that Moomin books are her favorite. They are so alluring, she said, because they are about states of mind rather than real characters. We all have Little My and Moominmamma and Moominpappa and Hemulen inside of us. And Snufkin, of course. We all have little Snufkin inside.
3. I read quite a lot of children literature and noticed that especially the modern stories almost always depend on The Bad Guys. There is some enemy that needs to be killed of punished or whatever. There is no such thing in Moomins. Even Buka is more like a force of nature than a real enemy and we learn at some point that she only seeks warmth. This is amazing.
Hi! I came across your blog when searching for info on house renovation (since I’m doing it myself)… and look what I found! I read all the Moomin books when I was a kid, but haven’t returned to them for a long time. Your post rekindled my interest. Thank you!
Love this dreamy post
I hope that moomins + snow = sleep.
(I loved this post; it took me back to waking up in New York after heavy snow with shapes softened and sounds muffled.)
The Moomins are fantastic. My daughter loves them, and I love reading the stories to her. If ever you visit Montreal Anna, you might like to check out Drawn & Quarterly, it’s the store owned by the company that’s publishing the stories. Here’s their blog: http://drawnandquarterly.blogspot.com/
Hi Hypatia! I’m well familiar with D&Q—they’re a great company. I actually made a little post a few years ago with a picture of the first couple of Moomin comic books they released. So nicely done!
Do note, though, that the comic strips are not the same thing as the novels (like the one pictured in this post, Moominland Midwinter). The novels do have some illustrations scattered throughout, but they are primarily text. The publisher of the novels in the US today is Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
(The editions I have were published by Puffin in the UK in the ’60s.)
It’s completely weird – but this is exactly the way it worked for me. I was all over the Comet when I was six or seven and as I grew older, I remember spending hours and hours in the middle of the winter with all the Mumins. I think it’s a bit too scary for younger ones!
I loved this book so much, I even chewed on the pages, trying to soak it all in!
After living in Finland for a short while I find that moomin is an integral part of life. They made a moomin at midsummer movie last year that we saw at an international children’s film festival. The best part of that story was when their house flooded, moominpapa wouldn’t leave the house without the coffee pot.
He knows what’s important. 🙂
Love it. I have never lived in a really cold place and it seems so romantic to me!
As always, Anna, your observations are spot on. Milo is 5 months old & I’m reading these books to him in the evening, when he needs a little extra settling down to sleep. He’s obviously not sure what it’s all about but I love the way he examines the books so thoroughly before I’m able to start reading to him he always wants to touch the pages. I do so hope that I’m starting a Moomin tradition with my little family & these books as you have in yours!
We love the Moomins, too. I’ve read all the books to my daughter, who is 6, including the collected comic strips. I recently told her that she was very meticulous and asked her if she knew what that meant. I explained it to her, and she said, “Then that means I’m a Fillyjonk,” and she started crying! Of course, she’s really more of a Snork. 😉
I’m from Holland, but spent part of my childhood in the US, I do exactly the same with “The Long Winter” by Laura Ingalls. Huddled up in my bed under the duvet. So comforting and cozy.
have you heard about this:
Oh my goodness, no, I hadn’t!! How wonderful—I’ll have to make sure my brother knows. Thank you!!
I too was brought up on Moomins and there is something untouchable & magical about them, just like the Northern Lights in Finland where the books were written. I love Winter & snow, thanks for showing us the NYC pic too.
Little My has the coolest hair do ever.
I have never heard of the Moomins before now, but the excerpt you posted was absolutely amazing. I will have to get these for my niece, before she’s too old to fully appreciate their magic. I can’t believe my half-Finnish father never read these to us!
I don’t think she’ll ever be too old! Of course, teenagers are sometimes hard to convince of these things. 😉
A friend of mine gave me Moomin embroidery patterns a while ago, i always meant to make myself cushions..
Its nuts that Montreal seems to be getting way less snow then you guys! World upside down!!
Strange, cos I actually designed a Moomin pencil for a client of mine today! Moomin is wonderfull and their way of looking on life and others are so openminded.
that is such a charming train station! *sigh* I think I’m the only person in Chicago who loves winter and snow. I wish we were getting the inches that are falling up there!!
Ah <3 I love this book so much. I'm just like you, I read this every winter. The book always make me melancholic and very calm. Not quite sure how to describe it.
The only difference is that I read it in Swedish, my grandmother is from Finland and has the original copies of all of the books. 🙂
I read this book every November..I had a seriously crush on Snusmumriken (or Snufkin as you call him) when I was about 16! Now I am more into Mumipappa.. When I was a child, the books scared and fascinated me- and now I read them for my kids. They all got so many layers, so they are suited for all ages, and I always find myself in the different carachters! Like on good days, I´m a little bit like Mumimamma, carefree, cooking, and with a dashing handbag- And on bad days I´m like Filifjonka (Fillyonks) all worrying or cleaning… I´ve collected many of the mumicups Ittala are making- They´re so beautiful- And me and my husband choose the cups according the mood we´re in.. You should read the books Tove Jansson wrote after the Mumi-stories. Especially The Summerbook. It´s so beautiful! Its about a six year old girl and her grandmother spending their summer at an island.. talking about everything.It got the same feeling as the mumibooks. I´m so happy to see that you are spreading the word! ( sorry, my pour english)
The Moomin books look wonderful. I’ve heard so much about them but haven’t yet picked one up. Do you have a recommendation as to which novel to start with. I’d like to read them to my 5 year old… you look about that age in the photo. Thanks!
I think I was three in the photo with my mother! I don’t know what she was reading to me…maybe a Golden Book. 🙂
The first book in the series is The Moomins and the Great Flood, but I think Comet in Moominland (the second book) is a little more accessible. That’s where I’d start! You can always go back and read the first one later…continuity isn’t a problem.
Sigh, I think that subway stop is one of the most lovely in NYC. I miss it (I used to live on Bennett)…I use the 207th stop now and it has those mesmerizing, sparkly mirror tiles that make me nearly forget how pretty the “Subway Stop In The Rocks” is. Thanks for reminding me!
The outside of the station is pretty, but the inside…not so much. 😉
I love the Moomins! I borrowed the books from the library when I was little and read them devotedly. I’ve started buying them now in paperback, I adore them!
Thank you for this reminder of happy times, snuggling up in winter with the Moomins. Got to wait a few months to read them, though – it’s going to be 40 deg C this coming Sunday in my part of Australia..
I, too, love the Moomins, and Comet In Moominland is one of the permanent books on my bookshelf, no matter where I live.
hehe! I recently had my old Moomin books sent to me from my parents’ house–they look similar to yours and yes I looove them, tho I have not yet reread them.
The detail you quoted abt Moomintroll growing fur had been forgotten by me… how cool! Is that what is shown in your mother’s doll?? Adorable!
I too love the Moomins and have read all of their books. Now my grandchildren want me to knit them Moomin troll sweaters. Do you have any idea where I can get hold of some patterns.
Many thanks from teresa