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Tove Jansson, Moomintroll and the End of the World

Tigertext AB/Ny Tid,  2007. ISBN: 9789519667591

Reviewed by Eric Dickens in SBR 2009:2

English Translation: Moomintroll and the End of the World, translated by Peter Marten. Tigertext AB/Ny Tid, 2008. ISBN 978951966759.

Tove Jansson’s first ever Moomin comic strip appeared in serial form in 1947-48 on the children’s page of the Finland-Swedish weekly Ny Tid, a periodical that appears to this day. She reworked her children’s novel Comet in Moominland. This comic strip was not reprinted in book form until 2006, with a Finnish translation under the Swedish original. The following year the same was published in an English translation. Following the comic strip itself are a number of essays describing the background to Moomintroll and the End of the World.

It is rather a grim story, with elements of ‘adventure, catastrophe and romance’ as the introduction notes. Jansson had not yet learnt the technique of speech bubbles (she did so later in London) so she wrote out a description of the action, plus the dialogue, in longhand immediately under her illustrations. Now famous characters already appear, such as Moomintroll himself, his mother (based on Jansson’s own), Snufkin, the Hemulen, the Muddler, the Groke (who lives in a Tate & Lyle syrup tin), the Snork Maiden (with whom Moomintroll falls in love), the Hattifatteners, plus a curious pair called Thingumy and Bob, who mangle their Swedish by adding ‘-sla’ to the end of most words, in Pig Latin fashion, which has been rendered in English by a mixture of Dr. Spooner and Arthur Boström of ’Allo, ’Allo fame.

The plot is simple: a comet is going to hit the Earth and the Moomins and their friends make half-hearted and confused attempts to do something. The Hemulen especially is a portrait of indifference, so absorbed with catching butterflies that he cannot take on board the fact that the world will end at ‘42 minutes past eight on Saturday 7th October’. One amusing caption is when they are crossing a mountain pass. Attitudes to the height, exhaustion and amusement differ: ‘While the Muddler was being sick the others entertained themselves by rolling stones into the abyss’. Finally, the Moomins and friends do pull themselves together and Moominpappa builds two rubber spheres, latter day versions of Noah’s Ark. I shall not give away the ending.

The essays are by Tove Jansson herself, who comments on how Ny Tid editor Atos Wirtanen published her comic strip; Henrika Ringbom, who interviewed Tove Jansson in the 1980s; Kristina Rotkirch, who comments on the themes of catastrophe and survival; Juhani Tolvanen on the proto-Moomin; and Trygve Söderling, with a close reading of the text.

Tove Jansson started drawing comic strips because she was short of cash, then signed a seven-year(!) contract with The Evening News in London:

‘Before I began the series, they wanted me to visit London to see how to do a comic strip. They put me in a little glass cubicle in their office on Fleet Street. I drew for a month and they critiqued me: ‘Faster! More excitement! More thrill!’ You had to build up to a breathtaking cliff-hanger in the last frame of every strip.’

Rather hard work. But it was in London that Tove Jansson developed her Moomin style for the comic strips, which were later taken over by her brother Lars.

Finally, Tove Jansson notes that the first Moomintroll was created as a caricature of Kant, no less. She and her brother were in dispute, and would paste things up on the wall of their summer cottage, trying to be profound:

‘...and for the whole summer we’d discuss something important which we’ve now long since forgotten. His last word, a Kant quotation, was so impossible to argue with that my only chance was to draw the ugliest figure I could and write ‘Kant’ under it! That was the first Moomintroll!’

Also by Tove Jansson

Other reviews by Eric Dickens

Other reviews in SBR 2009:2

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