The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Marvellous Moomins 2: Comet in Moominland

"Strike me pink!"

This, the second Moomin book to be published in English (in 1951), actually (and confusingly) predates Finn Family Moointroll and introduces the first meeting between our heroes Sniff and Moomintroll and the remarkably self-contained Snufkin.

In this book we meet old Uncle Muskrat, the unusual Snorks, a poisonous Snork-eating bush and the short-term memory of the Silk Monkey (indeed this is her only book appearance).

When peculiar omens fortell catastrophe, our merry band of creatures set off to the Lonely Mountains to see if the "star-with-a-tail" warnings really mean a comet is on it's way. The story tumbles along in a cascade of adventures and its lightheartedness hides a deeper message: It was written in 1946; the idea of a Comet destroying the earth was Tove Jansson's response to the horror of Hiroshima in 1945.

Overcoming disaster and tragedy are playfully explored - this could be read to all but the youngest child, although I remember a big fear of comets for a while after reading this. I would worry about every shooting star I saw... but then I grew up during the cold war and the fear that gripped Tove was still part of the world we lived in then.

Significantly, this and Finn Family Moomintroll differ greatly in their overall feel to the later books. They are much more light-hearted and less introspective. Could that be something to do with the translator? (Elizabeth Portch only translated these two. The others are the work of Thomas Warburton). Or was it simply the case that Tove was gently finding her way, getting to know her characters? I love being able to trace a development from this book through to the last.

Comet in Moominland is full of Tolkein-like elements - they sing little parodies of those in the Lord of the Rings, and our heroes on a quest are very Hobbit-like in their innocence. It has a charm and deep understanding of the trials and ridiculousness of family and friendships. Sniff and Moomintroll bicker; eyes are rolled at Moomintroll's infatuation with the splendidly vain Snork Maiden; and Moominmamma sends her child out into the world with the quiet confidence that Tummy Powder is a necessary item of luggage...

There are very many editions of the book. The first, with it's remarkable scarlet cover is beautiful, but I suppose I have fondness also for the Puffin paperback, as that's the copy I first read around 40 years ago. Here are a selection from my Moomin cupboard. Enjoy... and "Strike me pink!"


  1. A wonderful post! I have just finished Comet in Moominland and loved every word of it. Especially loved Moomintroll's infatuation with the Snork Maiden, and was over the moon when it was reciprocated. You have a moomin cupboard? Can I come and live in it?

  2. Yes you can! I would LOVE that. I will take some photgraphs of it to temp you further. it is full of treasures - like the garnets coveted by sniff!

  3. I remember finding the puffin paperback in my school library when I was ten and just wanting to have that book out forever, I now have the hardback red one now in my moomin collection but I think about the other cover all the time!