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!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Marvellous Moomins 3: The Moomins and The Great Flood

It’s extraordinary to realise that the very first Moomin book, published in Swedish in 1945, was not translated into English until 1991. Even then, it was issued by a Scandinavian publisher, never by a British company.

In truth this is very much an early book. The story seems a little like a draft for something not quite resolved, although it does enlighten the Moomin reader on certain points. In later books references are made to a great flood as well as a nasty incident involving Moominmamma and the Ant Lion. They are all explained here, as a bereft Moominmamma and Moomintroll search for the long lost Moominpappa (who has gone off with the dreaded Hattifattners), and meet “The Little Creature” (who we know now as Sniff) and the very strange Tulippa, an elegant woman with blue hair (surely modelled on the fairy in Pinocchio).

A much shorter book than the subsequent volumes, it hops and skips along introducing little gems and moments of peril alongside others of great charm in a typical Jansson way. Even if not fully formed, it is still an important book, filling so many gaps in Moomin mythology.

What really interests me is how different the Moomins look. Tove Jansson originally drew a Moomin on a wall at home to defy a relative, and subsequently used the character as a “signature” device on her political cartoons, published during the war. Only later did the Moomin develop the rounded and friendly snout and expressive features known and loved throughout the world. Even the mouth was to move! Traces of this development can just be seen in the illustrations for “Comet in Moominland” , but by “Finn Family Moomintroll” her drawing technique and her characters are completely resolved.

One other thing I noticed in these early drawings is the scale; the Moomins are tiny pint-sized creatures, as images of them alongside human-scale bottles and spectacles testify.

This is essential reading for any lover of the Moomins – or indeed anyone interested in the creative process. It’s like gaining a little glance at Tove’s secret cupboard of roughs and plans, a flick through her sketchbooks and a glimpse into her wonderfully creative, imaginative and surreal mind.

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