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!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Memoirs of Moominpappa

Poor old Moominpappa. He always seems to be on the verge of a mid-life crisis, whether it's running away with Hattifattners, or tackling lighthouse-keeping. But in this book we find out the psychology behind the strangely vulnerable father of Moomintroll: It turns out he was abandoned as a child and deeply scarred by the terribly strict orphanage that took him in, which he only escaped from by literally running away to sea.

As always with Tove Jansson's Moomin books, the dark and fearful possibilities of such a scenario are delivered in a text bubbling with optimism and charm. And so, as Moominpappa recounts his mis-spent youth through his long awaited volume of memoirs, we are taken on a dazzling adventure of surreal and bizarre experiences.

Crucially, this book is not just about Moominpappa; he meets the fathers of Snufkin (The Joxter) and Sniff (The Muddler, who marries a Fuzzy)along with the inventor Hodgkins. We meet the mother of Little My (The large, round and jolly Mymble who has more children than can easily be counted, of which Little My is the smallest; it is suggested the The Joxter may have fathered any number of them...).

We discover the Niblings, who eat noses; The terrible Ghost-of-the-forgotten-bones; the appalling Hemulen Aunt with an obsession with arithmatic; the clumsy, short-tempered and remorseful Edward the Booble (presumably a cousin to a Brontosaurus; those he kills by accidently treading on them get their funerals paid for) and the eccentric and jocular king, Daddy Jones, who has a bizarre fixation with practical jokes.

We also discover how Moominpappa found his beloved Moominmamma, and some editions of the book have a useful gallery at the back in which all the main players in the series are introduced.

This is the last of the Moomin books to be really brillful of whimsical nonsense. After this point the books become more introverted, more beautifully observed, quieter... and exquisitely melancholic.

This book seems to exist in two versions. The Exploits of Moominpappa is the book I know and love and grew up with. But a revised edition, with a new "Prologue" was published in America, called Moominpappa's Memoirs. This latter title is a slightly different read, the translation (by Thomas Warburton) apparently tweaked. i prefer the "exploits" - the original incarnation - personally.

Either way, fasten your seatbelt as you ride on the Amphibian Flying miracle that is the "Oshun Oxtra" for a thrilling tale of boyhood escapades and growing up thoroughly independent and free. No wonder Moominpappa found life in Moominvalley just a little bit...safe!


  1. I haven't read this one! We're in for a treat. And they say the art of the bedtime story is dying!

  2. Not in our houses eh Thomas? We're half way through Lord of the Rings - Gabriel and I share the reading. I never read as a kid, so it's a discovery for us both and a wonderful way to end the day! Even at almost 12 Gabriel wants a story. long may it continue!

  3. Wow! The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings made little me a reader for life. I envy Gabriel his discovery of them!

    Happy reading.

  4. I loved the Exploits of Moominpapa, as I recall, my version is yellow. The drawings of the ghost are great!

  5. Thomas... We are loving Lord of Rings. When I said I never read (above) I meant I never read LOTR. Obviously seen the films, amazed at how much is missing. Particularly Tom Bomabadil. Gabriel is very taken with him...

  6. Jon, I know the yellow p/b version: I have that one too. Funny how attached one gets to the versions had as a child.

    These pictures show the American reissue and the British first edition from the 1950s.