The Memoirs of Moominpappa
by Tove Jansson
translated from Swedish by Thomas Warburton
This is the third book I have completed for my EU Reading Challenge. I know it’s a little bit of a cheat because it’s a children’s book and it’s not strictly set in Finland, but I think you learn at least something about Finland from the Moomins.
This book is a little bit special, as it’s the first time this particular title has been published in the UK. This story started life as the much shorter Exploits of Moominpappa, which Jansson revised and added large chunks to 18 years later to create The Memoirs of Moominpappa. It was published in the US in 1994 but it did not include all of Jansson’s revisions, such as the prologue, which is a real shame as the prologue is particularly funny.
This is, as the title suggests, Moominpappa’s memoirs, as set down during a bout of illness after he tries to tell tales of his youthful adventures but finds that his throat is too sore to make himself heard. Thus the majority of the book is written in Moominpappa’s voice, with all the pomposity and exaggeration you might expect of him.
“By and by a change came: I started to muse about the shape of my nose. I put my trivial surroundings aside and mused more and more about myself, and I found this to be a bewitching occupation. I stopped asking and longed instead to speak of my thoughts and feelings. Alas, there was no-one besides myself who found me interesting.”
Every few chapters the narrative switches briefly to describe the storytelling scene, so that we can enjoy the reactions of Moomintroll and his friends, but especially those of Moominmamma. She is the scene-stealer of this book.
A lot is revealed about Moominpappa by this book – both in terms of his personal history and his personality. He has always come across as a dreamer, wishing to have adventures that he wouldn’t really enjoy, but here we get to hear of him actually having adventures. Whether he enjoyed them or not is a little ambiguous, but he certainly seems genuine in his wish to have more of them.
“At this moment I have discovered a new thought that seems important. An attraction for the sea must be a Moominous quality…But, dear reader, please note that it is, rather, the beach that awakens our rapture. Far out on the sea a normal Moomin feels the horizon to be a little too wide. We prefer what is varying and capricious in a friendly way.”
It’s a coming-of-age tale at heart. Moominpappa leaves the orphanage where he was raised, makes his first real friends, explores a little of the world and experiences danger. He has opportunities to be heroic, to be supportive and to be practical. In fact, for all his dreams, he’s really rather good at the practical part. He’s honourable, trying to do the right thing. And he’s a good friend, showing real interest and admiration for them and their hobbies and habits.
But he also has to watch his friends settle down with jobs and loved ones, leaving him perpetually feeling that his youthful adventures ended too soon. While his adventures involve Grokes and tempestuous seas and a king who likes to play tricks, there is a clear analogy to the human experience of childhood/university friends moving away or having children, leading to them no longer being a daily part of your life. For all Moominpappa’s self-aggrandisement, it’s really quite moving to read of his sorrow at losing companions to their settled adult lives. And he’s not wholly lacking in self-awareness.
“One of my characteristics is wanting to make an impression at any price by awakening admiration, sympathy, fright, or, on the whole, any feelings that include interest. That’s probably because of my unappreciated childhood.”
As always with the Moomin books, some sections are simply beautiful descriptions of nature. Jansson clearly loved nature and in many ways the Moomins’ attraction is their simple, rural life.
I can’t decide if I’m happy or sad that I didn’t discover these books until I was an adult. I could have loved them 30 years earlier, but then again I still have some left to read for the very first time.
Muminpappans bravader published 1950. Mumminpappans memoarer published 1968.
This edition published 2017 by Sort Of Books.
Source: This book was kindly sent to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.