with contributions from Frank Cottrell-Boyce
research by Amanda Li
(Macmillan Children’s Books)
It seemed apt that, to launch a new feature on books focusing on the appreciation of children’s literature, I would choose a book which focuses on the series of books that probably most fascinates and generates nostalgia : the Moomins.
I don’t remember ever coming across the Moomins as a child in France. The books are available there but there does not seem to be so widely known and adored as they are here. Could it be because the comic strips appeared in a British newspaper, the Evening News, in the 1950s, and that therefore there is more of a collective awareness of them? I am not sure. But consequently my own experience of the Moomins and their world is solely through the eyes of an adult, and I have to say the stories have left me a bit bewildered at times, as has the huge selection of merchandising available (though I’ll admit to have partaken in the acquisition of a few Moomin things myself!). This new comprehensive guide of the Moomin world goes back to the roots of this incredible cultural phenomenon, focusing on the novels (rather than the comics) and their author.
The book is divided in two parts; the first, In Search of the Moomins, focuses on the world of Moomins while the second, The World of Tove Jansson, focuses on their creator’s life. Both open with an essay by Frank Cottrell-Boyce, whose love of the Moomins really shines in these two thoughtful pieces in which he offers a thorough analytical study of some aspects of the works (you can also read more about his love of Moomins here). About what makes Tove Jansson’s creation so special, he says, in the foreword:
“Children’s fiction tends to define people by social class, race or occupation, but Moomnivalley presents us with a kind of bestiary of personality types, of ways to behave and believe – a kind of map of the human heart”
His second contribution on what is art for is equally fascinating; his study of the symbolism in the books, how they mirrored the world Jansson was navigating, from historical background to personal experience, is wonderful.
There is much depth of information about the world Jansson created amongst the pages of this tome, and told with the perfect balance of wit and warmth that we are used to from Philip Ardagh. Artwork, extracts, lists and other infographics as well as the use of a selection of typesets adorn Ardagh’s text wonderfully. The design of the book really is superb, allowing to describe the depth and layers of the Moomin world without creating text-heavy pages which might put off readers (this is, after all, not an academic book though it is obvious how much research has gone into its creation). The map of the Moomin Family tree double-spread is a great example of this. While the book celebrates the much beloved characters in the series, several chapters are dedicated to lesser known characters or elements of the series; whether it is ‘mysterious creatures’ or ‘the darker side of Moominvalley’, this shows again how thorough the book aims to be, and will hopefully mean even the most knowledgeable of Moomin aficionados might discover something new.
As readers enter the second part of the book, the book changes visually also, the pages becoming cream rather than white. The focus here is of course on the creator, who was a fascinating character. I had not paid much attention to her life until I saw the fantastic BBC4 documentary which aired about five years ago, Moominland Tales. If you ever get a chance to see it, do (I hope the Beeb consider showing it again at some point).
Again the depth of information and detail is impressive, making many links between the Moomin world and Jansson’s, offering insights into her personal and professional life, and illustrating it with photographs, artwork, early drawings, studying sketches and so many more treasures.
The World of Moominvalley is an astute, comprehensive and superbly designed study of the author and her body of work which is accessible to all. This will be a real treat for die-hard fans as well as newcomers to the gloriously zany world of the Moomins. It will please both those who want a beautiful book on the Moomins to leaf through and those who are more serious about their study of this important body of work.
All images © Moomin Characters ™