Having had a less than stellar university career the first time around, it would be fair to say I was a little nervous about returning to higher education a mere three years after having been shown the door. Trepidation notwithstanding, back I toddled for another crack, this time via the Creative Arts stream in an education degree. How I came to gain access at the eleventh hour is quite a good yarn, and if I can conjure a musical connection I might tap it out, but for now I want to talk about one of my favourite subjects in the four-year course.
It was an English elective called “Children’s Literature”. As I’d been a voracious reader as a child and continued the habit through adolescence into something vaguely resembling adulthood, I signed up in a trice.
It was great. We read children’s books, discussed them, wrote essays, and even compiled (in my case) an extensive card file of over a hundred titles, divided into nine categories and stored in a neat little plastic box. In alphabetical order, of course.
That card file system was re-purposed, sometime in the late 80s, as a resource for the radio show I did on Melbourne’s 3PBS-FM (public radio, volunteer run) where I’d regularly construct a playlist based on a theme. “Roads, Streets and Highways” was one that provided plenty of variety and choices enough for at least two shows.
But we digress.
The Children’s Lit subject provided a wonderful excuse to scour Melbourne’s bookshops for suitable paperbacks and brought me into contact with a much wider variety of books than I was hitherto familiar with. An example was the quaint and wonderful world of Tove Jansson’s Moomins.
The multi-talented Ms Jansson—author, novelist, painter, illustrator, comic strip author—was born in Helsinki in 1914. She started writing the Moomin tales in 1945, producing nine books in all. They are innocent stories of charming little critters who get into scrapes but always find a way out. It’s a standard formula, but the Finn Family Moomintroll (title of the 3rd book) were a bit ‘other’. Different, perhaps, but popular too. Tove Janssen won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Writing in 1966.
So much for the mid-term paper on a short history of the Moomins.
What I did not know until a month ago was that the stories were made into an animated television series (a Polish, Austrian, and German co-production, if you please) and, once adapted, screened in the UK between 1983 and 1985.
And how, you ask, did I come to discover this TV series?
I didn’t. Never seen a minute of it. But I did discover an LP…
In 2016, the Finders Keepers record label released, on vinyl, the soundtrack created for the series by two English musicians. Happening across this delightful looking album recently, I read the back cover notes and hesitated not one moomin-moment. Quirky electronica? Shoestring production? Eccentric tunes? Yes please!
Imagine, if you will, a foreboding homemade electro-acoustic, new age, synth driven, proto-techno, imaginary world music Portastudio soundtrack for… an animated fantasy based on a modern Finnish folk tale… composed in 1982 by two politically driven post-punk theatre performers from a shared house in Leeds.
That’s what the notes on the back cover say, going on to note that the synth in question was a Wasp, the wind instrument an ocarina, and the musicians Graeme Miller and Steve Shill. Inside the gatefold is a long and very detailed history that will doubtless delight those who looked forward to their Moominvalley visits as children. But for the rest of us, this shyly entrancing mixture of simple melodies, effects, and a vision of innocent wonder does not need an essay. Just a turntable and a ticket to Moominland.
Are you Moomin-friendly? Do share.
There’s no dark side of the Moomin really. Matter of fact, it’s all light.