DARK SIDE OF THE MOOMIN

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.

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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.

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Somehow Mr Fagen got a photo of your correspondent at the 3PBS broadcast console. I looked exactly like this. Truly.

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.

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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…

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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.

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Are you Moomin-friendly? Do share.

There’s no dark side of the Moomin really. Matter of fact, it’s all light.

 

33 comments

  1. I know I’m supposed to comment on the Moomin album, but really I just want to talk about children’s literature. With kids three years apart, I was fairly immersed in kid books for 7 or 8 years. During that time, I must have read a thousand books, and some books a thousand times.Since you’re academically gifted on this topic, I want to run something by you… Harold and the Purple Crayon: is it the creation story? I’ve always thought this, but I cant find anything on the internet agreeing with me.Any thoughts on this?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Having just taken a five minute crash course in Harold and the Purple Crayon, I’m uncertain whether I’m fully equiped for the end-of-term assessment, but here goes.
      Harold seems to be a somewhat rambling precursor to ‘Where the wild things are’ – a little boy, isolated, wanders into a fantastic realm of his imagination where he has adventures before returning home to his own bed.
      Even with my sensitive religious indoctrination meter turn up to maximum, I cannot find much to suggest a Judea-Christian theme. The apple tree with snake/dragon? But he doesn’t eat anything. Nor is Eve in evidence!
      If anything, I read something of that mid-50s post-war, nervous modernism. We have magic technologies (crayon) and can manipulate the environment easily, but still end up wandering a populous but ultimately lonely urban landscape.

      Do I pass?

      Liked by 2 people

      1. No you only pass this course if you agree with me. I’m *that* professor. I’m going to write a blog post about it.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Bewdy. Go for it. (I did think there was a good chance I was mistaken).

          Liked by 2 people

  2. I used to watch The Moomins on TV in the UK. Moomin Mama, Moomin Papa and Moomin Troll would be On whenever Jamie And The Magic Torch wasn’t. Now a soundtrack album of that would be a heavy affair

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Excellent to discover a Moomin-fan. Don’t know the other show.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey, good article! I was a student myself when the Moomin cartoons were on in the UK, but they must’ve been on at the wrong time of day because I didn’t remember them. However, I was inducted into their mysteries when I became friends with Finnish sf author and all-round mega-brain Hannu Rajaniemi when we were both in a performance spoken word group together. He used to bring us Moomin coffee mugs (the Finns love their kahvi) and our young daughter the books.

    Hannu told me that Tove Jansson was a really admirable person, and that although the Moomins seem to be just a harking back to innocent times, there was a serious creative talent working behind it all. The Wikipedia entry gives some idea of that – she drew anti-Nazi cartoons at a time when it was pretty risky to do so, for example – and I can recommend the 2012 BBC documentary if you can access it online (although it doesn’t seem to be currently available)

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tove_Jansson#cite_note-33

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for adding to the Moomin-story, Andrew. It’s just what I hoped for when I prepared the article! Love the story of spreading the Moomin-word via coffee cups. Fabulous.

      When I posted a link on my FB feed, a cousin from New Zealand said that she is currently reading an excellent biography of the multi-talented and admirable Ms Jannsen. Here are the details:
      “Tove Jansson: Life and Love” by Tuula Karajalainen. Available on Amazon, apparently.

      Cheers
      Bruce

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for that, Bruce!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. For a project, I asked my students to make a website about a musical artist (real or fictional) – and one is making one for himself as an ocarina performer. So while I could see myself being a moomin-enthusiast, I was unfamiliar before this post, but this is now my second time hearing about an ocarina!
    And speaking of new-to-me, I will be attempting to use the expression ‘in a trice’ as soon as possible, or in a trice if you will!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Perhaps you could point your student towards The Troggs ‘Wild Thing’, one of the few hits to feature an ocarina solo. We’ll all be buying ocarinas in a trice, Geoff!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Loved this one, in the days before PCs my dad had a big card index of all his cassettes and LPs.

    Personally I’ve always found something a bit depressing and dark about Jansson’s books, they unsettle me. So I wouldn’t have scooped up the vinyl either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, the analogue age. Sigh.
      Oh, hang on. We have records!

      The music is more dippy than dark, Joe. But probably best avoided if you don’t want strange dreams. I know you rarely stray outside your Billy Joel collection.

      “We didn’t start the fire…”

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Librarians everywhere are breathing a sigh of relief knowing that they are suffering from nary a competition in classification from you, Bruce. But suffice to say that this librarian thinks alphabetical order sometimes works just fine, thank you very much. It worked for your needs and that’s all that really matters. Well done… and thanks for introducing me to a new kiddie lit title! I do enjoy that genre. – Marty

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah, Marty, the mysteries of the Dewey Decimal system remained just that. In fact even alphabetical order has its challenges. Numerals, Mac, Mc… Luckily I have only myself to remonstrate with if I cannot find anything!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I play with kids books all day every day, in my job of peddling used books. I have a whole wall of them, from board books through to young adult novels… once I did an estimate of the number of books on that wall at any given time, and I estimate it’s around 5000. It’s glorious, and they’re some of my section’s best-sellers, which pleases me endlessly. I always encourage kids to read!

    All that rambling done, I had no idea there was a Moonmin LP. What a world.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sounds just fine, Aaron. Though how you avoid ending up with a house full of books, I have no idea. Guess there’s no room because of the CDs. 🤪

      Like

      1. Oh sir, our house IS full of books. Our kids have soooo many books, ‘cos Daddy keeps seeing ones he knows they’ll like… and we were just at the library yesterday and they got about 15 each… yeah, there’s no avoidance. Not when it comes to kids books. I encourage them to read!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Excellent. I truly believe that a house full of books is an indicator of good things. Could never really trust someone who never reads.

          Like

      2. Oh for sure. And worse are the people who buy books as wall art, because the colour of the spines makes a nice pattern on the shelf… meanwhile having no intention of reading any of them. Gah. GAH, I say!

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I just thought of another one… I helped one customer who was interested in books of sheet music. I showed her where they were and asked if she had a type of music in mind, or if it was instructional books, and for which instrument? She said ‘no, I just want to cut them up for an art project…’ GAH!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved the Moomins TV show when I was wee. I remember the 90’s animation, too… though it lacked the eerie charm of the older puppet version.

    You’ve got me wanting this LP. Even just for the theme. Amazing.

    And bravo on the title.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheers J. Glad to have evoked some fond memories.
      Finders Keepers are a funny little label, that’s for sure. And the LP is surprisingly entertaining in a ‘made in our back room’ kind of way!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh you just took me back to childhood, the Moomins, Earthsea and the Doctor Doolittle books informed my childhood, on TV I was a massive fan of Mr Ben.

    I am off to look for books now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mr Benn is fantastic! Discovered him via one of those newspaper DVD giveaways in the UK some years back (I don’t think it was screened in Aus) and we all loved it!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. pinklightsabre · · Reply

    I have a Moomin coffee cup scene from a former Scandinavian co-worker who heard I was into their artwork! Funny. Hi Bruce!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Bill. That’s the second mention of a Moomin-mug. We wants one, precious!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think I’ll gather the young-ins for a night of ‘Moomin’s’. Missed them first time around. I don’t know how they would take it 25 years later but kids can be fussy with books. Dahl was big around our pad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In term of odd little TV shows for kids, we also liked The Clangers (small knitted mice-like critters who whistled to speak!) and very much enjoyed the short run of Mr Benn.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We had a few real creepy ones on our side of the water plus a few that were actually pretty entertaining. ‘Mr Dress Up’ was a big one in our house. My daughter went to see him live when she was 5. A more adoring audience would be hard to find.
        (Living where I live Bruce we get the “off the beaten track entertainers” like The Irish Rovers. Here’s another one that might catch your fancy. Let me know and I’ll book a couple tickets. I will be forever grateful for you exposing me to Flo).
        https://chemainustheatrefestival.ca/our-shows/glorious/

        Liked by 1 person

        1. This morning I have a dental appointment, CB. Much more attractive than hearing my namesake warble, I think! (But thank you very much for the kind offer)

          Liked by 2 people

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