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Having caught the writing bug, Tove Jansson immediately set about writing a second Moomin story, but this time with much more of a slant on appealing towards the types of adventure books teenagers enjoyed rather than it being a book squarely aimed for little children. Though still not perfect and some of the writing comes across as either rushed or needlessly diverting itself from the main story's gravitas, it definitely has a much grander sense of scope and construct to make the book not be just a bunch of small scenes strung together with no broader ideas in how to tie them all into a cohesive whole. Also the story's apocalyptical storyline wrapped around escapist adventure, which remains a wonderfully threatening element over the whole course of the novel, sets the story on a much more sophisticated level of writing for the fledgling author. With signs of a strange star with a long tail starting to appear around the Moominvalley, and combined with the warnings of the somewhat embittered philosopher Muskrat telling of a comet that is on its way to bring with it the end of the world, Moomintroll and his cowardly friend Sniff decide to go to the observatory on the far reaches of the Lonely Mountains and ask the astronomers residing there as to what this rumoured star actually is and when it's supposed to arrive. In between there are many adventures to be had, finally culminating in the arrival of the comet along with the real threat of complete annihilation it harbours.
With its added scope, Comet in Moominland is a book much easier to enjoy than The Moomins and the Great Flood, and thanks to the different adventure sequences being more spaced out with more time allowed for their development, it proves to be a much more successful story as a whole. It does still build somewhat on the foundations of the previous book, but the world of the Moomins is a lot more defined now (though definitely still a fantasy setting), while the characters are also thankfully much more fleshed out this time around. As a consequence, it is much easier to be engaged with these characters when you have a bit more personality to go with over their base characteristics. Moomintroll, for instance, is shown how much he enjoys adventuring, but also shows much of his childish petulance throughout the story, a characteristic that would largely stay with the character in subsequent outings, though this trait could also be seen easing off the further the series went. His parents also get more defined roles, though they're not seen all that much due to the action taking place largely away from the Moomins' home. But Mamma is shown to be much more understanding and positive here, and Pappa actually gets an actual semblance of personality he never did in the family's first outing, albeit it would take a couple of more books to truly flesh this out. Sniff perhaps remains the only one with no real significant growth, but his existence is simple enough as it is that it's not a clincher.
Notable are also the addition of a couple of mainstay characters, particularly Snufkin, a wanderer who joins the adventuring duo on their journey to the observatory and who imparts his wayfarer knowledge to help them survive several dangers they meet on their way, and the Snork Maiden, whom Moomintroll saves from a flesh eating plant, and who subsequently becomes - for all intents and purposes - Moomintroll's girlfriend. Other less notable characters found here are the Snork Maiden's highly organised brother Snork, and the appearance of the Hemulen, another Moomin-like creature who're generally considered big nuisances, and who has an all-consuming stamp collecting fetish (the collecting being an aspect these early hemulens seemed to share before this being phased out entirely after Finn Family Moomintroll). The adventures are plenty, from rafting through mountain rapids and facing down condors, to flying through the air with the Hemulen's skirt and fighting a giant octopus, but it is undoubtedly the final half of the book that provides the most memorable aspect of the novel. As the comet gets closer, the sense of incoming doom and destruction is handled with as much gravitas as such an event calls for, particularly as the group of travellers are making their way back to the Valley. The mass exodus of the smaller creatures, the withdrawal of oceans, the searing heat generated by the nearing comet and, once the group finally makes it back to the Valley, the family's taking of refuge inside the cave discovered in the beginning of the book as a last ditch hope to get through all of this in one piece, conspires to ratchet up tension to almost unbearable levels. Also, just so as to provide one more final moment of thrill before the calamity strikes, this tension is only further emphasised as Moomintroll has to go in search of the Silk Monkey (an incidental character not seen again after this book) just moments before the comet is on top of them, makes for superb entertainment all the way round, spiced wonderfully by Jansson's developing descriptive talents.
But regardless of this added sense of dramatics and a better formed story, the initial appearance of the book in 1946 was not much more notable than that of The Great Flood the year prior, resulting in disappointing sales and the publisher refusing to publish any more of Jansson's Moomin books, marking them as unprofitable. And it certainly is true that Comet in Moominland has its faults. It is a rather heavy book, with not the kind of ease of storytelling Jansson would get better at over time, while the characters at times spend far too much time obsessing over trivial little things on the eve of possible world destruction to make this slightly frustrating. And despite the apocalyptic storyline, this certainly doesn't make this novel as great of a page-turner as say the later Moominsummer Madness or Moominland Midwinter were. But as the first, full-fledged Moomin book, it still is a good early entry to the series, and as an adventure book is infinitely enjoyable in its overall apocalyptic tone. In 1968 Jansson was to revise the novel by making a few small changes to the story under the title Kometen Kommer (The Comet Comes) by eliminating most of the references to The Great Flood and changing the Silk Monkey into a kitten, while she also wrote and drew an alternate version of the story in comic strip form with some large differences, particularly in the ending. So, while not the best of the series, it is today perhaps the most famous of the individual novels, being also the source for the sole movie adaptation of the '90s cartoon series along with a handful of other animated adaptations, and is still terrific entertainment, well worth the effort to read.
© berlioz 2012
Comet In Moominland is the first in the Moomin book range. Written by Tove Jannsson, it weaves spellbinding mystery and enchantment over the reader, as we follow the exploits of Moomintroll and his forest friends.
The book was first published in 1946, but don't let the age of the work put you off, as it could easily have been written yesterday. Broken up into twelve easy to digest chapters, the book is about a Comet heading to Moominvalley and we find out how its arrival affects the main characters.
The main characters in this book are Moomintroll, a small hippo like creature, his love interest The Snork Maiden and close friends Snufkin and Sniff. There is also a welcome appearance from the curious Hemulen, who is one of the most intriguing creatures. The Hemulen gets s small amount of exposure in this novel, though it would have been nice to see him featured more.
The book balances mystery, intrigue, romance, comedy and fantasy in a superb fashion, making it suitable for younger readers and adults alike.
One reason that the books have so much charm is the inclusion of artwork, also done By Jansson. There are illustrations on every other page or so and you can see that a lot of time has gone into designing each sketch. It is a delight to read the text while taking the image and using this to guide your vision.
This particular Moomin book is readily available and can be bought for five pounds. It has been printed in numerous editions. The latest edition by Puffin books comes with a sleek green cover and some wonderful cover artowrk which features Moomintroll, Snork Maiden, Sniff and and the Hemulen.
If you're bored of Potter then this will provide a welcome break. Quite quite magical