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Despite poor sales of her previous books and the loss of her publisher, Tove Jansson wasn't dissuaded from keeping up with her writing. Continuing straight on from Comet in Moominland, she started hammering together her third novel about the affable troll-like family and took the finished product to the rival publisher of Schildts, who then published the new novel in the autumn of 1948. The book was named The Magician's Hat and, unlike her previous two opuses, became an instant success with both critics and the public alike, proving to be the literary breakthrough Jansson had hoped for and paved the way for the author's ascent toward becoming accepted as a literary star in Finland and around the world. This was also the first Moomin book to be translated into English, and subsequently given the name of Finn Family Moomintroll upon its release in 1950 (a Finnish translation wouldn't come until 1956) to better reflect it as being an introduction to these characters for the uninitiated. The basic premise is that Moomintroll, Sniff and Snufkin discover an abandoned top hat on top of a mountain on the spring morning after having woken up from hibernation, and subsequently take it back home. However, due to its size, it's unsuitable for them to wear (Moominpappa even says he doesn't need such a fancy hat, which ironically would later on become a trademark feature for him), the family instead opting to use it as just a simple wastebasket. But while seemingly ordinary from the outside, it would soon reveal itself that if you put anything into the hat for a few minutes, it would magically transform into something completely different when taken out. This, however, is only the beginning, and indeed the book itself is not that much about the hat itself as it is about the fun of warm summer's days and the pleasures of childhood during the bright, sunny adventures of careless play in the freedom of a verdant countryside.
What all this translates to is a charming, but also certainly the most unfocused of Jansson's Moomin novels. Instead of following a single story, The Magician's Hat is more a collection of different ideas held together by a fairly flimsy connecting thread. It's not inherently a bad thing as this allows for more disparate adventures to be had without outright making the book into a collection of short stories or an anthology, but when compared to other books in this series - even including the next book, The Exploits of Moominpappa, telling of the various adventures Pappa had in his younger days - this novel's one major flaw really comes from its rather rhapsodic structure of going all over the place, while providing an ultimately weak excuse for some coherency. That is not to say the book is bad by any means, and it definitely contains many classic Moomin tales and short storylines. The Magician's hat for instance, despite its nature as a simple catalyst for various ensuing hijinks, does yield some fun scenarios in its wake, with perhaps the most amusing being when Moomintroll hides inside the hat during a game of hide and seek. He, of course, gets turned into another creature entirely without him even noticing anything different, but when his friends see him they fail to recognise him as Moomintroll, only for Moomintroll to think they're just joking with him and attempts to play along (calling himself the "King of California" and saying disparaging comments about himself). This unfortunately only agitates the rest to the point they start beating him up for insulting their friend, much to the complete bafflement of Moomintroll himself. Trust me, it's funny when you add the dialogue from all involved in the scene.
Other hat-related incidents involve Moomintroll taking vengeance on the ant-lion from The Great Flood by tricking him into the hat, a bunch of egg shells turning into magical floating clouds the children then use to fly around the Valley with, and a slew of discarded pink perennials that end up growing into a jungle that surrounds the entire house in vines and tree branches, much to the charging of the adults. But there are also other adventures that are not really connected with the hat at all, and which provide some of the most well known excursions in any of the books. The first one is an impromptu picnic the family takes to an off-shore island a short distance away from the mainland, and from where the Hemulen finds a barometer attached to a wooden pole and wants to keep it; but as a violent storm brews, they all see it best to spend the night on the island... Unfortunately the island just so happens to be infested with electrified Hattifatteners, and they want their barometer back. The other notable storyline details the arrival of two little creatures called Tofslan and Vifslan (somewhat incongruously translated as Thingumy and Bob), carrying a mysterious suitcase with them, seemingly scared of something chasing them, and very suspicious of everyone around them. It is soon revealed that they are being hunted by the evil Groke, a creature from whom they apparently had stolen something from, and who is now coming after them to claim back his treasure. And lastly, in the final part of the book, the Magician (who for some reason is called the Hobgoblin in the English version) comes in the middle of a large party hosted by the family to also claim the treasure Tofslan and Vifslan are carrying, which he had spent the last 300 years searching for, and which he desperately would want to have in spite of the little duo still not willing to part with it. However, as always in these books, a pleasant outcome is eventually reached to make everybody happy.
All in all, The Magician's Hat is a nice book on childhood fun and games, but suffers from a structure too loose to entirely tie everything together successfully. It is significant for being the first Moomin book to garner great popularity and features a few aspects that would become more prevalent in later novels. It is here that the Groke is introduced, though his character would undergo quite a lot of change upon his future appearances. Also it is established at the end of the novel that Snufkin's drive to travel ultimately compels him to leave Moominvalley at the onset of Autumn to wander somewhere else all by himself, with promises to return once Spring comes again (though in the beginning he is also seen hibernating with the rest of the family, an aspect that would not be revisited ever again). This book would also mark the last appearances of the Snork Maiden's brother Snork, who in this novel has reverted much more to the level of a child than he was represented in Comet in Moominland (albeit he is still an organisational freak often seen taking seniority within the group in times of decision making), and likewise the disillusioned, world-weary philosopher Muskrat hereafter disappears from the Moomin novels. Ultimately The Magician's Hat is a book easy to read, if still somewhat clunky at times, and is great for a bit of uncomplicated escapist entertainment. But still the hat, and by extension the Magician himself, simply don't yield a consistent enough focus to tie everything in the book together in an entirely satisfactory manner, particularly when you have the Hattifattener Island arc acting as an almost unrelated interlude in the middle of everything. Regardless, it is a book worth reading and enjoying for those wanting to just unwind with the simple joys of an uncomplicated summer spiced with a touch of magic, mystery and imagination.
© berlioz 2012
I fondly remember seeing this cartoon on telly back when I was a kid in the eighties and remember a friend of mine had many of the books when I'd go round their house to play in the summer so imagine my delight when I discovered this series again as an adult- if only to read to my own daughter when she gets a little older.... ( just in case I needed an excuse)
This first tale introduces us to Moomintroll and his family and friends and revolves around what happens when they discover a magical hat which mutates anything that is dropped inside it. Imagine what happens then when the Moomins decide to use it as a waste-paper basket!!
Together with Snuffkin, The Hemulan (a scientific type who bizarrely wears a dress) and The Snork Maiden, the Moomintroll family get up to all manner of adventures through the course of the book- all of which are equally entertaining and some of which also feature little morals for older readers to learn. It is translated from the author's native language so very occassionally some of the conversations between characters can be a little hard to follow but on the whole, this is the first in an enchanting series that just begs to be introduced to a new generation of young readers.
The Moomins are totally unlike your average trolls and as far apart from those grotesque montrosities with bright hair that you used to get in garages as Smurfs are to Wombles. Rather these cute, cuddly creatures are white and a little like a hippopotamus - illustrated throughout with pictures, this book for children is as fine a place as any to start and Im very sure your little ones will love it!! Certainly the books express a certain charm and innocence that will trigger nostalgia in adults and that is sadly lacking from many modern day contemporaries.
So...take a trip down memory lane today!!
Get reunited with the Finn Family Moomintroll....
Tove Jansson is known as the creator of the Moomintroll books. She was also a gifted artist. She was born in Helsinki, Finland in 1914 and lived until 2001. She wrote in Swedish in a dominantly Finnish-language environment as she was a member of the small minority of Swedish-speaking Finns. Her parents were also artists and led a bohemian life spending summers on a small island in the Gulf of Finland. This lifestyle and social background forms the basis to her Moomin books. Jansson wrote her first brief Moomintroll tale in 1945, Comet in Moominland. The first proper Moomintroll book Finn Family Moomintroll followed this in 1947. Following this there was a succession of thirteen Moomin books, which ended with Moominvalley in November in 1971. Tove Jansson also drew the Moomin comic strip for the Evening News, a London newspaper of the time, from 1953 to 1959 and was then succeeded by her brother Lars Jansson, who had helped her to translate the original texts into English from Swedish. These were syndicated around the world into many different countries and languages. Her books have proved especially popular in Japan, where a television series was first made in 1972 and a million Moomin books have been sold.
Her books have been compared to the works of Lewis Carroll, Richard Adams and J.R.R.Tolkien. This is because she managed to construct a believable, parallel world where her characters are not human creatures but have human traits. Their lives are recognisable but different in a truly magical way. She has been given the perspective to understand that people are different and even though they have many different customs, appearances and attitudes, tolerance and humanity are the most important things. Moominvalley may not be a multi-cultural society but all the characters get along with each other embracing their differences rather than undermining them. They have a sensitive conscience and a tolerance of difference, though that doesnt prevent them getting up to mischief.
Normally when I think of a troll, I think of the big ugly thing that sits under the bridge waiting for the Billy Goats Gruff. But these trolls are very different. A Moomintroll is small and shy and fat, and has a Moominpappa and a Moominmamma. Moomins live in the forests of Finland. They like sunshine and warmth so they sleep right through the winter. The snow falls and falls and falls, where they live, until their houses look like great snowballs. But when spring comes, up they jump and well, that was the moment when this story began, and Moomintroll found the Hobgoblins Hat.
This is a truly wonderful story for children. It was first published in English over fifty years ago and harks back to a bygone age where things were simpler and more straightforward. However it has a timeless quality to it also. The book has certainly caught the imagination of my daughter as I have overheard her telling her little brother all about the characters and the story. So one day all too soon he will be old enough to be read it too. In this case I will be very happy to oblige.
There are great characters that the author doesnt waste boring time describing. Rather you get to know them as their adventures progress and the narrative is accompanied by some wonderfully simple illustrations, drawn by the author herself, that help bring these characters into your minds eye and brings them to life. They compliment the narrative beautifully. However as they are not present here, I shall give a brief indication to you of the leading characters.
Moomintroll is illustrated looking a bit like a little hippopotamus. He is a very loyal friend, cheerful and rather a softie. He strongly believes in fairness, regardless of how others act. Ostensively the central character, he lives with his mother and father, Moominmamma and Moominpappa in Moominvalley. (Great names to read out loud). They run a sort of open house and welcome all Moomintrolls friends in the same quiet way, just adding another bed and putting another leaf in the dining room table.
Moominmamma is kind and wise. She goes everywhere with her handbag containing things that might be needed in a hurry such as dry socks, sweets and string.
Moominpappa is emotional and adventurous. He is usually to be found writing his memoirs.
Amongst the permanent guests is Snufkin who always wears an old green hat. He is a wanderer and cannot be tied down. Then there is Sniff who is always anxious and speaks in a squeaky voice. There are also Snork and his sister, the Snork Maiden, who seem to be similar to Moomintroll but when reading you are never quite sure. This added mystery to the characters can be on one hand frustrating but on the other quite exhilarating. I think it is more memorable to have unanswered questions remaining in your head to imagine yourself than to have it written in black and white for you.
One of the most amazingly imaginative creatures is the sinister Hattifattener, who move all together in a single, menacing crowd. They can neither hear nor speak and they see very badly. But they feel extremely well! Once a year, they come from all points of the compass to their Lonely Island, silent and serious with their small, white empty faces. No one knows why they come, as they have no object in life but the distant goal of their journeys end.
The most amusing character has to be the Hemulen. He is a scientist and a collector and wears a dress. He is mortified when he realises that he has collected all the stamps in the world and is now an owner rather than a collector. So he wants to give them all away and start something new. But what should he do?
They all hibernate in the winter, so the story begins, after the prologue, with them waking up in the spring. Moomintroll, Snufkin and Sniff wake up first and their first adventure is finding the Hobgoblins Hat. They do not realise what it is or the magical powers it possesses. They take it home and exciting things begin to happen to everything to which it comes in contact with. The Hobgoblins Hat is an ongoing feature of the stories of this book. However the creatures also have various other adventures. These include the trip to the Hattifatteners Island, the Mameluke Hunt and the appearance of some other great characters, Thingumy, Bob and the Groke.
The stories are told in a very readable way. There is also plenty for adults to take from the books as well as children. There are the humorous authors notes and the philosophy of the muskrat, which add new dimensions to the stories and further knowledge of the Moomin world. All the creatures seem to have a great sense of justice, freedom and acceptance of others individuality. They seem to think like us but only our best thoughts, as they want to see the good in all things. They are unlike us in appearance but their relationships with each other are how we would like to be in an ideal world, full of sympathy and empathy. They love adventure but there doesnt seem to be a real sense of danger. It is how we would love our children to be able to go out an experience the wonders of the world knowing that they will return safely at the right time. Moominvalley is like an idyllic world that we would like to inhabit. It is rural and magical but isolated from the potential bad things that surround it. This sounds like a parallel image of Finland of the time of the books writing. It is of a different world, a fairy tale world where extraordinary things happen but the inhabitants treat them as normal. We can recognise so much from our own world but there it is more exciting and adventurous.
In later books, Jansson explores the ancestry of the Moomins and their adventures develop from mere childrens stories to explore different themes. The characters become more complicated and the tales move into the range of fantasy literature. Adults, in their own right, can read these books rather than simply making the excuse that they are just reading to the little ones.
This book is a great place to start your journey to get to know the Moomins. It is fun and amusing, with both magic and more homely adventure, full of good humour and unexpected happenings. Lessons about life, empathy and wisdom are brilliantly explored and are handled with a wonderfully subtle and light touch. It suits the eight and nine year olds admirably and is excellent for reading aloud.
‘Dear child is it really possibel you haven’t any Moomintrolls? Or not even know what a troll is for a something? They are small and shy and hairy and there are lots and lots of them in the Finnish forests. The greatest difference between them and us is that a Moomintroll is smooth and likes sunshine. The usual common trolls popp up only when its dark.’ So writes my darling Moominmamma in her letter which prefaces the tale of the Finn Family Moomintroll. She adds: ‘PS Please excuse my rottn english you see Moomins go to school only as long as it amuses them.’ Well that’s that. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, take a look at my profile picture. Go on! There I am – a real live internet-enabled Moomintroll, at your service! So back to the book in question. Well, a very lovely lady by the name of Tove Jansson has written many stories about us. She wrote them in Finnish (Moomins are Finnish after all), but they have been translated most admirably by a lady called Elizabeth Portch. This one is probably the most widely known of the books, although the others are just as interesting, I promise you (what do you expect when they all feature me?). Tove Jansson has also drawn some lovely pictures of me and my friends, which are dotted throughout the book and are very effective. I especially like the one of Moominpappa wearing the Hobgoblin’s hat. It’s very funny! My family and other animals live in Moominhouse, which is blue and stands in the Valley of the Moomins. It is a beautiful place to live, with a nice river for paddling in, the sea nearby, and surrounded by hills and mountains. I think it’s the best place in the whole world. Well, one day, after a long hibernation, I woke up, and ran to the top of a nearby mountain with my friends Snufkin (my best friend, and a rather solitary chap. We have great fun together) and Sniff (he
’s rather clumsy, but he means well. He is very attracted to sparkly things – this often lands him in trouble!). There we found a hat. A big black hat. We took it home, but it was too big for Moominpappa so it was used as a wastepaper basket. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the hat turned out to be a magic hat! Who’d have thought it? I put some eggshells in it (as I am by nature a very tidy moomin), and they turned into clouds! Real clouds, that you could sit on and make fly! It was wonderful! Even the Snork Maiden joined in. Snorks are very similar to Moomins, except Snorks change colour depending on their mood, while Moomins are always white. I like the snork Maiden immensely – she has such pretty hair! Anyhow, we didn’t know where the clouds had come from, and didn’t think anything else of the wastepaper basket. Until, the next day, we were playing hide-and-seek and I decided to hide under the hat. When I came out I was quite different – nobody recognised me. It was horrid. But luckily my own dear Moominmamma knew who I was, and I changed back into my sweet little self. Phew. But Mamma and Pappa decided the hat had to go, and they rolled it into the river. But Snufkin and me rescued it, and took it to Sniff’s cave, and left it there. To celebrate the end of the hat, the whole family went on an excursion. We went down to the seaside, then Mamma found a little boat washed up, and we all sailed off to a little island. We had a great adventure there – because there was a big storm, and the Hattifatteners tried to frighten the Hemulen (but it was all his fault for trying to steal their baraometer), and the Snork Maiden gave me a wooden princess, oh and the Snork (he’s the Snork Maiden’s brother) found a vein of real gold! It was terribly exciting, and too much happened to tell you everything here. You’ll just have to read our book! Back in Moominvally it
was awfully hot. We were all getting cross and scratchy, so Mamma told us all to go and stay in the cave until we were better tempered. We thought this would be exciting, so off we went. When we were there Snufkin scared us with stories about the Hobgoblin and his search for the biggest ruby in the world. He rides a black panther you know, and I think he sounds nasty. The next day we all went fishing, and caught a giant Mameluke. He liked the pancake we put out as bait! But when we got home, Moominhouse was all covered in plants! Huge creeping plants that had great long tendrils and giant fruits! We left the Hemulen outside in the rain to guard our catch, and ran to see what had happened! It was that hat again, but I’m not sure when or how it got back into the house. Anyway we had a thrilling time playing Tarzan amongst the greenery, but the moment the sun went down all the plants shrivelled up and died. So we all collected up the rubbish, and lit an enormous bonfire, upon which we baked the Mameluke. It was the best baked fish I ever tasted! The next mad thing that happened, if I remember correctly, was that Thingumy and Bob came to live with us. They were very strange and spoke a funny language, and they had a secret suitcase with them. But it turned out that the suitcase belonged to the Groke, and she came to get it. She was pretty scary, and turned the ground to ice. We had to have a legal meeting, but Mamma saved the day when she offered to give the Groke the Hobgoblin’s Hat in exchange, and she accepted. That was the last we saw of her for a while! At the end of August Snufkin went away. I was very sad, because although I know he’ll come back, he is my bast friend and I miss him. Thingumy and Bob saw I was sad, so they tried to cheer me up and showed me what was in the secret suitcase. It was a ruby – as big as a panther’s head. It was very beautiful, and I felt a little bit better. Later that day M
amma’s handbag went missing. Now you all know that Moominmamma is never seen without her handbag, so this was a great calamity. A huge reward was offered – a big party for everyone in the valley. After much frantic searching Thingumy and Bob produced the handbag, and everyone was very pleased. The party was in full swing, and the toasts being drunk (in raspberry-juice), when Thingumy and Bob opened the suitcase to show off the ruby. Suddenly though, the Hobgoblin appeared. He had been looking for the ruby in the craters of the moon, and he saw it shining in our garden. He was very scary at first, but Mamma gave him some pancakes and jam and I wasn’t so frightened of him them. He offered Thingumy and Bob an exchange for the ruby, but they didn’t want to. He was quite sad, but then he cheered up a bit and offered to grant everyone a wish! He turned out to be a nice hobgoblin. We all had a wish – Pappa got some leather bookbindings for his memoirs, Sniff got a boat, and the Hemulen got a new botanizing spade. Everyone was very happy, and there were fireworks too. It was a wonderful celebration! * * So that's our story, and that's what's in the book. But Tove Jansson writes it much better than I can - she has such a way with words! If you want to read in more detail about my adventures, this book is available in Puffin paperbacks, published price £4.99. I think that children would really enjoy reading these stories, and adults too. A lovely introduction to me and my family! ISBN 0-14-030150-X available through TheCountryBookshop.co.uk PS I know Moomintroll is a boy Moomin. But - I didn't want to be the Snork Maiden, so allow me a bit of artistic licence, please! And sorry it's so long! moomin RIP Tove Jansson 1914 - 2001
Although they're small, fat and shy creatures, Moomins have the most amazing adventures. It all begins when Moominpappa tries on a magic hat that makes exciting and funny things happen.