“ Author: Tove Jansson / Format: Hardback / Genre: Children's Fantasy & Magical Realism /Title: The Exploits of Moominpappa / ISBN 13: 9780141328645 / ISBN 10: 0141328645 / 144 Pages / Book is published 2003-02-27 by Puffin / Alternative title: The Exploits of Moominpappa: Described by Himself / Alternative ISBN 10: 0140303235 „
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Following the great success of The Magician's Hat, it was no surprise that Tove Jansson would continue forging ahead with more Moomin novels, having the next one ready for publication two years later in 1950, which incidentally was also the year the first of her Moomin books was translated into English. The book was titled The Exploits of Moominpappa, an autobiographical account of Pappa's stormy youth as he writes of all the adventures he had, beginning from his life at an orphanage and concluding with him getting together with his future wife. Structurally it bares similarities with The Magician's Hat in being constructed of several little adventures, instead of having a single large storyline it follows outside of being about "Moominpappa's youth." However, unlike the prior book, which relied on an artificial instigator (the hat) to provide some sense of coherency to the story, Exploits is much more successful in this respect as its chief unifying element is Moominpappa himself. Also working for the book is the fact that the idea for the memoirs isn't just thrown in here out of nowhere, but which has been foreshadowed for the past two books already. Moominpappa's presentation as being not only a parental figure for many of the underlying character relationships, but also someone who carries an air of an experienced adventurer in him, and who has now left such adventures behind, instead looking back fondly at his own youth in his comfy little study as he works on his memoirs, is a great distinction in his shift in becoming an adult to his younger self. Though this attitude would later on become much more of a bane to him, and which is also something already hinted at in The Moomins and the Great Flood, Exploits is a novel much more imbued in the attitude of a retired aging person casting his eye back to the times when he was still young, free, and unencumbered with responsibility to anything else but sating his own adventuresome spirit.
The novel is largely told through a first person account as you'd expect of memoirs, but there are occasional interludes between stories where we see Pappa in the present telling these tales to the group of younger children around him, namely Moomintroll, Snufkin and Sniff. As a parallel to the memoirs side of the book, at the same time this is also a novel centred on fleshing out the origin stories of the three attentive listeners as, early on after his escape from the orphanage, Pappa comes across an inventor named Fredrikson (translated as Hodgkin), his scatterbrained, overly fussy nephew Muddler (the future father of Sniff), and the rebellious, but terribly disinterested drifter Joxter (the future father of Snufkin). Thus it provides a double layer of not only exploring the past of Moominpappa, but also providing context for some of the other key characters of these early novels by showing from what walks of life they eventually spawned from themselves, though it is also interesting to notice that neither Sniff nor Snufkin seem to be at all aware as to who their parents actually even are. The book itself is another episodic collection of various adventures, whose one big motivational ideology centres around the concept of freedom and the yearning to roam around the world with no distinct path to follow, facing new lands, people, and situations as they come without attempting to stay rooted to one single, domesticated existence. And though eventually Moominpappa comes to discover the pleasures of such domestic stability, there always remains that yearning to once more go out for an adventure with no distinct goal in mind other than to just get on the road... or water as it often is in relation to Pappa's particular desires.
The book is full of incident, from Pappa with his new friends going on a sea adventure with a houseboat Pappa and Fredrikson build, meeting various creatures like the gigantic Edward the Booble, who becomes a bit of an antagonist to the crew; the return of the Hemulen in charge of Pappa's orphanage whom the friends save from a Groke, and who subsequently becomes a regular nuisance to the adventurers; a swarm of sticky creatures called Niblings of whom one remains on board and becomes one of the crew; the Mymble family, amongst whom they get to know the Mymble's daughter and the youngest member of the family, the feisty Little My; a ghost who desperately wants to be taken seriously as a terrifying ghoul with various amounts of success; and finally the prankster King Daddy Jones, who is perhaps the most funny oneshot character in the whole book with his constant disparaging and condescending remarks about his "subjects," who are too stupid to take offence at it. It is also in this last phase that Moominpappa with his friends come closest for finding early needs of settling down, and we also get further familial connections established as Muddler finds a love interest in Fuzzy, who is extremely similar to himself in many regards, while it is also later established that Joxter would get together with Mymble, making Snufkin not only related to her, but also making Little My his sister. This latter is something that won't be mentioned again, though, so it bares no real impact on the two characters' relationship in future novels. Moominpappa ends his memoirs on the point where he saves his future wife Moominmamma from the stormy sea, and when the birth of his son makes him finally leave behind the storms of his youth in favour of "wisdom and reason."
All in all, The Exploits of Moominpappa is a book that is much more cohesive than The Magician's Hat without losing any of the youthful exuberance of the previous novel. It was to spell the end of what can be termed as Jansson's early Moomin novels, and remains an engaging and fun read all around. The only real weak spot for me is the epilogue in which out of nowhere, just as the memoirs are completed, Fredrikson and the whole group of friends suddenly just burst into the family's house and invite them all to go on a new adventure. It is a highly tacked on ending that robs the sentimental value of Moominpappa essentially closing the chapter on his younger days in favour of more stable domestic life by suddenly and conveniently introducing the characters of the past into the world of the present in a clumsy attempt at a happy ending, instead of a quietly bittersweet one. But aside from this small blemish, the book on the whole is highly enjoyable and entertaining to read. The fact that it is written largely in the first person also helps the reader to accept certain jumps in some scenes or lack of detail in others by simply accepting that this is somebody else's recollections of events from years ago that may not be entirely complete in his memory anymore. Certainly there are some aspects that may rattle one slightly if you've already formed various preferences over some characters, such as having Snufkin's parents be so well defined and with him actually meeting them both at the end instead of keeping him a lonely wayfarer with a mysterious past, but these are relatively small concerns. Jansson would later revise the book somewhat, and renamed it Moominpappa's Memoirs, but the differences are largely perfunctory. What The Exploits of Moominpappa ultimately amounts to, though, is to express the desire to not be rooted to one's place or the shackling of one's imagination. It is of danger, of having fun, of sharing it all with your friends, and of enjoying life before you need to take responsibility and grow up for good. It is to remember where you come from, and not to worry too much as to where you're going. It is, in the end, an ode to freedom.
© berlioz 2012
My journey into the Moomins continues with this delightful novel entitlled 'The Exploits of Moominpapa'. Written by Tove Jansson and first published in 1952, the book is slightly different to the rest of the Moomin series, in that it focuses on Moominpapa rather than his son Moomintroll. I was a little wary at first, as Moominpapa had not struck me as being terribly interesting as a character and I was unsure how a whole novel about him would traspire. Luckily my fears proved unfounded and the book turned out to be an engaging and extremely enduring read.
The Moomins are hippo like creatures who live in Moominvalley, though in this book, the Moominvalley we know and love is not so prominent, as Moominpapa travels all around different locations before finding his proper home. He is the central character, but we are also introduced to some new people this time around. We get to meet Hodgkins, Joxter and The Muddler, the latter two are parents of Snufkin and Sniff, who are two of the usual Moomin characters. There is also an hilarious Hemulen aunt who is one of my favourites, thanks to her bossy behaviour!
Spread over eight chapters, Moominpapa and his comrades have a series of adventures including an ocean voyage frought with danger, a majestic teaparty and a spooky meeting with some ghosts.
As always, the book comes with delightful illustrations, capturing characters and locations, so you can visualise what is going on as you read.
There is a Moomin galley at the end of the novel which is superb, as you can study who is who and get more familiar with the characters. This is a wonderful novel, suitable for adults and children and combines magic, mystery and a touch of mayhem. It is available for about five pounds.