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The Moomins and the Great Flood - Tove Jansson

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Genre: Junior Books / Author: Tove Jansson / Hardcover / 64 Pages / Book is published 2012-11-01 by Sort of Books

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      13.06.2012 15:27
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      An origin of historical value, but of little else in the end.

      Tove Jansson was one of the most beloved artists and authors of Finland, and was very much in the middle of the country's cultural hub from the 1930s until her eventual withdrawal from the public eye after contracting breast and lung cancer in the mid-1990s due to lifelong heavy smoking, though she were to live until June of 2001 having suffered intracranial hemorrhage the year before. Being born into an artistic family (her father was a sculptor, her mother a graphics designer), and raised in the middle of other notable artists that frequented the Jansson household, it was only natural for her to also be drawn toward an artistic career, becoming a professional painter who also did illustrations for papers, magazines, ads, and postcards. However, of all the things she accomplished in her long career in the above capacities, nothing else truly ever entered the public consciousness on quite the same level of affection as her creation of the Moomins. Originating as creatures that Jansson drew on the wall of the outhouse of the family's summer home, she then started using these prototypical "moomin-like" creatures in her aquarelle paintings before finally adopting one for her satirical cartoons in the magazine Garm - whose artistic director she was at the time - as her personal alter-ego, naming the irritable and sarcastic creature as the Moomintroll. In this capacity the character frequented Jansson's political and satirical funny drawings, until the coming of war changed things significantly for her. As the Winter War began in 1939, Jansson found herself less willing to draw pictures under the current circumstances and instead decided to try her hand at a little writing. The result of this was the beginnings of her very first book of Moomins, a fairytale about an ugly creature she called Moomintroll, and directly adopted from her illustrations for Garm.

      This first book of what was to become a series of nine novels (not including the picture books and the couple of hundred comics in which these characters also appear in) was from the onset intended to be a children's fantasy tale and was largely drafted during 1939. But it wasn't until the end of the war that a friend of Jansson's suggested that she should finish and illustrate the book, and see if it would be published. As it was, the publisher Söderström & Co. did approve the book and it appeared during the same year in Swedish under the name of "Small Trolls and the Great Flood" to largely very little note. The story features Moominmamma and Moomintroll as they go in search of Moominpappa, who has "gone adventuring with the Hattifatteners," and on their journey end up meeting several different people and creatures, along with lots of accompanying adventure. The book is obviously the work of a young author searching for her bearings, and thus has also been the most forgotten of the Moomin books. Its initial appearance went by without any notice, and despite introducing the core characters of the Moomin family and features them moving into a small, beautiful valley where Moominpappa's newly built house had drifted to during the titular flood, the book was quickly swept under the carpet and forgotten. It wasn't even translated to Finnish until the early 1990s when the Japanese-Dutch produced cartoon series made the Moomins topical again.

      As such, The Great Flood is a book that suffers from the usual problems of the early work of an unpolished writer just deciding to bang together an adventure book. It's not terribly long at only 54 pages with expectedly large font, of which even then a sizeable chunk is taken by Jansson's illustrations, so it is definitely a quick, undemanding read as you'd expect of a children's book. The story delivery is also very much in line with the short length of the book by having one adventure come after another at such momentum that there is no time to really reflect on any of them before a new one comes about to take over with another new scenario. Characters are introduced with little actual introduction or development (the first one, Sniff, is the only one to become a standard fixture for several of the following books), and ironically the actual flood isn't really even an issue until the very last third of the story when it becomes known that Moominpappa has been stranded by this flood on the branch of a tree. There are some elements that were to make recurring appearances in the following books, like the idea of the Moomins living behind tiled stoves (this was to be referred for where the Moomins' ancient ancestors actually lived), the Hattifatteners are introduced as ghost-like wanderers with no other interest than to move forward, the animosity shown toward an ant-lion in the third book Finn Family Moomintroll is established here, and of course the introduction of the Moominvalley and their barrel-like blue home is shown at the very end. However, aside from various prototypical ideas, a lot of the book, along with its wildly fantastical world of seatrolls, giant snakes, Willy Wonka -like candylands, and tulip girls with radiantly glowing blue hair, would never really return with the same force in the next books, and as such The Great Flood remains of any real interest only for its historical value of being the first.

      © berlioz 2012

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