Moominpappa at Sea
"When the Moomin family members need a change of scenery, they decide to take up residence in a lighthouse. As they discover their new home, the family also discover surprising, and wonderfully funny, new things about themselves."
I adore the Moomins, but I haven’t had a chance to talk about them on this blog yet which is a real shame.
They’re a series of books which, although aimed at children, really transcend the notion of an age group. They’re books for everyone, children and adults alike.
Part of what makes them so appealing to those towards the top of the age range is perhaps the melancholy which is present in almost every story. The Moomin valley may be a beautiful fantastical paradise and it may be inhabited by sweet, friendly creatures but there’s always a tinge of sadness in the air and a sense of darkness hiding just out of view.
And in no book in the series is this more apparent than Moominpappa at Sea.
This book is depressing, there’s no other way to describe it. From page one it’s bleak and doesn’t lighten at all as the book progresses.
The story sees Moominpappa feeling useless and miserable in the Moomin valley. He spends his days making a model of a lighthouse and desperately trying to find something, anything to occupy himself.
Finally, he uproots the family, Moominmamma, Moomintroll and Little My and takes them away in a sailing boat to an island where he intends to become the keeper of the abandoned lighthouse there.
The island is dull and grey, the only other inhabitant is a grumpy fisherman who lives in a shack at the opposite side from the lighthouse and who wants nothing to do with the Moomins. The sea is wild and destroys anything Moominpappa tries to build. The ground is rocky and Moominmamma can’t build the garden she desperately wants. The lighthouse is broken and the roof leaks so Moominpappa can’t do his job and Moomintroll eventually leaves to live outside.
From start to finish, the book is a series of heartbreaking disasters befalling the Moomins to the point were all four of them are completely depressed at their new life.
Still, despite their misery, the Moomins soldier on and display the warm optimism that makes them such wonderful characters. There’s a sense with them that no matter how bad things get, there’s no reason to lose hope. That you should try to stay happy and wait for something better to come along and that’s exactly what they do, they persevere until happier days approach.
This is a hard book to read. It’s the penultimate book in the series but it’s also the last appearance of the moomins. The final book, Moomin Valley in November sees the rest of the Valley awaken to discover the Moomins have left in the night and they do not return.
So it’s in this book that we really bid farewell to the family and it’s hard to do so when their final adventure is so sad. As I read through this book I longed for the moment when skies would brighten ad everything would be ok again, I hated seeing these characters put through such misery.
That said, the book remains a beautiful piece of writing. It may be sad and it’s heartbreaking to see the characters react to this horrible situation but it’s impossible to not love Jansson’s world and the characters that inhabit it.
Her words, coupled with her beautiful illustrations, which, for my money are some of the most wonderful images in children’s literature period (take that Quentin Blake) go together to make that most enchanting of things, a world so beautiful and endearing that you can’t help but want to dive into the
If you’re new to the Moomins, this isn’t the book to start on, but if you’re a fan do be sure to read it at least once. It’s dark and gloomy and it will break your heart, but it’s still a beautiful farewell to some of children’s literature’s greatest creations.
Would I have preferred that the Moomins had a happier end to their tale? That’s hard to say, after all, I wish they never had to end at all.