As Sophia Jansson herself commented, you really couldn’t ask for a more apt and magical setting than the Whitworth for this introduction to the world her aunt, Tove, created; the audience is guided through a dark and mysterious indoor woodland, to be seated in a leaf-wallpapered room looking out onto a crisp, autumnal Oxford Road, just perfect for Moomins.
The audience is comprised of that most hackneyed of phrases, ‘children of all ages’, reflecting the sixty five years that have passed since Moomintroll first blinked in wonder at the light of day. You could date its constituents, perhaps, from the incarnation of The Moomins that first held them in thrall. For myself, it is hazy memories of Alan Bennett reading Moominland Midwinter on Jackanory. For my five year old daughter, Betsy, Moominvalley is an undiscovered land, waiting to be explored.
That the Moomin books continue to hold such fascination across the age ranges is testament to Tove Jansson’s modest genius; both her words and pictures beguile, speaking directly to the reader, according to their experience of life. The child is drawn into the haphazard adventures of Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden and Little My, whilst the adult can appreciate the deeper themes of family and loss. In some ways, perhaps, they are a distinctly European equivalent of Pixar at its most successful.
Such broad appeal is difficult to recapture in a talk, and, whilst Sophia’s reminiscences of her aunt – born in Russian Finland to artistic parents, and a lesbian when to be so was against the law – fascinate the adults, some of the younger members of the audience, Betsy amongst them, begin to fidget.
For me, the spirit of the Moomins is most truly evoked in those moments when the audience as a whole are brought back together, most notably in the reading from Moominsummer Madness, when we can all enjoy, whether for the first time, or the umpteenth, the pragmatic responses of the Moomins to a flood.
Equally fun is the question and answer session, during which we are encouraged to share our own impressions of Moominvalley, and better understand matters of such playful import as the taxonomy of Hemulens and the provenance of Moominmamma’s bag.
This, then, is the spell that The Moomins cast, like all the best stories, it draws you out of this world, and into another. And, for all the longueurs from a five year old perspective, Betsy is not immune; she skips out into the crisp October evening, now as dark as the forest through which we entered, excited at the prospect of Moomin stories to come, and a trip to Bury Art Gallery to see the Magical Moominvalley exhibition there.
by Desmond Bullen