A lot can be said – and has been said – about Tove Jansson’s relationships within the books and cartoon strips, and she does indeed present a child’s Hogarth of a world, where foibles and strengths are all on show, from Sniff’s immaturity to a similar self-centredness in the Muskrat, hiding in his mauvaise foi in a dismissive attitude. And all this in a landscape that (for me when I first read the books in Harlow [as it then was] “New Town”) enticing and alien: mountain streams with crocodiles, and observatories and impromptu woodland dances… Part of me wondered if this was how Scandinavia really was, and maybe it took reading the Summer Book at Brookes for me to see how clever Jansson was about these ways marrying of reality and fantasy. Part of me wondered if those weird and engaging people were real too, whether I had some part of me in those stories.
Turn but a tweet and start a blog, to paraphrase Francis Thompson. A discussion today on Twitter prompted me to offer reading about the Fillyjonk as an example of the joy of private, quiet reading. Why, when discussing reading, did I suggest a Fillyjonk as the person I want to meet in my private reading? I was thinking of Tales from Moominvalley, I suppose, and she was the first person I could think of, a minor character rather than Moomin (see below) or from his immediate friends or family. Showing off, I suppose, like Sniff… A Fillyjonk is essentially an anxious person “dutiful to the point of tedium” – not a character I immediately identify with, although I can see what I was getting at, I suppose: a catastophizer who meets with a real disaster. So who would I like to be?
- I am too much of a home body to join the Hattifateners – whom I loved because I could draw them.
- Bingummy and Thob taught me so much about language play – but I was an only child, in effect: that wasn’t the bizarre little twins.
- The ghost in the Exploits, with a gentle side and a macabre turn of phrase?
- The Hemulen Aunt? There have been times when, as an Early Years teacher, I have heard her voice come out from my mouth. And Edward the Booble’s grumpy tones.
- The Groke? Well, she was my avatar for our Virtual Learning Environment for quite some time. I wonder whether she sloped off when I changed it, leaving a trail of frost across the internet.
This isn’t the quiz that you can do. I haven’t done it. Really, even when I first read Finn Family Moomintroll (and heard it on Jackanory in the mid-60s), I think I had it worked out, albeit dimly: Moomintroll pining after Snufkin. And so often I could characterise my relationships – certainly the ones that had me roaming morosely around as an undergraduate – as ones in which my inner Moomin longed and longed to be the adventurous and carefree Bohemian. Jansson may not be Maimonides, but the Moomins were a family when I was so perplexed I felt I had none, and “which Moomin character are you?” would have had only one answer. And there were quite a lot of candidates for Snufkin…
But of course the joy and the cleverness of Jansson’s characters is that you can be more than one. Dutiful to the point of tedium like Mrs Fillyjonk; self-centred Sniff; fussy and obsessive like a Hemulen, full of unrealistic hopes like the little dog who wished he was a wolf – and now? Well, Maggie is making cakes in the kitchen, and I am in my study pondering my youth.