Skip to main content

More Moomins

A friend once said that the thing she loved about Japan was that the Japanese loved every season, and made a great effort to celebrate holidays and seasons with specific rituals. As a person who enjoys holidays, and who finds meaning participating in the ritual of the Christian year, I feel a kinship with the Japanese. As humans, we respond to the larger, uncontrollable mysteries of life with stories, with food, with a renewed sense of connection to each other and to the world around us.

It is easy, with the early darkness and the frost on our windshields and the necessity of coats and thicker socks, to complain about the dying of the year and the coming of winter.

Here is a must-read this time of year: Tove Jansson’s Moominvalley in November. Where her other Moomin books have been characterized by happy bohemianism and quirky, midsummer adventures, this book is not afraid to deal with the stark and empty season that comes once a year.

It is raining steadily upon the tall dark trees. Drawn by the memory of happy summers, disparate characters arrive at the Moomin family home to find companionship and comfort this November. But the Moomins are nowhere to be found, and their house resounds with the emptiness and loss of that warm, congenial family. Instead of what each ailing character hoped to find, the Moomins, they find each other:

Shy Toft, the anxious and obsessive-compulsive Fillyjonk, depressed Hemeulen whose greatest joy is to order and organize people, Snufkin the vagrant, Grandpa-Grumble (whose name says it all), and the tiny and scornful Mymble.

Their oddities – Toft’s reclusiveness, Fillyjonk’s relentless cleaning and fretting – rub up against each other, and each wishes for sole possession of the house and its memories. Instead, the new housemates learn what it is like to live in a community with those you wouldn’t choose to live with, how to be kind, how to fight, how to concede. On the back of the back of the book, a review sums it up: “Although none of the six is a sociable creature, they more or less put up with each other, and, perhaps recalling the warmth of the family, they eventually learn how pleasant communal life can be.”

The novel is not didactic. Jansson’s writing is, as always, careful and fluid. I never know what the characters will think, do, or say next.

We are now about to enter into the season of Advent, the time of preparation, of hope despite the darkness, of the struggle for warmth despite the cold. I hope you keep warm.

Comments

Anonymous said…
Thank you for the kind reminder of where warmth is to be found this time of year! Tis a bit nippier this year than most.

As for Japan and the love of the seasons, my own experiences hold this out vis-a-vis the lack of central heating in most of the homes I lived in. There is nothing quite like waking up, snuggled warmly under your douve and seeing your breath rise up into the bedroom. It is actually a very refreshing way to start your early morning enjoyment of snow freshly fallen while you slept.

Popular posts from this blog

Cassandra at the Wedding - Dorothy Baker

The perfect airplane read for a person en route to a wedding, this tautly written 1962 novel about a woman falling apart, coming home to her family’s ranch to derail her twin sister’s wedding. That’s the summary – but obviously it’s about so much more: about the nature of love and obsession, about identity and the self.

Cassandra Edwards, named for the doomed wailer at the gates of Troy, is a student at Berkley, an “Existentialist-Zen-Marxist, Freudian branch. Deviation, rather.” The reader is fully aware from the beginning that Cassandra feels antagonistically about the wedding – she anticipates duties of “tak[ing] over the bouquet while [Judith] received the ring, through the nose or on the finger, wherever she chose to receive it…” She purposefully gets the groom’s name wrong. She plans to stage a “last-minute rescue.”

The isolated family ranch the Edwards family as a self-sufficient unit – emotionally and intellectually. Her alcoholic father, a retired skeptical philosopher who act…

Blast-beruffled plumes

I’ve returned to Minnesota to find it transformed into a Brueghel painting.



Our hunters are gone north or even south, wherever there are more deer. This has been a bad year for deer, threatened by the cold of last year’s polar vortex and the high population of coyotes, which now carry a bounty on their heads.

So, while it’s still autumn in England (I’ve been assured), winter has come. The nights are long, the wreaths are out. I’ve been reading restlessly – Robert Walser and GB Shaw. But some nights, Thomas Hardy feels just right for November melancholia. Here’s ‘A Darkling Thrush’:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
Th…