The first Moomin book was published 75 years ago

23 Apr 2020

The first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, published in 1945, was no imminent success, and few guessed that the peculiar characters featured in the story would one day be loved by millions of readers all over the world. The publisher thought Moomintroll was such a strange word that it had to be changed into “small trolls” in the title in order not to put potential readers off. 

When the story finally got translated into English in 2005, the title included the word Moomins, just like Tove originally wanted. In Finland, the first Moomin story went largely unnoticed and sold only 219 copies during its first year. 

 

 

The Moomins and the Great Flood was published in Tove Jansson’s native language Swedish right after the end of World War II, which had struck her home country Finland hard. Jansson started to create the story about the friendly and tolerant Moomins as a way to entertain herself and escape the grim reality of the war, something that can be seen in many of the themes in the book. 

“There’s homelessness, and a threat of annihilation. The catastrophe, the great flood, and the refugees show how the war influenced her. But then there is a happy ending – it’s a children’s book after all”, says professor Boel Westin, one of the most prominent experts on the Moomins and Tove Jansson, whom she’s written a biography about.

Jansson wrote in her diary that she dreamt of creating a happy society – something else than the depressing and scary reality of the war. 

“And perhaps you can say that the Moomin world is a realisation of this dream”, says Westin. 

“It’s a story written in fairytale mode, and it has lots of references to children’s classics, very obvious references. She hasn’t really developed her literary language yet, but at the same time it’s a charming story” says Westin.  

“When you know there are more books to come you can read this and have keys to events that will follow later. So it’s quite an important book, although it’s not the best Moomin book. But I think it’s sort of the foundation for the Moomin world.”

At the outset of the story, Moomintroll and his mother are looking for a new place to live while searching for Moominpappa, who is missing. During the adventure they stumble upon different characters and creatures who either help them or are in need of help themselves. The Moomin family takes on these new acquaintances with open arms. 

“In the beginning, there’s only a mother and her son. Then they meet a small animal, Sniff, who becomes a part of the family. It’s typical for the Moomin family; family is a very flexible concept to them,” says Boel Westin, implying that the idea of an extended family might be one of the most important themes present in the book. 

“In later Moomin books, when discussing guests who want to move in, the solution is simply to build new beds and expand the dining table. I think that is a very Moominous concept.” 

The first Moomin story teaches the reader quite a few details about the Moomins and their way of life, for example why they like to live in high, round houses. This is also the story about how they find Moominvalley, which is described at the very end of the book in the following way: 

“At last they came to a small valley that was more beautiful than any they had seen that day. And there, in the midst of the meadow, stood a house that almost looked like a stove, very elegant and painted blue.”