Most people are aware of the Moomins; those little illustrated characters resembling something like white hippos. Found on everything from mugs to umbrellas, they're so charmingly drawn that people love them without knowing their Snufkins from their Snorkmaidens. Yet the original books by the wonderful Tove Jansson, inspired by the Scandinavian wilderness and folk tales, are stories of family and adventure which deal with unusually adult themes so beautifully, that there's nothing else quite like them in children’s literature.
The wise words of Tove, as said by her array of fantastical creations, are so full of universal human truths that stories written over 50 years ago can seem rather prescient today. We’ve picked out a few Moominnuggets of wisdom that might just help you get through these post-modern, digital times a little easier.
Search for experiences not Instagram followers
The Hattifatteners look like ghosts in tube socks that always travel in large groups, sailing from one island to the next. But when they reach their destination, they have little time for the actual island, leaving almost as soon as they have arrived. In the first book, The Moomins & The Great Flood, it says that “the Hattifatteners sat staring indifferently at the horizon. They did not care about anything except travelling from one strange place to the other.”
Can the Hattifatteners be read as an allegorical warning for the Instagram generation? For anyone who only goes on holiday or to the latest buzz-worthy restaurant to grab some ‘gram worthy photos rather than to actually enjoy the experience? Their “round, colourless eyes” made vacant by Snapchat-filter selfie indulgence? Their singular focus making them unmoved by the needs of others? When Moominmamma tries to enlist their help to find Moominpappa, they are completely unresponsive. As it says in Tales From Moominvalley, “a hattifattener cared for nothing but himself.”
It all seems clear enough to us then. But if any more warning was needed, it’s also mentioned that the Hattifatteners “are very stupid.” So if you feel like you could perhaps concentrate a little more when you meet your friends in the latest buzzworthy coffee spot, pull your phone away from that beetroot latte, look up, and enjoy the conversation.
Attempting to drastically change your appearance to look like people you think are more attractive than you can seriously backfire
In Finn Family Moomintroll, a once terrifying but then friendly Hobgoblin grants everyone one wish to prove how good his magic skills are, much to everyone’s delight. (No-one likes a show off — unless they’re dishing out dream gifts.) The Snorkmaiden (looks like a Moomin to the uninitiated but in fact isn't) has seen how adoringly Moomintroll (the main Moomin) has looked at a ship’s female figurehead they found and whispers her wish to the Hobgoblin.
The next moment a cry of surprise went up from the crowd. The Snorkmaiden was unrecognisable.
‘What have you done to yourself?’ said Moomintroll, frantically.
‘I wished for eyes like the Wooden Queen,’ said the Snorkmaiden. ‘You thought she was beautiful, didn’t you?’
‘Yes — b-but …’ said Moomintroll, unhappily.
‘Don’t you think my new eyes are beautiful?’ said the Snorkmaiden, and started to cry… ‘Please wish my little old eyes back again! I look so awful!’
Now were you to have extensive and costly plastic surgery to change the shape of your eyes then you would probably think a bit longer than the poor Snorkmaiden. But just keep in mind that out there, IRL, there’s no Hobgoblin to wish back your original peepers if results are not quite what you expect. And that those close to you may be more fond of your “little old eyes” than you realise.
Your mum will always know the real you (so don’t forget to call her)
Earlier in the same book, Moomintroll hides in the Hobgoblin’s hat — unaware of its magic potential — and when he clambers out, he has transformed into a spindly, long-eared, ugly little creature. None of his friends recognise him and dismiss his claims of being Moomintroll. But Moominmamma knows it’s him.
She looked into his frightened eyes for a very long time, and then she said quietly: ‘Yes, you are my Moomintroll.’
And at the same moment he began to change. His ears, eyes, and tail began to shrink, and his nose and tummy grew, until at last he was his old-self again.
‘It’s all right now, my dear,’ said Moominmamma. ‘You see, I shall always know you whatever happens.’
So if your friends discard you after your 'new you' reinvention goes amiss, your mum will always recognise the true you. So remember to call her more often.
Sometimes it’s alright to stay in bed
First we’re being told that we need to sleep less, work more. Then we’re told that a good eight to nine hours a night and an afternoon snooze on the office sofa is good for productivity. Whatever are we to think? Whatever the Moomins tell us, of course! And in Finn Family Moomintroll, Tove writes, “all Moomintrolls go to sleep about November. This is a good idea, too, if you don’t like the cold and the long winter darkness.”
We agree. Though your boss might not appreciate your “well, Moomintroll hibernates” excuse when you turn up at the office for the first time in five months and find the irritating intern now smugly sitting at your desk.
There’s nothing like a party to help you forget your worries
When you're anxious about what the future might bring, there's no remedy quite like coming together for a big ol' knees-up.
The Snork danced with an elderly and respectable inhabitant of the marshes, who had sea-weed in her hair, and Sniff twirled round with the smallest of the small creatures. Even the midges danced, and every possible kind of creeping thing came out of the forest to have a look.
And nobody gave a thought to the comet that was rushing towards them, lighting up the black night with its fierce glow.
Save on rent by having anyone who visits your house to stay indefinitely
Throughout the books, anyone who visits Moominhouse stays. They just move in. It’s like the dinner party that really never ends. It’s never quite explained where everyone sleeps and how fierce the morning fight for the bathroom gets but it seems like a great way to save on rent. Just get anyone who visits your house, from the guy who comes to read the gas meter to your Deliveroo driver, to pull up a camp bed and throw some coins into the milk kitty!
Think of Snufkin when your holiday buys won’t fit in your bag and you’ve only booked hand luggage
‘That’s how it is once you start wanting to have things. Now I just look at them, and when I go away I carry them in my head. Then my hands are always free, because I don't have to carry a suitcase.’
You’ll never be able to choose what to watch on Netflix (or who to stick with on Tinder)
When the Snorkmaiden wants a dress and then comes across a theatre wardrobe full of thousands of them, her initial happiness turns to sadness.
“I looked and looked and tried on one after the other and felt sadder and sadder… They were far too many don’t you see. I couldn’t ever have had them all or even choose the prettiest. They nearly made me afraid! If there’d been only two instead!”
Just like the paradox of choice of our digital lives. Forever swiping right because the next track/article/photo/film/tinder date might be better than the current one. Sometimes too much choice means we’ll never make one and perhaps sometimes, the best option is learning to enjoy what we have.