During winter, Moominvalley displays completely new sides, the bathing hut is inhabited by foreign creatures, and Moomintroll acquaints himself with a whole new world. Although Tove Jansson wasn’t distinctively a winter person, she describes the cold season as beautifully as always when depicting nature. Here are some alluring quotes from Moominland Midwinter.
One grey morning the first snow began to fall in Moomin Valley. It fell softly and quietly, and in a few hours everything was white. Moomintroll stood on his doorstep and watched the valley nestle beneath its winter blanket. “Tonight,” he thought, “we shall settle down for our long winter’s sleep.” (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.) Shutting the door behind him, Moomintroll stole in to his mother and said: “The snow has come!” – Finn Family Moomintroll (1948)
Moomins hibernate through winters, but in some of Tove Jansson‘s stories, they unexpectedly wake up and get to experience the season. In the short story, The Fir tree (from Tales from Moominvalley, 1962), the whole Moomin family wakes up to a Christmas commotion, not even knowing what Christmas is, and in Moominland Midwinter (1957), Moomintroll wakes up alone and learns about snow and other magical things.
Winter through Moomintroll’s eyes
Here are some wonderful quotes from Moominland Midwinter depicting the snowy season in Moomintroll’s eyes.
One flake after the other landed on his warm snout and melted away. He caught several in his paw to admire them for a fleeting moment, he looked towards the sky and saw them sinking down straight at him, more and more, softer and lighter than bird’s down. “Oh, it’s like this,” thought Moomintroll. “I believed it simply formed on the ground somehow.”
At first, Moomintroll is, mildly put, sceptical towards all the fluffy whiteness, but as time progresses, he learns to appreciate snow.
“So that’s winter too!” he thought. “You can even like it!”
There was nothing in sight except falling snow, and Moomintroll was caught by the same kind of excitement he used to feel at times when he was wading out for a swim. He threw off his bath-gown, and himself headlong in to a snowdrift. “So that’s winter too!” he thought. “You can even like it!”
When Moomintroll makes his way down to the sea and the family’s bathing hut, he discovers it to be inhabited by creatures he’s never seen during summers, and the whole sea looks odd.
They came down to the shore. The sea was one single, vast darkness. They walked cautiously out on the narrow landing-stage that led to the Moomin family’s bathing-house. “I used to dive from here,” Moomintroll whispered very softly and looked at the yellowed and broken reeds that stuck out of the ice. “The sea was so warm, and I swam nine strokes under water.”
Not only does the sea look different during the winter, it sounds different too:
The wind had gone to sleep, and the dead reeds sprouted stiff and immobile from the ice by the shore. He listened, and he thought that he could hear a very low, deep and softly humming tone in the silence itself. Perhaps it came from the ice that was freezing itself deeper and deeper down in the sea.
The comforting and down-to-earth Too-ticky becomes Moomintroll’s patient guide through the foreign, white world.
“There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring.”
“Well, it’s like this,” she said. “There are such a lot of things that have no place in summer and autumn and spring. Everything that’s a little shy and a little rum. Some kinds of night animals and people that don’t fit in with others and that nobody really believes in. They keep out of the way all the year. And then when everything’s quiet and white and the nights are long and most people are asleep – then they appear.”
The inspiration for Too-ticky stems from Tove Jansson’s own life: her life partner and graphical artist, Tuulikki Pietilä. Tove Jansson has said that Moominland Midwinter is a metaphor for the foreign world that opened up to her, as the Moomins gained more fame and she found herself having to learn about the business side of things.
On that journey, Tuulikki provided her invaluable support. Tove has said she was in the midst of a creative crisis, when writing Moominland Midwinter – one she would not have made it through, if it weren’t for the help of Tuulikki.
Unlike Moomintroll at first, Too-ticky doesn’t perceive the winter sea as appalling, but rather as a safe and trustworthy friend. Sometimes the frozen sea even acts in really clever ways, such as when providing nice spots for ice fishing.
“At those times she could easily climb down through a hole by the landing-stage and seat herself on a boulder to fish.”
Too-ticky was sitting under the ice with her fishing rod. She liked the sea’s habit of sinking a bit now and then. At those times she could easily climb down through a hole by the landing-stage and seat herself on a boulder to fish. Then one had a nice green ceiling of ice overhead, and the sea at one’s feet. A black floor and a green ceiling, both stretching away into the darkness.
A slumbering sea and a raging storm
When Tove Jansson writes about the sea, it often turns out almost its own character, like this winter blizzard making its way across the ice.
“But no thunder came, and no lightning either. Instead a small whirl of snow rose from the white cap of one of the boulders by the shore.”
“It was as if a light curtain had been drawn away, and there was a clear view again over the ice. Far out a dark-blue wall of clouds was still hiding the place where the sun had set. Moomintroll watched the new and threatening weather rolling nearer. The sky darkened suddenly again. Moomintroll who had never seen a blizzard expected a thunderstorm and braced himself against the first claps of thunder that he thought would soon ring out. But no thunder came, and no lightning either. Instead a small whirl of snow rose from the white cap of one of the boulders by the shore.
Worried gusts of wind were rushing to and fro over the ice and whispering in the wood by the shore. The dark-blue wall rose higher, and the gusts became stronger. Suddenly it was as if a great door had blown wide open, the darkness yawned, and everything was filled with wet, flying snow. This time it didn’t come from above, it darted along the ground. It was howling and shoving like a living thing.”
“The sea lay asleep under the ice.”
“The sea lay asleep under the ice, and deep down among the roots of the earth all small beasts were sleeping and dreaming of spring. But spring was quite a bit away because the year had only just got a little past New Year.”
The first blog of a two-part series, this blog explores how the Moomin books comfort us in times of crises, decades after their creation.
Listen to Sophia Jansson reading “The Fir Tree”, Tove Jansson’s iconic Christmas story from Tales from Moominvalley (1962).
This adorable illustration made for Stockmann’s Christmas advert is an exception for Tove Jansson, who was generally critical about commercialising Christmas.