Tom Holland (who is, I believe, the charming young man who currently plays Spiderman, unless there’s a lucky writer with the same name) tells the Guardian his favourite book as a kid was a Moomintroll one by Tove Jansen. We have had so very many of these books and stories come through the house. In fact, there is a basket of books by the toilet upstairs where I insist on ghettoizing the boys’ poops that still has Moomin books in it. They’re evergreen in terms of delight. When the 17 year old was a toddler he was scared shitless of the Hobgoblin though. It was traumatic. He wanted to read the book, but not those pages. Narrative sacrificed for comfort. Like a Dan Brown novel.
More than any other book I read as a child, Moominland Midwinter has kept company with me through my adulthood, perhaps because it serves as a study of what it means to leave childhood behind. If Moominmama is Jansson’s tribute to her much loved mother, Ham, then Too-ticky, the wise and cheerful creature who spends the winter camped out in the Moomins’ bathing-house, is her portrait of the artist Tuulikki Pietilä, with whom she had begun living shortly before embarking on Moominland Midwinter, and who would be her partner for life. Now, at the remove of decades, I can much better comprehend the dread I felt looking Moomintroll alone in his house, and the pleasure that I took in his friendship with Too-ticky, since I can recognise in them a prefiguring of the adventure of my own life: of what it means to go out into the world, to leave childhood behind, to discover new love.
Recently I have come to see Moominland Midwinter in another more disturbing light. Ever since the lockdown began, it has been haunting me as perhaps the ultimate fictional mirror held up to our current experience of pandemic. That may seem a startling claim to make, yet nothing in Defoe or Camus evokes quite so brilliantly the sheer strangeness of what we are currently going through. “I abandoned the Moomin family’s terribly hackneyed summer veranda,” Jansson wrote in 2000, “and stopped writing about what was deeply loved and guaranteed to continue the same and tried to write a book about how hellish things can be.”