Moomin Magic at Moominworld
“The Joxter lived all over the place, sometimes in an apple tree and other times in a tent. He had songs, apples and the freedom to sleep in every morning. And no one told him he should take care of this and that; instead he just let things take care of themselves. ‘You have to let things be. Apples grow and flowers bloom and sometimes a new Joxter is born to eat and smell them. And the sun shines on everyone.’” –Torv Jansson.
I can associate with Torv Janssen’s Joxter. In the last few weeks I’ve enjoyed living all over the place, letting things take care of themselves. And I’ve eaten my fair share of apples. But unlike Stuart, Matthew and Cameron, I didn’t instantly connect with Moominworld.
It’s not my fault
I blame my parents. While Stuart spent his early childhood swotting up on Finland’s imaginary Moomin Valley and its’ strange inhabitants, I’d been absorbed in the more English fictional worlds of The Faraway Tree and Alice in Wonderland. Until last year I had never even heard of the bizarre fat white trolls who live in a lighthouse in a land that remains in darkness and covered in ice for almost half the year.
But now I couldn’t miss them. They were everywhere; graceful Moominpappa in his top hat, politely greeting visitors outside his home. Big Moominmama, swanning around in her striped apron and always with her shiny black handbag. And the playful Moomin, silently giggling at a very human Little My, who was rushing around in a stiff red dress, and black boots, like a demented Bjork.
“It is time for celebration on flying machine that Snork invent. Want to come make celebrate our birthday?” she yelled, before shouting the same thing in three other languages.
Behind her hopped a kangaroo carrying a coloured cotton parachute, and Moominpappa, who bowed and shook each of our hands as if he had some inkling we had cycled 1,600 kilometres to see him. Hannah hid behind my back.
“Do I have to hold their Moomin hand?” she cried.
The pinnacle of the trip?
Our visit to Naantali in Finland was always billed to the kids as the pinnacle of our trip, and it started well. Naantali is quirky and cute; a series of pastel coloured wooden houses set on a bay bobbing about with smart yachts, lined by pretty harbour-side restaurants catering for the tourist rush in the summer, all connected by the obligatory little train tootling around the town on an hourly basis.
And so to charming Moominworld
We had a good nights sleep in a quiet forested campsite, and woke early to get a head start on our planned activity; a visit to the theme park of Moominworld. Moominworld lies on its own little island, connected to the mainland by a floating wooden bridge and is celebrating sixty five years of Torv Janssen’s fictional creation in 2010. We sang happy birthday to the Moomins as we strolled in; the sun beating down on our shoulders.
We’ve been to Disneyland, in the States and in Paris. And we expected it to be a kind of Disneyland. But this was nothing like Mickey’s world of swooping rides and rollercoasters. There were no rides at all. There were no world famous attractions or technological wonders. In fact there was nothing to do except wander around Moomin houses and meet Moomin characters. As an attraction, it wasn’t very different from the other Finnish museums we had visited. Many Finnish museums are simple wooden buildings, filled with agricultural or domestic implements from the past.
A world of Moomins
The Moomin buildings were similarly traditional yet with a childlike twist. The Moomin family home a blue wooden lighthouse that seemed to rise up forever, filled with tiny beds and brightly coloured kitchen and living spaces. There were Moomin family portraits on the walls and wardrobes filled with Moomin accessories. Furtively Stuart and I tried on a Moominpappa top hat. I wandered up the winding stairs, checked out the playroom at the top and the cellars at the bottom filled with pickled vegetables in jars, and realised I’d like to live in a Moomin lighthouse. It was nicer than our own home.
Come play with Stinky
Then Little My was upon us again, her eyebrows pointing into the heavens, commanding us with her shrill Finnish accent, “Play with me. We together play games of ‘Follow Stinky’ and ‘Little My says.’ Come. You. Stop hiding behind your Mamma’s back. ”
“Follow Stinky?” said Hannah, peeping out from under my trousers, her nose wrinkled in curiosity. Suddenly a brown fluffy creature with clawed feet, cross eyes and little antennae snuck around the back of the Moominhouse. A policeman chased after him. The creature, apparently called Stinky, tried to steal Hannah’s glasses. This didn’t exactly endear him to her. With a huge fuss, the creature was caught, handcuffed and marched away. We followed him to the jail, where he was put inside.
“Will he stay in there now for ever?” asked Hannah fearfully.
A trail of Moomin stories
We followed a new trail, reading Moominpappa’s memoirs. They led to a boat, where Too-ticky taught the kids to make friendship bracelets. We then picked up a trail to the fairytale forest, to catch a glimpse of The Groke and the Hattifattners. The path meandered around the forested island, with Torv Jansson’s text displayed on whiteboards at every stopping point. Now I began to understand what Moominworld is about.
It’s about celebrating and keeping alive this woman’s extraordinary imagination, her eloquence, and her unique stories that have worked their magic on adults and children for the last 65 years. It’s about the indistinguishable links between humans and nature that you can’t fail to appreciate while reading this text as the wind catches your hair and the Edvard the Booble dragon catches your eye down in the bay. It’s about the simplicity of life here, not just in Naantali but in Finland, home to just five million people. It’s about the sun touching the water and about the ice touching the earth. And it’s about creating a mystical magical world for children with just a few well placed texts, a handful of silent trolls and some simple wooden buildings.
Like Hattifatteners in the whispering forest
We pressed on, towards the whispering trees and The Groke in her ice cave, and then came face to face with Torv Jansson’s Hattifattners. The Hattifatners are ghost like creatures who wander around staring out into the distance with their eyes focussed only on the distance. For Torv Janssen they apparently represented foreigners, neither able to talk nor hear but with an acute sense of feeling; in other words people like us for most of this trip. But I didn’t feel like a Hattifattner. Right at this moment I identified with the Moomin family. Living our current lifestyle, we are like these happy trolls; a chaotic jumble of personalities living the simple life, eating basic food, filling our days wandering around, swimming in the sea and exploring.
Witches, handbags and flying contraptions
But there was no more time to reflect on this. We were now in a witch’s cavern and Stuart was being invited to eat a meal of snakes. Just as he was tucking in, Stinky appeared with a policeman at his heels. He grabbed the spoon from Stuart and then tried to steal the cauldron. Hannah was back behind my legs in an instant. Then Little My appeared, with her red frock and Spock like eyebrows.
“Who is coming to Snork’s flying contraption to play my sneaking up game? You? Have you got brave all of a sudden?” she said, ducking behind my legs to put her face into Hannah’s, sending our four year old into a fresh panic. In all the commotion Moominmamma came to say hello, shaking all of our hands without ever letting go of her handbag.
Are we like the Moomins?
“Actually I think you are like Moominmamma,” said Cameron, giving me a hug as we walked to the theatre.
“I don’t,” said Matthew. “I think she’s The Groke. Check this out.”
He pointed to a textboard and read it out loud with a smile on his face, “The Groke’s not very big, nor does she even look dangerous. But everyone seems to think and feel that she’s very unpleasant. She stares with her big expressionless eyes and chills, just by being what she is.”
Everyone agreed that I was indeed The Groke, and then we set off to the Moomin cabaret, to sing songs about Moomintroll trying to cop off with Snorkmaiden, and celebrate Moominpappa pulling a Hattifattner out of his oversized top hat in a typical piece of Moomin magic.