In the books, Moomintroll and his family float down multiple rivers (once in a theater adrift in a flood), discover caves, ride clouds, live in a lighthouse, go skiing, dive for pearls, walk on stilts, escape from the Groke and generally cavort through a surprising world. It's fast paced, but somehow mournful too - the inhabitants of these stories are touchingly thoughtful creatures.
It's been years since I first read Jansson's books, and - to tell the truth - I'd pretty much forgotten about them. Actually, more than forgetting them, I'd stashed them away in the peculiar cupboards of memory reserved for strange books. Moomins (like E. Nesbit's It) don't coincide well with humdrum, everyday life. It's hard to think of them as something other than a feeling, and that feeling isn't easily categorized. I'd remembered the word "Moomin," what they looked like, something of their strange aura, but very little of the specifics.
Later, I saw an english language version of "Comet in Moominland" in a bookstore in Helsinki and bought it. Re-reading it was more fun than I could have expected. The words were familiar too - turns out, they hadn't been forgotten at all.
*"Sudden" and "suddenly" are Jansson's favorite words, as in "suddenly, he tripped over the silk monkey's tail and opened his eyes."
Thankfully, a lot of this craze (known in Finland as the "Muumibuumi," or Moominboom) skipped America. While a syndicated television show ran in dozens of countries and feature-length films were made, we American readers were spared the schmaltz.
If someone came to Finland right now with no prior knowledge of Jansson's work, they would probably guess that the white creatures were some kind of advertising gimmick - like a Finnish Hello Kitty or Tony the Tiger. Sadly, Moomins have become so entrenched in the country's psyche that they can seem like nothing more than a collection of images - they remind me (and it's not just the big noses) of Snoopy, who has become a de-voiced, instant-recognition blob on greeting cards. Maybe if I were Finnish...
Finland is a funny place, stuck in between proper Scandinavia and Russia, with a language all its own and a sense of humor that matches its dark winters. Something about the Moomintrolls gets at that identity in a way that must resonate with them. Venturing a guess: the books are about freewheeling, boundaryless escapades - the characters are endearingly wary of the outside world, but also throw themselves into the adventures head and tail. For hemmed-in, cold-weary Finns, the sense of freedom these books gives must be appealing. So anti-depressive. Really, just so fun!