Trollvinter (Moominland Midwinter)
When Tove Jansson wrote Moominsummer Madness, she was already developing her writing toward a more complex storytelling direction without outright abandoning the charm of her older novels. The book was still quite carefree on the whole despite showing signs of some more mature subjects popping out here and there, maintaining the warm feelings of the sun drenched summer's days of childhood innocence, and connecting itself directly to the ideology of its predecessors. But this was all to drastically change come the next book, which suddenly saw Jansson taking a complete turnaround from these sunny ruminations into something much more dark and introspective. Moominland Midwinter - published in 1957 - is a book that abandons the pastures of summer for the bleakness of winter by stranding the main character of Moomintroll in the middle of a strange and frightening environment he is ill-equipped to initially understand. With Moomintroll suddenly waking up from his hibernation and unable to get back to sleep, this novel sees the complete dropping off of the pretences of youthful adventure and moves the focus away from the actual adventures themselves as a characteristic point of departure in favour of squaring the sights straight on Moomintroll himself. If anything, Moominland Midwinter is much more the story of Moomintroll the character and his steady adapting into a world that he does not recognise as his own, than it is of children having fun in the simplistic playfields of youth.
And that is pretty much what this novel is about at its core. It is about Moomintroll and how he has to struggle in a world hostile and scary for him. Not accustomed to being awake during this time of year, not knowing of how differently everything works in the snow-filled vistas of a changed Moominvalley, and honestly not even knowing what snow is and where it comes from, it is all very frightening, frustrating and alienating at first. Nothing seems to be the way it was before. Cold snow covers every single mile around him; the sea is frozen over; the things he took for granted during summertime no longer apply; strange, unfamiliar creatures roam the land he never knew existed; and he can't even take comfort in his family, who are still unshakably lost in the deep slumber of the winter months. Even his best friend Snufkin is out travelling somewhere beyond the Lonely Mountains and not there to offer his knowledgeable support on things strange to Moomintroll. In short, it is the loneliest our main protagonist has ever been. Yet, he also quickly finds himself to not be quite as alone as he thought. In his desperate bid to find something else in this cold, dark place, Moomintroll stumbles upon Too-ticky, a young boy who keeps the small bathing room by the beach - which Moominpappa had built - as his winter residence. He shares these accommodations with eight invisible shrews, spends his time doing things Moomintroll doesn't quite understand the significance of, and who seems to know much about winter and how one needs to behave in this strange environment.
The developing relationship between Moomintroll and Too-ticky is one of the more interesting aspects of the novel. Too-ticky, in many ways, is very similar to Snufkin in his knowledge of the world, the intricacies of how it works, and shares his general view on not placing too much importance on material possession, but he also lacks the easily approachable warmth Snufkin usually imparts. Though Snufkin also is usually more aloof and of a quiet disposition, Too-ticky by comparison is much more indifferent in his showing of any warmer emotions. He is also considerably more philosophical in his view of the wintery world, aware of its inherent dangers, but also in tune with its hidden beauty and fantastic mysteries. In his own way he takes Moomintroll under his protection, but he doesn't give him any easy assurances of someone who'd hold his hand like a doting mother. Instead he lets Moomintroll experience his new surroundings with only gentle nudges toward some deeper understanding that he himself may not be all too aware of himself. Too-ticky's view on winter is thus much more representative of living in this hostile environment under its own terms instead of trying to shape it to suit his own wishes, something the summer months seem much more lenient on. And although Too-ticky's aloof philosophies causes increasing frustrations on Moomintroll in his struggles to understand the mysteries and dangers of winter, he also steadily comes to rely on him as a trustworthy comrade to keep him company at the very least and to subtly help him get over the initial shocks of his new life.
Thankfully, though, Moomintroll can also somewhat rely on an old friend in the form of Little My, who likewise wakes up during the winter and decides to have the time of her life amid the new adventuresome landscape she finds herself in. Unlike Moomintroll, Little My is completely unconcerned about her changed circumstances, and simply takes it all as something new and exciting. She is truly the polar opposite to the worrisome moomin, and simply does her best to have fun in the usual reckless way she normally lives her life. Thus she spends her time sledding down the slopes on Moominmamma's silver tray, or fashions a pair of skates for herself out of knives to glide along the frozen ocean. And when a travelling hemulen on skis happens to find his way to the Moominvalley, she is quick to adapt into fashioning skis for herself as well, skidding around the snowy hills in her makeshift boards, while Moomintroll faces utter failure time and time again when he attempts to do the same on the hemulen's skis. Jansson makes full use of the new landscape to bring out both its more frightening sides, but also its more playful and more mysterious ones. On one side we have things like the Ice Queen, whose presence is so cold that anybody caught looking into her eyes end up getting frozen to death, a fate a small absentminded squirrel experiences. Or when a small dog named Sorry-oo, another random winter's visitor, wishes over everything to live with his forebears, the wolves, he comes to also find out that it might be the biggest mistake of his sad life. But on the other we also have things like the snow horse Too-ticky builds that comes to life when the great freeze sweeps over the land in the night, and carries the dead squirrel away with it in a moment of solemnity. Or the great bonfire celebration set up by the winter's creatures as a ritual to invite the sun's return and the eventual advancement of Spring, a celebration which the Groke interrupts in his ageless search for warmth as he goes on to sit on the bonfire. Moomintroll even meets an ancestor of his, which he releases from the bathing room closet, and who then takes his silent residence behind the Moominhouse's tiled stove thereafter.
But for all its tonal differences to the previous Moominsummer Madness, Moominland Midwinter is still not a book that completely abandons the charms of the other novels. In very real essence, Moominland Midwinter continues the more refined storytelling idioms established in the previous novel and acts almost as a balancing companion piece to Madness' midsummer setting, being like two sides of the same coin. And for all of Moomintroll's fear and anger at coming to grips with something so completely different he never even knew existed, in the end he also comes to respect winter and its mysterious power. He still welcomes summer with open arms, but he does not fear the unknown unlike in the beginning and, for all its differences, he comes to realise that there is still plenty of life and wonder to be found in the coldness that can't be seen in the summer months that is both beautiful and admirable. The book, in the end, is much about understanding differences and accepting them as not necessarily evil, but simply as another side of life. And while the introspective strain may not bring the novel to such exalted heights as Moominsummer Madness did in either structural complexity or simple reading pleasure, it doesn't lag far off and acts as a fabulous transition to the more adult centred of the Moomin books that begin creeping about in the following Tales from Moominvalley until stepping fully outside of children's entertainment in Moominpappa at Sea. Moominland Midwinter is a book by an artist, who knows she's not young anymore, and to whom past childhood frivolities are starting to be things better relegated to nostalgic reminiscence, not something she can go back to again. It's a darker Moomin book, but also full of hope for it knows that the cycle of life continues and the sun will eventually return with all its warmth. And Moomintroll gets to be there to see it all, for the first time in his life. ****