Tales Contented
  1. The Spring Tune
  2. A Tale of Horror
  3. The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters
  4. The Last Dragon in the World
  5. The Hemulen Who Loved Silence
  6. The Invisible Child
  7. The Secret of the Hattifatteners
  8. Cedric
  9. The Fir Tree

Published in Swedish in 1962, Tales from Moominvalley, the sixth book in Finnish author Tove Jansson's wonderful Moomin series deviates slightly from the formula of the other books, by presenting nine short Moominland stories that are wonderful reading for children and are also entertaining, well-written, interesting, and deep enough to be read by adults.

Peopled by old Moominland friends like Moomin, Snufkin, Too-ticky, Little My, Moominpappa, and, of course, Moominmamma, and by some new characters: the next-to-youngest Whomper, Teety-woo the Creep, and Ninny, the Invisible Child. The stories are essentially moral fables, though Jansson is a good enough writer to handle her moralizing in a refreshingly subtle fashion.

In "The Spring Tune", which gives us a glimpse into Snufkin's solitary life, Snufkin at first reacts coldly to the admiration of a shy wood creature called a Creep, but eventually feels sorry for acting so rudely. He also gives the little Creep a name, Teety-woo, inspiring the creature to embark on a life of its own.

"A Tale of Horror" gives a warning against lying by telling of the next-to-youngest Whomper, who, as children are, is prone to imagining. His gothic fantasies are as real as anything else while they last, and when he sincerely tells his parents that his little brother has been eaten up by mud-snakes (though little brother is still sitting out in the garden eating dirt) his parents punish him for lying. The lesson doesn't sink in, however, until he meets a creature after his own devious heart, Little My, who frightens him with her own dark imaginings of "live fungi." The Whomper learns not to mess with people's heads.

"The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters" explores themes approaching existential angst, an unorthodox topic for a children's book, and communicates a neat anti-materialistic message as the disaster the Fillyjonk has been fearing destroys her uncomfortable and unfriendly house, laden with junk and knickknacks, leaving her freer and happier.

In "The Last Dragon in the World," Moomin discovers a dragon by the pond, capturing the uncharacteristically diminuitive creature in a jar (with holes poked in the top, of course). Dreaming of having a new pet and companion, he is disappointed when the dragon likes Snufkin better. Moomin becomes jealous, putting a strain on his friendship with Snufkin until Snufkin gives the dragon away. Jansson delicately handles the topic of jealousy and sacrifice for friendship.

"The Hemulen Who Loved Silence" tells of a Hemulen, who, once upon a time, worked at an amusement park and hated it. He becomes "afraid of noisy people." When the park floods and is destroyed his relatives decide to make a ice skating rink instead, again planning to have him do the boring job of ticket punching. When he stands up for himself and refuses, the Hemulen's relatives, rather generously, allow him to quit working at the park and to inherit his grandmother's overgrown gardens. He at first enjoys the silence and solitude, but the children who live near the amusement park are devastated by it destruction. They pile everything they can salvage outside the gardens and the Hemulen eventually breaks down and begins to assemble everything, as best he can, in the garden. At the end he comes to love having the children playing in his garden.

"The Invisible Child" is about Ninny, a girl who has become thoroughly invisible because of ill-treatment by a lady who used to care for her. Too-ticky brings Ninny to the Moomin family so that they can make her visible again by being nice to her. Ninny becomes very attached to Moominmamma, but doesn't become completely visible until she pushes Moominpappa in the sea because she thought he was going to push in Moominmamma.

"The Secret of the Hattifatteners" is a Moominpappa centered tale, telling of how he set to sea with the mysterious Hattifatteners, electrical beings who "live a wicked life." Moominpappa longs for the mysterious, adventuresome, and free life of the Hattifatteners, but eventually discovers that their life is not as nice as he had thought. The Hattifatteners are driven by a longing for great electrical storms, which they endlessly seek. Moominpappa realizes that his quiet home life is much nicer than the life of the Hattifatteners.

In "Cedric," Moomin's friend Sniff has given away his favorite stuffed toy dog, Cedric, who had amethyst eyes and a moonstone in his collar. "It was Moomintroll's fault. He told me that if one gives something away that one really likes, then one will get it back ten times over and feel wonderful afterwards. He tricked me into it." Trying to make Sniff see the point of what Moomin had said, Snufkin tells him about an (possibly fictional) aunt of his, who had everything she wanted, all kinds of beautiful things. One day, she gets a bone stuck in her throat and the doctor tells her she will die soon. Regretting that she never go to explore the Amazon or see a volcano, she begins to feel that all her belongings are suffocating her, so she gives them all away and begins to find happiness, and even laughs so hard one day that the bone in her throat comes out and she gets to go the Amazon anyway. Sniff is not impressed, seeing right into the rather obvious moral of the story, and doesn't get much comfort from it. Jansson adds an author's note, however, telling that Sniff later found Cedric in the rain, minus his amethysts and moonstone, and loved him again all the same.

The final tale, "The Fir Tree," tells of the Moomin family's first Christmas out of hibernation. Awakened by the hustle and bustle of the other creatures preparing for the holiday season, they don't understand what Christmas is supposed to be about. The agonized preparations of the others makes them think that the tree and presents are a sacrifice to some angry monster, but they discover the true meaning of Christmas anyway by giving their beautiful tree and presents away to a family of shy Woodsies who have never had their own tree- A wonderful secular depiction of what Christmas should be.

Illustrations

I had to also comment on the amazing illustrations by Tove Jansson. Sketches of characters and events are on most pages, and each story has at least one full-page black and white ink illustration, all of which are very striking. Jansson skillfull use shadow and lines creates images that range from demoniac to extremely beautiful and communicate the subtle melancholy and deep emotion that permeate all of her writing.

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