Re-read: The Exploits of Moominpappa by Tove Jansson

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The Exploits of Moominpappa, aka Moominpappa’s Memoirs is the fourth book in the Moomin series by Tove Jansson.

In this book, we find out about Moominpappa’s background and past. He is writing a memoir and he reads from it to his son Moomintroll, and Moomintroll’s friends Snufkin and Sniff.

As it turns out, Moominpappa’s early days were spent with Snufkin and Sniff’s fathers — the Joxter and the Muddler from whom, we see, many traits have been inherited by their offspring.

Moominpappa’s origins are quite romantic as he was left, wrapped in newspaper, at an orphanage run by a Hemulen. One day, having had enough of his colourless existence in the orphanage, and the Hemulen’s strict ways, he runs away.

Pretty soon, he finds he has a natural gift for building houses and he constructs his first Moomin house. He then meets the mechanical genius Hodgkins, who introduces him to the Muddler who loves acquiring things.

Hodgkins builds a boat and combines it with the Moomin house to create a vessel called The Oshun Oxtra. He, Moominpappa and the Muddler move in, and are soon joined by the unconventional, contrary Joxter.

Edward
Edward the Booble

When it comes to launching the houseboat, they enlist (dishonestly) the help of Edward the Booble, a terrible and dangerous monster who often unintentionally treads on and kills his victims — he always pays for the funeral, and mourns for a week.

Edward is very cross at being tricked into launching the houseboat into the river, but Moominpappa and his friends escape in time and are soon having adventures and meeting all sorts of strange creatures, including the Niblings, and another hemulen, whom Moominpappa rescues from the Groke.

The friends eventually sail to a faraway island where they meet the Mymble and her many children, the smallest of whom is Little My. The Mymble eventually has another child, with the Joxter, and that is Snufkin. It is also on this island that the Muddler meets and marries the Fuzzy, with whom he has a son: Sniff.

But first, the King of the island throws a magnificent 100th birthday party for himself and then hires Hodgkins as his Royal Inventor.

The kGhost
The Ghost, trying to scare [from left] the Joxter, Moominpappa, Hodgkins, the Muddler, and the Mymble’s daughter (not to be confused with Little My).
The Ghost, attempting to scare (from left) the Joxter, Moominpappa, Hodgkins, the Muddler, and the Mymble’s daughter.

 

The friends settle on a neighbouring island and meet a ghost who is determined to scare them, but becomes their friend in the end.

Hodgkins builds The Amphibian, and they explore the depths of the sea where they meet a giant fish. They are almost done for, but Edward the Booble appears in the nick of time (he’s been searching for them ever since they tricked him) and steps on the fish, saving the Amphibian and its passengers.

Finally, Moominpappa rescues Moominmamma who is swept to shore when the boat she is on capsizes in a storm.

Moominpappa’s memoirs end at this point, and as he finishes reading his manuscript, a knock on the door announces the arrival of his old friends Hodgkins, the Joxter and the Muddler, plus the Ghost and the Fuzzy too. It’s quite a reunion, especially as until then Snufkin and Sniff had never met their families.

Chronologically, the events described in Exploits are set prior to those described in The Moomins and the Great Flood, which is a prequel to the main series. In Great Flood, Moominpappa seems to have gone sailing off with the Hattifatteners. When Pappa is reading his memoirs to his son in Exploits, Moomintroll mentions this voyage with the Hattifatteners more than once — there is frequent suggestions that the Hattifatteners are ‘wicked’, with Moomintroll remarking that his father had shared in their ‘wicked life’ and Sniff asking ‘Did you lead a wicked life with them?’

The Hattifatteners’ ‘wickedness’ is explored in the short story The Secret of the Hattifatteners from Tales from Moominvalley (6th book). The short story details the mysterious voyage Moominpappa takes with the Hattifatteners. Was this his midlife crisis? Perhaps, but Moominpappa has always been restless, always yearning for adventure and change, while his wife and child prefer a quiet, predictable life.

We see signs of Moominpappa’s true nature in all the books, but it is described in detail in Exploits, Moominpappa at Sea (7th book) and the aforementioned short story.

I am reminded of Pa Ingalls’ wanderlust in Laura Ingall Wilder’s Little House  books. In which other children’s books do we encounter descriptions of a character’s struggle against responsible adulthood?

Is Moominpappa actually happier with his friends aboard the Oshun Oxtra than he is in his Moomin house with Moominmamma and his son? I wonder if the way he is torn between the two different kinds of lives reflects Tove Jansson’s own existence as a lesbian who had once considered leading a more conventional life – she was briefly engaged to Finnish left-wing journalist Atos Wirtanen.

Was there also a struggle between Jansson’s artistic inclinations and her popularity as a children’s book author, and did this also inform her portrayal of Moominpappa trying to reconcile his thirst for adventure with staid domesticity?

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