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Literature: The Moomins

First created as a series of Swedish-language children's books by Swedish-Finnish author Tove Jansson, Moomin is a well-loved franchise starring the hippo-like Moomins, who live in Moominvalley and have adventures with their friends. The cast of characters is varied, ranging from childlike humanoids to creatures from all over the world. The books themselves are surreal, often scary, somewhat philosophical, and very interactive. Following the success of the books, the franchise was extended into a comic strip, a BBC puppet show, an animated series, an anime (produced and highly popular in Japan), an animated film (Moomins on the Riviera) and a few as-yet untranslated movies.

Moomintroll, the youthful main character, is the son of Moominmamma and Moominpappa. His friends include Sniff (a mouse-like Kangaroo), Snufkin (a carefree and wise wanderer), the Snork Maiden (Moomintroll's egotistical love interest), her brother the Snork (who became a bumbling genius in the cartoon to make up for his complete lack of personality), Little My (the bratty and practical half-sister of Snufkin), the Mymble (her older sister) and a cast of thousands composed of Fillyjonks, Hemulens, Park Keepers, Tofts, Hattifatteners and one big ol' Groke — the monstrous personification of winter depression.

The first few books were surreal, charming adventure stories for kids, which gradually became darker and more adult. The change culminated in the final book in which Snufkin, Mymble, Toft, Grandpa Grumble and the Fillyjonk hang around at the Moominhouse waiting for the absent Moomins (whom Moominpappa has whisked off to live in a lighthouse due to a sudden mid-life crisis). The change in genre accounts for the large cult fanbase. Today, the series is still huge in both Finland and Japan, and the franchise is still very much alive.

This show provided examples of:

  • Accessory-Wearing Cartoon Animal: Moominpappa and Moominmamma, with their respective top hat and apron.
  • Action Girl: Little My, especially in the books.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The first season of the 90's series combined selected contents from both Tove's novels and her comics into a single episodic narrative while merging characters and events, simplifying and streamlining The Verse and adding some original contents into the mix. The result is something of a more consistent middle ground between the mood of the comic and the various moods of the novels.
  • All Trolls Are Different: As Moomins are apparently meant to be trolls, despite looking like adorable chubby plush toys.
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: The English opening song is much different from the Japanese opening song.
  • Ambiguous Time Period: In the books and cartoons, there is no real indication to what era the Moomins live in. The technology level of Moominvalley is roughly late 19th-early 20th century, with no running water or electricity. Several forms of air travel are shown, but are the creations of eccentric inventors and not standard. In the comic strip, journeys outside the valley shows that the strip takes place in the 50's and 60s.
  • Animated Adaptation: In fact, there were dozens of them. three of them Japanese (1969, 1972 and 1990), one Polish, two German, two Russian miniseries (Moomintroll and the Comet and The Wizard's Hat). Then there was an anime film based on the second book of the series, made by the same people behind the 2nd series and the 2nd half of the first series. There are also some short films too.
    • A 2D film, Moomins On The Riviera, was released in 2014.
  • Antlion Monster: The antlion appears in The Moomins and the Great Flood, Finn Family Moomintroll, and the 90's anime series Tanoshii Mumin Ikka. In this case the antlion is a black lion-like creature that digs Pit Traps at a beach. In the first book, it's clearly just a fanciful version of an actual antlion, since the Moomins are tiny enough to be attacked by an insect, but later on the question of its size becomes completely paradoxical.
  • Audience Participation: Invoked in the book Who Will Comfort Toffle?, when the titular Toffle tries to write a love-letter for Miffle but can't manage. The narrative suddenly addresses the readers and begs for help, tells them to find some writing paper and write the letter for him, and then leave it in a rose bush or somewhere Miffle is sure to see it. On the next page, Miffle has the letter and reads it. (The contents aren't quoted or even hinted at; it's just noted that she reads it and understands.)
  • Awesome but Impractical: The basic Moomin philosophy in a nutshell — when faced with doing something in a mundane but practical way, or a fun but inefficient way, nine times out of ten they'll go for the fun way. The result being that they don't get much done, but at least have a good time while not getting it done. This trope its particularly prominent in the comic strip and in the 1969 live-action series — in the latter, it gets extremely bizarre when Moominmamma decides to pick hard-to-reach apples by firing at them with a shotgun instead of, say, getting a ladder.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Happens to Moomintroll when he crawls into the Hobgoblin's magic hat.
  • Big Bad: The comet in Comet in Moominland.
  • Big Damn Movie: Comet in Moominland.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The Hobgoblin. His name in Swedish is Trollkarlen, which means the wizard or, more literally, the male troll. He is a gray-bearded man in fancy suit, complete with a cape, and magical top hat, riding a flying black panther. You couldn't make someone look more like a magician if you tried.
  • Body Horror: In Finn Family Moomintroll (also the very first episode of the TV show) a Moomin makes the mistake of climbing into a certain magical tophat only to be transformed into something...
  • Bratty Half-Pint: Little My is very much the trope codifier for the Scandinavian audience.
  • Canon Foreigner: The Witch and her granddaughter Alicia of the 90's TV-series.
  • Canon Immigrant: Stinky doesn't appear in the original books. He first shows up in the early days of the comic strip, and after that makes appearances in various adaptations before he is finally introduced in the last Moomin story Tove Jansson wrote, An Unwanted Guest. (This particular story has not been officially translated to English, but there is an online unofficial translation here.)
  • Cerebus Syndrome: A particularly successful instance in the books; starting with Moominland Midwinter the series becomes slightly darker and much more introspective. The final two full-length novels, though still kid-friendly, are more aimed at an adult audience and end up largely deconstructing the sunnier "family adventure" tone from the earlier books — but without losing any sympathy for the characters. Moominpappa At Sea specifically shows Moominpappa's decision to move everyone to a lighthouse wasn't another fun family adventure, but Moominpappa selfishly having a midlife crisis and causing genuine stress and unhappiness to the rest of the family. This was especially obvious as it was expanded out of a much earlier newspaper comic plot arc that was just as light-hearted as usual. The final novel, Moominvalley In November, is set simultaneously with it, and is a melancholy tale about a group of lost souls travelling to Moominvalley in the hope of meeting the Moomins and having to find their own happiness when the Moomins aren't there. Tove Jansson lamented elsewhere that she'd had to end the series because she was not able to "find that happy Moominvalley" again.
  • The Chew Toy: Poor, poor Sniff.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Happens in the main books to Sniff after The Exploits of Moominpappa and Snork Maiden after Moominland Midwinter. Not played completely straight, as they both make appearances in short stories afterwards.
  • Clingy Jealous Girl: Snorkmaiden. Especially when she swaps eyes with the wooden mermaid to attract Moomin's attention. That was creepy.
  • Cool Airship: Snork spends most of the (animated) series working on perfecting his design for a flying ship.
  • Cool Old Guy: Moominpappa and The Hemulen.
  • Color-Coded for Your Convenience: Averted. In the popular 90's show, Moomin, Moominpapa, and the Snork are shades of blue/gray, and Moominmama and the Snorkmaiden are shades of yellow. However, the original tales have all Moomins to be white and Snorks being able to change their fur according to their mood.
  • Completely Different Title: The English translations insisted on sticking "Moomin" in every single of the books' titles to make it clearer that they were a series. Thus:
    • "The Comet Is Coming" became Comet in Moominland.
    • "The Hobgoblin's Hat" became Finn Family Moomintroll.
    • "Dangerous Midsummer" became Moominsummer Madness.
    • "Trollwinter" became Moominland Midwinter.
    • "The Invisible Child (and other stories)" became Tales from Moominvalley.
    • "The Father and the Sea" became Moominpappa at Sea.
    • And "Late in November" became Moominvalley in November.
    • Three of the other books as well. "The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My", "An Unwanted Guest" and "The Moomins and the Great Flood" was originally "What happened then?", "The Crook in the Moominhouse" and "The Tiny Trolls and the Great Flood" respectively. The last one is actually closer to what the author intended before her publisher forced her to change it because they where afraid readers whould be turned away by a word they didn't know.
  • Comic Book Adaptation: In 1954, Tove Jansson began writing and drawing a Moomin comic strip, initially for the British Evening News newspaper but then internationally syndicated. The comic strip is broadly similar to the prose books in tone and setting, but has some differences in characterisation and plot. In the later 1950s, Jansson found creating a daily comic increasingly exhausting, and her brother Lars took over and continued the strip until 1975.
    • In the '90s, there was another comic book adaptation, based on and using the character designs from the anime. Mostly it told original stories, but it did occasionally adapt some of the stories from the books. In one instance they made a follow-up to the book-version of Moominsummer Madness, with a caption advising the readers to read the original book for the backstory.
  • Continuity Cavalcade: An Unwanted Guest, the last Moomin story written by Tove Jansson, despite being a short story that takes place entirely inside the Moominhouse, features tons of characters from earlier stories, both books and comics, several of which get speaking roles for the first time in decades.
  • Cosmic Horror: Moomin and the Comet Chase
  • Demoted to Extra: Sniff in the books. From being one of the primary characters in the first four books, he is inexplicably absent from the fifth and sixth, and after that only makes a handful of appearances.
    • Fridge Brilliance: Since the last book in which he's a major character ends with him being re-united with his long lost parents, he probably went to live with them instead of with the Moomins.
  • Distressed Damsel: Snork- 'save me from this plant'- Maiden. And though she later saves Moomintroll, she doesn't really do anything.
  • Doorstop Baby: Moominpappa was left at the door of the Fillyfjonks orphanage by unknown parents.
  • Dub Name Change: Happened with multiple different languages it was released in; way too many to list.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The very first book, Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen, is more of a fairy tale than any of the others, and tells the story of how Moominmamma and Moomintroll and Sniff try to find Moominpappa, who doesn't even appear until a good while in. And in the pictures, their noses are more like actual huge cartoon noses than in the other books. Furthermore, the Moomins and Sniff are described as very small, unlike in the other books (although later on, they still have interactions with the ant lion from this book as if they were so tiny). The place where everything is made of candy and which is exited via a rollercoaster is also a bit more random than is usual later on. The story is really short for a novel but there are more illustrations, so it's more of a children's storybook, and there isn't much of a plot.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: What will happen if the comet hits the Earth as predicted, in Comet in Moominland. The predictions end up being wrong and the world does not end after all.
  • Era-Specific Personality: Some of the characters had slightly altered personalities in the comic strip; Moomintroll became more of a Deadpan Snarker, while Snork Maiden underwent some Character Exaggeration and grew vainer and sillier. The most startling change was to Sniff; far from the cowardly and chlidish Butt Monkey of the books, the comic's Sniff is a shifty and amoral Karma Houdini who's always trying out new Zany Schemes to get rich. Mymble is also drastically altered; she's gone from a gentle eccentric to a hopeless romantic who's In Love with Love and Really Gets Around.
  • Fantastic Drug: In one story arc in the newspaper comic the Moomin family buys mind-expanding "LBJ pills" from a bunch of hippies (see the Mushroom Samba entry below for further details). Other than that, the comic tends to avert this trope, though: before purchasing the LBJ pills the Moomins try to buy some marijuana, in another story arc a supporting character gets high on opium, and the Moomins are often shown making their own moonshine.
  • Filk Song: Swedish Progressive Rock band Ritual have made several songs with Moomins references, including a whole Concept Album of Moomin flik songs, "The Hemulic Voluntary Band"
    • Norwegian avant-garde metal band Arcturus have a song called "Hufsa" on their album "Sideshow Symphonies". It is abut the Groke.
  • Fish out of Water: Moomins On The Riviera centers partly around this.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: In Moominpappa's Memoirs/ The Exploits of Moominpappa, Young Moominpappa is Sanguine, Frederickson (Hodgekins in some translations) is Choleric, The Muddler is Melancholic, and The Joxter is Phlegmatic.
    • Also, Moomin and his friends qualify: Moomin (Sanguine), Little My (Choleric), Sniff (Melancholic), Snuffkin (Phlegmatic) and Snork Maiden (Leukine).
  • Heroic Wannabe: Moomintroll, always trying to do the right thing and live up to Snufkin's example.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The 1969 live-action TV series has ten main characters; five of them male (Moomintroll, Moominpappa, the Muddler, Sorry-Oo and the King) and five of them female (Moominmamma, Little My, Misabel, Mrs. Fillyjonk and Ms Karlsson).
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: The comic strips occasionally had some surprisingly clear innuendo that Moomin and the Snork Maiden were... well, she probably wasn't technically a "maiden" any more.
    • In one episode of 90's anime, Moomin wakes up to find Little My sleeping on his crotch.
  • An Ice Person: The Groke. Wherever she goes, air gets colder and the ground under her freezes.
    • There's also The Lady of the Cold.
  • Idiot Ball: Moomins' intelligence is significantly lower in the newspaper comic strips, and it shows.
  • I Feel Angry: Ninny in "The Invisible Child." The polite, timid girl gradually built up her confidence, losing her invisibility bit by bit, and shed it entirely when she finally dared to become angry.
  • Interrupted Suicide: The newspaper comic starts with a rather bleak note, as Moomintroll tries to drown himself, only to bump into his long lost parents before succeeding.
  • Interspecies Romance: Believe it or not, Moomin and Snorkmaiden are two different animals, but the difference is like a dog and a wolf. The Mymble's Daughter, a humanoid creature, is the love interest of the Officer, a Hemulen.
  • It's All About Me: Moominpappa, at least in the original books.
  • Jerk Ass: Stinky in the 1990 animation, but the plan (almost) always backfires. Let's recap:
    • Abandoned and trapped Ninny in order to make her invisible again and force her into participating in a robbery. She's rescued by Moomin and his friends.
    • Stole Moomin's mechanical wings but did not know how to operate them and was blown to sea.
    • Tricked the Fillyjonk's children into almost swinging off a cliff.
    • Released animals from the zoo into the Moomins' homegrown jungle, but the animals end up befriending the Moomins.
      • Lured Moomin and Snorkmaiden to the swamp as bait for the giant snake but they befriend her as well.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Little My can be one sometimes. So does Sniff. And Snork Maiden.
  • Journey to Find Oneself: Snufkin definitely, with all of his going South, and to a lesser extent Moomintroll.
  • Lighter and Softer: The '90s cartoon was this compared to the later books of the series, though it still kept a few undertones. It's especially apparent if you view the episodes adapting Moominpappa at Sea,. They also softened the character of the fisherman, and added Toft (from ''Moominvalley in November, which wasn't adapted) as a kid sidekick to make him more likeable.
  • Little Miss Badass: Little My.
  • Live-Action Adaptation: Two "suit actor" TV series, in 1969 and 1973, both done for Swedish television. The 1973 series, which was that year's televised advent calendar, made straight-up adaptations of Moominland Midwinter, Finn Family Moomintroll and two of the short stories from Tales from Moominvalley. The 1969 series, by contrast, was an original story with an almost half-parodic approach to the Moomins and several satirical elements.
  • Lower Deck Episode: Moominvalley In November, about a few lost souls who end up in the Moomin house while the Moomin family themselves are away experiencing the events of Moominpappa At Sea.
  • Magical Realism
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Little My (a tough and plucky tomboy) and Sniff (sensitive, cowardly and delicate) is a non-romantic example.
  • Meaningful Name: Almost the entire cast in Swedish. Most of them are Lost in Translation to English however.
  • Meddling Parents: Moominpappa and Moominmamma are a very inverted form of this. They allow their son to travel miles away from home into the path of a fast approaching comet, for instance. Moominmamma even approves smoking, saying it's "good for the stomach".
    • Of course in the other times they meddle in a different sort of way, demanding to come along for the irresponsible adventure, or dragging the younger generation along for one they themselves cooked up.
    • Apparently they were based on Jansson's own bohemian parents.
  • Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: Despite her first two appearances, The Groke is later revealed to be a sad and lonely person who just wants friends and is not so evil after all. But that gives little to no comfort to all children who were scared to death by her. Or the fact that if she hugged anyone, they'd freeze solid.
  • Mooning: In the newspaper comic strip, each long-term arc begins with a panel of Moomintroll's butt.
  • Mushroom Samba: Different for each version: The original comics had the family take a vacation in "Torrelorca", where they ended up experimenting with made up but still obviously illegal drugs which were said to "free their true selves", which in their case just meant that they sat on a beach a week straight, staring at the sun and as a result missed their flight back home. In the animated adaption, they instead found some mushrooms that spread their spores around and caused whoever inhaled them to become listless and easily amused.
  • Nice Hat: Moominpappa and Snufkin both.
    • And the too.
    • Don't forget The Joxter.
  • Slice of Life: Outside the whole adventure part, there were elements of this.
  • No Antagonist
  • No Name Given: Sniff in The Moomins and the Great Flood; he's just called "the small creature".
  • Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted with Moomintroll in the books. If you read the books in chronological order, you'll notice that he is growing up, becoming more independent and self-reliant. In Moominpappa At Sea, Moominmamma even mentions to Moominpappa that their son isn't as little anymore.
    • Played straight in most of the adaptations, though.
  • The Obi-Wan: Snufkin, of course.
  • Older Sidekick: Probably Snufkin and maybe Sniff, but time doesn't really seem to apply in Moomin Valley.
    • Sniff definitely comes across as younger than Moomintroll in the books (especially Comet in Moominland), but in the various adaptations it's hard to say one way or the other.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: Tiny, six-legged, animal intelligence, almost extinct. Can fly and breathe fire.
  • Parental Abandonment: For the most part, the only one whose parents we see is Moomin. True, readers get a reunion of Snufkin's and Sniff's at the end of Moominpappa's Memoirs/ The Exploits of Moominpappa, but after that, there is no mention of anyone else's parents. Moominpappa himself was left on the steps of an orphanage as an infant.
  • Plant Person: The Hattifatteners, thin, ghost-like creatures indigenous to the Solitary Isle are actually plants, or more specifically, a kind of animated mushroom, that grow from spores. Despite having large, cartoonish eyes, they are mostly blind, and "see" through sensing vibrations in the ground. They also have the ability to store static electricity, which makes them incredibly dangerous during thunderstorms, when they congegrate in large groups and become supercharged.
  • Portal Picture: * In Moominpappa at Sea, Moominmamma misses home, paints picture of it and is able to go into the picture.
  • She's a Man in Japan: The Groke, out of all translations, is referred to as male in the Icelandic, French and Hebrew ones.
  • Sibling Yin-Yang: Loud My vs. quiet Snufkin. Messy My and Snufkin vs. clean, presentable Mymble. Self-obsessed, idiotic, fashionable Snork Maiden vs. clever, bumbling Snork. If you have a sibling, you're going to be his or her opposite.
    • In the 1990 cartoon at least. In the books Mymble is less clean and presentable and Snork is less obviously different from his sister too.
  • Single Specimen Species: The Groke.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Sniff is so cowardly and delicate, that Moomin and Snufkin have no problem looking manly in comparison.
  • Tertiary Sexual Characteristics: Moominpappa's top hat, Moominmamma's apron and handbag, and the Snork Maiden's fringe and anklet.
  • Time Machine: The Moomins have one in the newspaper comic and there are occasional storylines where they travel back in time to some historical epoch — usually because Moominpappa is sick of modern life and longs for the glory and romance of times long past. In every single one of these storylines he'd discover that the "good old days" weren't as good, glorious or romantic as he'd imagined them.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: My is the tough and plucky tomboy, Snork Maiden is the emotional and delicate girly-girl.
  • Touch of Death: The Snow Maiden, who only appears out on the ocean ice during the middle of the pitch dark winter, has a touch that instantly freezes anything it touches solid.
  • Tragic Monster: The Groke. She isn't really evil, she's just lonely. Too bad she's a Walking Wasteland.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Moomin, and most of the other characters for that matter, have an affinity for Moominmammas pancakes and strawberry jam preserves. This is most noteable in the novels.
  • Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Moominvalley is, at least at a very quick glance, somewhat of a saccharine world in the early novels and some of the adaptations. The Groke on the other hand, especially in her earliest appearances, is truly horrifying.
  • Walking Wasteland: The Groke. If she stays on the same spot for too long the ground she stands on becomes permanently infertile.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Moomin again.
  • Widget Series: Not as much a Weird Japanese Thing as a Weird Finnish Thing.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Moominmamma fits this trope perfectly - "submissive, loyal, mature, humble, but definitely not a pushover" - though, like so many other things, it's Deconstructed in the final two novels. Curiously enough, the Deconstruction is most apparent and visible in the very last novel, Moominvalley in November, in which Moominmamma doesn't even appear. She is, however, constantly referred to by the other characters and appears in the dreams and stories of the orphan Toft, who doesn't have a mother and whose expectations and hopes about her gets more exaggerated and caricature-like during the course of the novel. Finally, he has to confront the fact that the ultimate Yamato Nadeshiko that's developed in his dreams is not a real person at all and deep down he doesn't want Moominmamma to be like that.
  • You Are Number Six: During his time at the Fillyfjonks orphanage, Moominpappa was labeled Number 13, because the Fillyfjonk couldnt be bothered to remember everyone's names.
  • You Gotta Have Blue Hair: Tullipa in The Great Flood.

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alternative title(s): The Moomins; The Moomins; Tanoshii Mumin Ikka
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