Looking for Moominpappa

Issue 2/1994 | Archives online, Children's books, Fiction

Tove Jansson wrote the first Moomin book in the dark days of Finland’s Winter War in 1939. This extract, from Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (‘The little trolls and the big flood’, Schildts, 1945, 1991), tells the story of how the Moomins found their home

It had become very hot late in the afternoon. Everywhere the plants drooped, and the sun shone down with a dismal red light. Even though Moomins are very fond of warmth, they felt quite limp and would have liked to rest under one of the large cactuses that grew everywhere. But Moominmamma would not stop until they had found some trace of Moomintroll’s Papa. They continued on their way, even though it was already beginning to get dark, always straight in a southerly direction. Suddenly the small creature stopped and listened. ‘What’s that pattering around us?’ he asked.

And now they could hear a whispering and a rustling among the leaves. ‘It’s only the rain,’ said Moominmamma. ‘Even so, now we must crawl in under the cactuses.’

All night it rained, and in the morning it was simply pouring down. When they looked out, everything was grey and melancholy.

‘It’s no good, we must go on,’ said Moominmamma. ‘But here is something for you which I’ve been saving until it was really needed.’ And then she produced a large bar of chocolate from her handbag. She had taken it with her from the old gentleman’s wonderful garden. She split it in two and gave them each a piece. ‘Aren’t you going to have any?’ asked Moomintroll.

‘No,’ said his mother. ‘I don’t like chocolate.’

Then they walked on in the pouring rain all that day and all the next day, too. All they found to eat were a few sopping wet yams and one or two figs. On the third day it rained even harder than ever and each little rivulet had become a foaming torrent. It became more and more difficult to make any progress, the water rose ceaselessly, and at last they had to climb up on to a small rock so as not to be snatched away by the current. There they sat, watching the surging eddies come closer and closer to them, and feeling that they were catching cold. Floating around everywhere were furniture and houses and big trees that the flood had carried with it.

‘I think I want to go back home!’ said the small creature, but no one listened to him. The others had caught sight of something strange that was dancing and whirling towards them in the water. ‘They’ve been shipwrecked!’ cried Moomintroll, who had sharp eyes. ‘A whole family! Mama, we must rescue them!’ It was an upholstered armchair lurching towards them, sometimes it got caught in the tree-tops that stuck up out of the water, but was pulled free by the current and went drifting on. In the chair sat a wet cat with five equally wet kittens round her. ‘Poor mother!’ cried Moominmamma, and she jumped out into the water all the way up to her waist. ‘Hold on to me, and I’ll try to catch them with my tail!’

Moomintroll took a firm hold of his mother, and the small creature was so excited that he did not manage to do anything at all. Now the armchair was eddying by, Moominmamma tied her tail lightning fast in a half-hitch round one of the armrests, and then she pulled. ‘Heave-ho!’ she cried. ‘Heave-ho!’ cried Moomintroll. ‘Ho, ho!’ squeaked the small creature. ‘Don’t let go!’ Slowly the chair swayed in towards the rock, and then a helpful wave came and guided it up on to the land. The cat picked up her kittens by the scruff of their necks, one by one, and put them in in a row to dry.

‘Thank you for your kind help,’ she said. This is the worst scrape I’ve ever been in. What a catastrophe!’

And then she began to lick her children.

‘I think it’s clearing up,’ said the small creature, who wanted to make them think about something else. (He was embarrassed because he had not managed to help in the rescue.) And it was true – the clouds were moving apart and one shaft of sunlight flew straight down, and then another – and all of a sudden the sun was shining over the enormous, steaming surface of the water.

‘Hurrah!’ cried Moomintroll. ‘Now everything will be all right, you’ll see!’

A small breeze arose and chased the clouds away and shook the tree-tops that were heavy with rain. The agitated water quietened down, somewhere a bird began to chirp and the cat purred in the sunshine. ‘Now we can go on,’ said Moominmamma, firmly.

‘We don’t have time to wait until the water subsides. Get up into the armchair, children, and then I’ll push it out into the lake.’ ‘I think I shall stay here,’ said the cat, and yawned.

‘One should never get involved in needless fuss. When the ground is dry I’ll walk home again.’ And her five kittens, who had recovered in the sunshine, sat up and yawned, they too.

Then Moominmamma pushed the armchair out from the shore. ‘Go carefully!’ cried the small creature. He was sitting on the backrest and looking around, for it had occurred to him that they might find something valuable floating in the water after the flood. For example, a casket full of jewels. Why not? He kept a sharp watch, and when he suddenly saw something gleaming in the lake, he shouted loudly with excitement. ‘Go that way,’ he cried. ‘There’s something shining over there!’

‘We haven’t got time to fish up everything that’s floating around,’ said Moominmamma, but she paddled that way all the same, because she was a nice Mama.

‘It’s just an old bottle,’ said the small creature, disappointed, when he had hauled it up with his tail. ‘And no nice sweet drink in it either,’ said Moomintroll.

‘But don’t you see?’ said his mother, gravely. This is something very interesting, it’s a message in a bottle. There’s a letter inside.’ And then she took a corkscrew out of her handbag and uncorked the bottle. With trembling hands she spread out the letter on her knee and read aloud: ‘Dear finder, please do what you can to rescue me! My fine house has been swept away by the flood and now I am hungry and cold up a tree, while the water rises higher and higher. An unhappy Moomin.’

‘Lonely and hungry and cold,’ said Moominmamma, and she cried. ‘Oh, my poor dear Moomintroll, your father probably drowned long ago!’

‘Don’t cry,’ said Moomintroll. ‘He may be up a tree somewhere very close. After all, the water is subsiding as fast as it can.’ And so it was.

Here and there hillocks and fences and roofs were already sticking up above the surface of the water, and now the birds were singing at the tops of their voices.

The armchair bobbed slowly along towards a hill where a lot of people were running about, pulling their belongings out of the water. ‘Why, there’s my armchair,’ cried a big Hemulen who was gathering his dining-room furniture together on the shore. ‘What do you mean by sailing around in my armchair?’

‘And a rotten boat it made, too!’ said Moominmamma, crossly, and she stepped ashore. ‘I wouldn’t have it for anything in the world!’

‘Don’t annoy him,’ whispered the small creature. ‘He may bite!’ ‘Rubbish,’ said Moominmamma. ‘Come along now, children.’ And on they walked along the shore, while the Hemulen examined the wet stuffing in his chair.

‘Look!’ said Moomintroll, pointing to a marabou stork who was walking around, scolding to himself. ‘I wonder what he’s lost – he looks even angrier than the Hemulen!’

‘Small, impertinent child,’ said the marabou stork, for he had good ears. ‘If you were nearly a hundred and had lost your spectacles, you wouldn’t exactly look pleased, either.’ And then he turned his back to them and continued his search. ‘Come along now,’ said Moominmamma. ‘We must look for your father.’

She took Moomintroll and the small creature by the hand and hurried on. After a while they saw something gleaming in the grass where the water had subsided. ‘I bet it’s a diamond” cried the small creature. But when they looked more closely, they saw it was only a pair of spectacles.

They’re the marabou stork’s, don’t you think, mother?’ asked Moomintroll. ‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I suppose you had better run back and give them to him. But hurry up, for your poor father is up a tree somewhere, hungry and wet and all alone.’

Moomintroll ran as fast as he could on his short legs, and at a long distance he saw the marabou stork poking about in the water. ‘Hallo, hallo!’ he shouted. ‘Here are your spectacles, Uncle Stork!’

‘Really?’ said the marabou stork, very pleased. ‘Perhaps you are not such an impossible little child after all.’ And then he put on his spectacles and turned his head this way and that.

‘I’m afraid I must go at once,’ said Moomintroll. ‘You see, we’re out looking too.’

‘Well, well, I see,’ said the marabou stork in a friendly voice. ‘What for?’

‘My father,’ said Moomintroll. ‘He’s up a tree somewhere.’

The marabou stork thought for a long moment. Then he said firmly: ‘You will never manage such a thing alone. But I will help you, because you found my spectacles.’

Then he picked up Moomintroll in his beak, very carefully, and put him on his back, flapped his wings a few times and sailed away over the shore.

Moomintroll had never flown before, and he thought it was tremendous fun, and a little frightening. He was also quite proud when the marabou stork landed beside his mother and the small creature.

‘I am at your service for the investigations, madam,’ said the marabou stork, bowing to Moominmamma. ‘If the family will climb on board we shall make our departure at once.’ And then he lifted first her and then the small creature, who squeaked with excitement. ‘Hold on tight,’ said the marabou stork ‘We’re going to fly out over the water now.’

‘I think this is the most wonderful thing we’ve been through so far,’ said Moominmamma. ‘Why, flying is not nearly as frightening as I thought. Now keep a good look out for Moominpappa on all sides!’ The marabou stork flew in wide circles and came in low over each treetop. They saw a lot of people sitting amidst the branches, but none of them was who they were looking for. ‘I shall have to rescue those Creeps over there later on,’ said the marabou stork, whom the rescue expedition had made positively cheerful. He flew to and fro above the water for a long time, the sun began to set, and everything seemed quite hopeless. Suddenly Moominmamma cried: ‘There he is!’ and began to wave her arms so wildly that she nearly fell off.

‘Papa!’ shouted Moomintroll, and the small creature cried out too, just to keep him company.

There, on one of the highest branches of an enormous tree sat a wet, sad Moominpappa, staring out over the water. Beside him he had tied a distress flag. He was so amazed and delighted when the marabou stork landed in the tree, and the whole of his family climbed down on to the branches, that he could not say a word. ‘Now we shall never be separated again,’ sobbed Moominmamma, and took him in her arms. ‘How are you? Have you got a cold? Where have you been all this time? Was the house you built a very fine one? Did you think of us often?’

‘It was a very fine house, alas,’ said Moominpappa. ‘My dear little boy, how you have grown!’

‘Well, well,’ said the marabou stork, who was beginning to feel moved. ‘I think I had better put you down on dry land and try and rescue a few more until the sun goes down. It’s very pleasant, rescuing people.’

And then he took them back to the shore while they all talked at the same time about all the dreadful things they had been through. All along the shore people had lit fires at which they were warming themselves and cooking their suppers, for most had lost their houses.

The marabou stork put Moomintroll, his father and mother and the small creature down at one of the bonfires, and with a hasty farewell he flew out over the water again.

‘Good evening,’ said the two angler fish who had lit the fire. ‘Please sit down, the soup will be ready in a moment.’

Thank you very much,’ said Moominpappa. ‘You have no idea what a fine house I had before the flood. Built it all by myself. But if I get a new one, you will be welcome there any time.’

‘How big was it?’ asked the small creature.

‘Three rooms,’ said Moominpappa. ‘One sky-blue, one sunshine-yellow and one spotted. And a guest room in the attic for you, small creature.’ ‘Did you really mean us to live there too?’ asked Moominmamma, very pleased. ‘Of course,’ he said. ‘I looked for you always, everywhere. I could never forget our dear old tiled stove.’

Then they sat and told one another about their experiences and ate soup until the moon had risen and the fires began to go out along the shore. Then they were able to borrow a blanket from the angler fish and curled up close next to one another and fell asleep.

Next morning the water had subsided a long way, and they all went out into the sunshine in a very good mood. The small creature danced in front of them and tied a bow in his tail for joy. All day they walked, and everywhere they went was beautiful, for after the rain the most wonderful flowers had come out everywhere and the trees bore both flowers and fruits. They only needed to shake a tree slightly, and the fruits fell down among them. At last they came to a small valley that was more beautiful than anything they had seen earlier in the day. And there, in the midst of the meadow, stood a house that looked almost like a tiled stove, very fine and painted blue. ‘Why, that’s my house!’ cried Moominpappa, quite beside himself with joy. ‘It must have floated here, and here it is now!’

‘Hurrah!’’ shouted the small creature, and then they all rushed down into the valley to admire the house. The small creature even climbed up on the roof, and there he shouted even louder, for up on the chimney hung a necklace of big, real pearls that had got stuck there during the flood.

‘Now we are rich!’ he cried. ‘We can buy a car and an even bigger house!’ ‘No,’ said Moominmamma. This house is the most beautiful one we can ever have.’

And then she took Moomintroll by the hand and stepped into the sky-blue room. And there in the valley they spent the whole of their lives, apart from a few times when they went out and travelled for the sake of a change.

Translated by David McDuff

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