How cool is Stinky?
30 November 2012 | This 'n' that
‘What reigns in Moomin Valley is a rock-hard hierarchy of those who are cool (Snufkin, Moominmamma, Little My), those who need to be those who are cool (Moomintroll, the Snork Maiden, Sniff, one or two Whompers and Toffles), and those who are absurd (the Hemulen, the Fillyjonk, the Muskrat)’, noted Pia Ingström in her review (Books from Finland 2/2008) of Sirke Happonen’s dissertation on Tove Jansson’s characters.
Snufkin? Fillyjonk? The Moomin world, created by the versatile Finland-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson (1914–2001), is peopled with funny-shaped Moomins and a great variety of other creatures who may look a bit odd at first but who are very… human. Jansson’s books have been translated into more than 40 languages.
The Fillyjonk, for example, is a tall and thin female character who, according to Pia Ingström, ‘represents petty-bourgeois meanness, the absurdly neurotic and trivial, the ultimate in un-cool, with her cleaning mania and invitations to stiff and formal dinners….’ A boring character indeed – but she is capable of transforming herself completely at utter distress, such as the great storm that wipes away all her porcelain ornaments, liberating her for ever!
Sirke Happonen’s new Moomin character book is entitled Muumiopas (‘The Moomin guide’), and it is for adults rather than children. ‘In this world you cannot live without being one of the Moomin characters’, she claims – and this applies not only to Finns, who now drink even their mother’s milk from Moomin mugs and eat their porridge with a Moomin spoon: the branding of Moomin universe now includes almost everything, from apps to mitts, mouse mats to duvets, cookies to socks.
Muumiopas lists more than a hundred characters from the Moomin storybooks for children (1945–1977, about a dozen) and the Moomin comics series (1947–1975): these, 73 in all, created mostly by Tove’s brother Lars Jansson, were published in the English daily The Evening News, and were intended for adult readers.
Some of the best-known characters, such as Moomin family members, Snufkin, Fillyjonk, Little My and the Hemulen, Happonen provides with psychological interpretations: claiming there are human Fillyjonks and Snufkins, she gives instructions for the reader to recognise the type and/or to transform him- or herself into one.
Stinky, for example, is a villain of the Moomin world, a hairy and smelly creature whose attempted crimes nevertheless usually flop. If, however, you would like to try being Stinky, Happonen gives the following (‘aromatic’) advice: ‘Get an old fur vest and backcomb it as well as the rest of your hair. You can imitate Stinky’s smell by draining a bag of frozen shrimps and pouring the liquid into a spray bottle. Let stew for three days in room temperature. Spray evenly and abundantly into hair, onto skin and clothes. An extra quick result can be achieved by sprinkling Thai fish sauce all over yourself.’
Perhaps most readers would rather like to try being a Mymble, though: ‘If you have long hair, tie it into a bun that points straight up. If you haven’t got enough hair or you are, for example, a bald man, concentrate on thinking of your spine. Imagine a plumbline that points up to heaven. You rely on it, light and strong. When you go jogging or hurry along the streets or paths, open your eyes to note: this is how it is here – and just let it be. For you every step is a physical pleasure, the world is your big living room. Forget career prospects or at least thinking about them. Be glad, that’s all.’
Free your inner Moomin!
Sirke Happonen: Muumiopas (‘Moomin guide’)
Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura (the Finnish Literature Society), 2012.
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