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“Tiny dots of cold green”: Pastoral Nostalgia and the State of Nature in Tove Jansson’s The Moomins and the Great Flood
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“Tiny dots of cold green”:
Pastoral Nostalgia and the State of Nature in Tove Jansson’s The Moomins and the Great Flood

Nature herself is cold, maternal and severe. The trinity of the masochistic dream is summed up in the words: cold—maternal—severe, icy—sentimental—cruel.

(Gilles Deleuze, Masochism)

The titles of Tove Jansson’s Moomins series, including The Moomins and the Great Flood, Comet in Moominland, Moominsummer Madness, and Moominland Midwinter, disclose a recurring interest in landscape and season, leading the Moomins to face a variety of challenges brought by the natural world. While the iconic image of the lovable Moomins existing in their idyllic “Happy Valley” is pervasive, this article will show how Jansson’s pastoral landscape is often blatantly unkind, pointing to a nature that must be tended and tamed. Working through trials associated with winters, floods, comets, earthquakes, and volcanoes, her protagonists struggle against the natural world and its seasons, so that living in nature becomes an erratic and perilous process.

Corinne Buckland has discussed some of the threats of nature in the Moomins series. Yet Buckland reads in the books “the grandeur of nature” and “the wonder of creation,” positioning the Moomins as humble “diminutive types representing human traits and foibles” (32–33) but also imbued with “limitlessness” (40). To be sure, sublimity is one effect of mountains or seas in the series, but the Moomins also experience more local terrors that are less associated with the sweeping landscapes or humanistic self-reflection of Romantic sublimity and more akin to the encounters with dangerous creatures typically found in adventure-fantasy. As Maria Nikolajeva [End Page 200] has commented, “[a]ny danger that can threaten always comes from natural causes” (94) in the Moomin series, and Jansson explicitly explores how natural toils and natural terrors can be both hostile and benign.

This article will focus on The Moomins and the Great Flood, the first book in the series, to examine these paradoxical positionings of nature as pastoral, beautiful, sublime, and also “red in tooth and claw” (Tennyson 399). I will argue that Jansson contests the comfortable or biocentric interactions with the natural world found in much children’s literature, wherein “nature” is embodied by anthromorphized creatures who exist in a “familiar and charming world in which nothing really goes wrong” (Blount 135). Appealing though the childlike Moomins may be, they operate in space fraught with change and environmental threat and it is through their exposure to, and engagement with, that environment that Jansson underscores the need for tempered interventions by humans into the natural world. Building upon folk- and fairy-tale traditions about the dangers of the “large, immense, great, and mysterious” forest (Zipes 65), Jansson moves further to repeatedly expose the peevishness of nature itself. At the same time, tropes of industrialized society emerge in sometimes disconnected and jarring ways to disclose equally fraught attempts to escape the natural world. In The Moomins and the Great Flood, neither nature nor modern technology offers much comfort.

My ecocritical approach highlights Jansson’s exposure of the difficulties of finding a harmonious relationship with the natural world. The series goes beyond a mere celebration of nature, sublime or otherwise, by emphasizing struggles against and within it while also positing how such struggles enable a benevolent humanity. As such, Jansson partakes in ecocritical aims that do not merely take “an earth-centred approach to literary studies” but also negotiate “the interconnections between nature and culture” (Glotfelty xvii–xix) or “the troubled boundaries between the human and other creatures” (Garrard 148).

Kate Soper has helpfully pointed to ways in which our understanding of the natural world can be either “nature-skeptical” or “nature-endorsing” (34):

[O]ne of the main divisions which can be drawn [about nature] is between those ethical, political and aesthetic arguments that are constructed upon a view of culture as offering an essential corrective to “nature”, or providing the milieu in which alone it acquires any definitively human form, and those that view nature as releasing us from the repressions or deformations of culture and as itself a source of wisdom and moral guidance.

(28–29)

Jansson’s depiction of the Moomins...