I’ve been meaning to ask this question on my blog for almost a year now; this draft is 10 months old. It is something that is very puzzling to me, and I’m hoping that some people might be able to help me answer it, seeing as how the book blogging community has a wide international range. (Also, I’m using “America” here to mean the US. I know this isn’t ideal, but it sounded the best in the blog title. It reminds me of “but there are nooooo cats in America!” from An American Tail. You know what I’m talking about:
Anyway, if you don’t know what a Moomin is, allow me to enlighten you and totally change your world. Behold:
Now aren’t those just the most adorable hippopotamus/aardvarks you’ve ever seen!? I KNOW!
Ok, so technically they’re trolls, and they were created by the amazing Finnish artist and author Tove Jansson. Tove Jansson also illustrated the Sweedish editions of The Hobbit and Alice in Wonderland. I have the 2016 Tove Jansson Hobbit calendar, but the books are pretty much impossible to find. Here’s an example illustration:
But anyway, back to Moomins. The Moomin family are the stars of the Moomin comics, picture books, and novels for young readers, created in the 1940s. I read one of the novels, Moominland Midwinter, for a class I took in college on Scandinavian children’s literature, which was how I was introduced to these delightful creatures. The books were originally published in Swedish and later translated into English. Moomin books are not hard to find for purchase in the US, but I’m wondering why they never gained any sort of popularity here. I know very few Americans who know what a Moomin is.
I realized this when I studied abroad in the UK the summer after I took the Scandinavian children’s lit class. I walked into several shops in Bath where I was studying and was delighted to see displays of Moomin books and toys! One display was at a store called Bloomsbury (which I also desperately wish we had the US), and the other was at Waterstones (basically Barnes & Noble). I bought myself a Moomin keychain (and totally regret not getting a stuffed Moomin). I also saw a poster in Bath for a children’s theater production of one of the Moomin stories. So clearly – unless Bath is some sort of Moomin-zone – Moomins are a thing in the UK. So why aren’t they in US? The only places I’ve found Moomin merch in the US are an independent shop in Portland, Maine called “Simply Scandinavian” and at Al Johnson’s Swedish restaurant gift shop in Door County, Wisconsin. Go figure.
I know not every popular franchise gets popular in the US, but it’s hard to tell why the Moomins didn’t. The most popular thing to come from Scandinavian children’s literature to the US (not counting Hans Christian Andersen) was Pippy Longstocking. Rightly so; Pippy is wonderful, but I’d honestly take the Moomins over Pippy any day. What made Pippy such a hit and the Moomins not? Maybe because Pippy came out around the same time as the Moomins, and we only had room for one Swedish children’s lit icon in our media??
Culture is definitely another factor at play here. The Moomin books obviously pull from the culture in which they were written. For example, Moominland Midwinter talks a lot about the darkness of winter and the celebration when the sun finally comes out again, which is clearly about what happens in the northern reaches of Sweden during winter. This is not something we experience in the lower 48, so it’s not as pertinent. Also, we don’t really have a thing for trolls like the Scandinavians do. We’re more into, I dunno jackalopes? Sasquatches?
Regardless of the reasons, I want to tell all you Americans out there: Moomins are the best. I highly recommend you check out the novels because they are incredibly delightful. For me, the Moomin books rank right up there with The BFG, The Phantom Tolbooth, and of course Pippi Longstocking in delight-factor. I mean, I’ve used the word “delight” like 4 times in this post.
Anway, go seek the Moomins! You won’t regret it.