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Pippi and the Moomins (aeon.co)
133 points by samclemens 5 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 57 comments

Some interesting bit of trivia. When my partner and I had our first child we talked about children's books (and TV shows) that were formative for us when children. I was completely shocked that she had never heard of pippi (I'm German she is French), because to me Pippi is probably one of the most famous children's characters of all times in many languages.

She then did some research why pippi wasn't know in France, turns out they thought it was too subversive and anti-authoritarian so only brought out a very censored translation in French which cut out pretty much all Pippis main character traits and unsurprisingly flopped. It was only in the mid-90s that they published a new faithful translation (by that time my partner had long outgrown children's books).

'Emil i Lönneberga' (Michel aus Lönneberga) is another great one.

Try telling today's parents to let their five year old carve wooden figures. Unsupervised.


> With most pranks, Emil escapes his father's wrath by running away and locking himself into a tool shed. Since the door can also be locked from the outside, his father locks him in there for a while as punishment. Emil is usually embarrassed by what he has done, but this is not a severe punishment for Emil, who likes sitting in the shed and takes to carving a wooden figure during each of his stays. He eventually accumulates 369 of them, except for the one that his mother buries because she claims it looks too much like the rural dean. Emil is clever and creative and tends to think in unconventional ways that adults are liable to misunderstand.

IIRC these days electric chisels are safer than knives, as flesh is generally too mushy to trigger the reciprocation.

Thanks, I'll keep than in mind for the kids!

Though my comment wasn't really meant to be about the most pragmatic way for people to work with wood. But more about what kind of risks parents are willing to run in return for their off-springs autonomy.

Well there are bits where pipi mixes up a whole bunch of medication to make a nice drink.

She resists the authority of the state. Today this is (too?) popular, but in centrally led France of the 50's...

For me I suppose it's like anything with parenting: if you're there to contextualise, I'm much more open to expose my kids.

She never drinks that mixture though, she pours it down a drain.

Ah? In the Dutch version she drinks it: "Then she drank several big gulps. Anika, who knew that some bottles had written on them "External", was getting anxious. 'But Pippi' she said, 'how do you know that there is nothing toxic?' 'Oh I'll find out tomorrow', Pippi said cheerfully. 'If I'm not dead by then, it's not toxic and any small child can drink it'."

Which version are you talking about? The French?

She definitely drinks it in the Russian translations I have read....

Pippi is read by bigger kids, it is book for age when you read by yourself rather then being read by parent. So, parent is not there to contextualize every scene.

I sampled one of the Moomin books in French and was struck by how bad that translation seemed, too. I don't know them in the original (it's not a language I speak), but I was able to compare the English version there in the store, and the prose just seemed much livelier in English. (The French Harry Potter is comparable to the English, for a control for this experiment.)

That wasn't actual censorship, but unless it's an unlucky sample or a quirk of my taste then the French were unfortunate with both authors.

There seems to be at least two translations of Moomin into french http://www.moomintrove.com/country-france.htm

Jansson is one of the greats -- both for the seminal Moomin tales and lesser-known, more adult books like Sommarboken. I fell in love with her work through translations as a child but since reading the originals have realized that the English versions fail to do her justice -- one scene early in Kometen Kommer seems to have been entirely made up by the translator -- and, in general, are of widely varying quality (some are very good). I've considered writing my own, but it's still a pipe dream at this point.

More to the point, my relatives who lived through the war in Stockholm were really permanently changed by it. My great-grandfather Klas was somewhat shocked to learn about the Call of Duty franchise and delivered a serious lecture on the reality of war that I was thankfully barely old enough to grasp. I worry that society is forgetting the historicity of those experiences as his generation disappears. When books are all that's left, it's hard to keep in mind that all those awful things really happened to normal people and could happen again.

On the subject of the translations, I believe you may be talking about revisions that Jansson made to the stories later on [1], not a translator fancying themselves an author. The latter seems kind of like a big no-no, so I just wanted to dispel that notion.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_in_Moominland#Revised_ve...

Both of the writers were acceptable to the USSR and were thus translated and available. Without market pressures you had absolute top writers and poets of the age translate children’s books and the results were marvellous. I owe these two writers large chunks of what I am now. In midst of soviet misery there was wonder, thought, friendship. The quiet happy family life I did not have. But also material things like being able to sell cherries on the roadside. The boys in the pictures wore boots!

How interesting that the Soviet government didn't mind. Another commenter in a different thread relayed that the French government found the books "subversive" and banned faithful translations; the hacked translations that were allowed (understandably) bombed.

Oh, there were market pressures, of a sort. The top writers and poets doing the translation were doing that because they were unable to get their own work published, due to not being considered ideologically aligned enough with the government. And they needed to live somehow, and avoid being jailed for not having a job.

A few weeks back on our work Slack, someone asked people to post their favorite cup now that everyone's working from home. A lot of people are apparently collecting Moomin-cups here in Norway. My favorite is the orange cup with the Hattifnatt ghosts.

Funny! I am from Norway too. My girlfriend just moved with me, and she has so many Moomin cups (and dinner plates, bowls, etc). My favorite is Hufsa (The Groke). Used to give me nightmares when I was a child, so now I am facing my fears

Yeah, I also have a hufsa cup which I use pretty much daily.

Some of those cups are very valuable in Finland. They can have price near 10 000 euros. https://www.iltalehti.fi/asumisartikkelit/a/bbcf1c62-17e3-46...

In The Netherlands people tend to do the same with products based on Nijntje (known as Miffy internationally).

We also have Alfred J. Kwak[1], which looking back on it is surprisingly on-the-nose with a lot of topics that completely passed me by as a child. The israel/palestine conflict, apartheid and fascism to name just a few.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_J._Kwak

I remember watching this as a kid. Even though one did not understand it, you felt it had way more substance in the story than Moomins. Like evil corporations, scheming, politics,...

Which is another lost-in-translation thing.

"Nijn" is the second syllable of "Konijn" (Rabbit) with "tje" being the diminutive.

So her name is an affectionate kid version of "Little Rabbit".

I have know idea where "Miffy" came from.

For anyone in the US who needs ear bleach after too many civil war doccos, allow me to present "cute little bunny had a fly upon its nose": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwDhzl_O6qY

(and for dutchies, it's a long way until 11 november, but here's an early reminder for the times of covid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZRkqkBjlmqw )

Pippi and the Moomins are both part of the culture that was neither western nor eastern, but shared by both sides of the Iron Curtain.

(Pippi may have been the first explicit antifascist I encountered in print. I don't remember the cover characters at all, although upon reflection between them they must've provided enough prep to balance out Pippi's strong jock/goth/nerd tendency.)

Similarly, the Olsen Gang (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olsen_Gang) was also officially tolerated in the GDR and popular with viewers.

For a more recent and somewhat similar experience I can recommend Hilda https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hilda_(graphic_novel_series). It's for children but properly surprising for adults, too. The Netflix series is also quite good.

Hilda is _so_ good! The ending to the Mountain King, omg!

As someone who grew up in Sweden I read all of Lindgrens works, and they are all great, but I would especially recommend the lesser known "Ronja Robbersdaughter".

The movie would probably be rated R in the US due to that scene where the robbers are sent out for spring cleaning =P

I'm kind of salty that they decided to make the new Moomin series as a 3D animation, and not continue in the anime tradition of the previous series from the 90s.

Speaking of, where is it possible these days to actually see (buy, stream, whatever) all the old 90's Moomin shows? All I can find (in Norwegian at least) are some VHS-ripped Youtube uploads :-/

Idk about Norway, but in Finland you can stream them on C-more [1], which is now owned by Telia, the teleoperator. I suspect this is also the case in Sweden.

[1]: https://www.cmore.fi/ohjelma/44002009/muumilaakson-tarinoita

I don't suppose they let you pick the Norwegian dub? May have to get a VPN :)

In Norway, C-more (via TV2) only has the stop motion one from the 70's/80's ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Moomins_(TV_series) – there's also a really strange 2013 version in the same style with music by Björk, fun for grown-ups but kids wanted the 90's version =P)

Oh wow, I didn't even know about the stop motion version. Unfortunately, it seems like you can only watch them in Finnish through our C-More :/

> "Pippi and the Moomins remind us that madcap humour and imaginative storytelling can convey humanistic ideas at least as powerfully as a more literal approach. "

"Moominpappa at Sea" is one of my favorte books of all time. All of the moomin books feel important and significant even that the characters are inocuous or even silly. It is easy to understand how many people missed the more adult messages of the books. But, that same style allowed children to enjoy the stories without overwhelming them.

It is a shame that in places like Japan, the characters are very well known, but the books are shadowed by the animated version. The characters are fantastic, thou.

For Pipi, everybody loves the 1969 TV show. I have read a couple of books, and I like them, but I do not have them in such regard as the Moomins books.

I tried to nail down just what makes me like Moomin(trolls) so much, and I think it's the sense of wonder and mystery. Some things are partially explained at best, but you don't get an impression it's mystery for mystery's sake or conspiracy theorist bait (see David Lynch movies). I love both the cartoons and the books.

I think Moominland Midwinter is a masterpiece. It's just eerie.

I also really like how each character has his own philosophy or at least a way of doing things. Little My's approach to vampires is "Bite them first!". Yeah, Cobra Kai never dies! ;-). There's a saying "know your enemy", but Moomins take it one step further: no one is really an enemy, you just need to understand people and their motives. There are no black&white evil characters.

Moominpappa at Sea is somewhat similar to Watership Down where they are children books but themes are very deep. For Pipi it is kind silly adult point of view but generally chilren some weird reason loves it, nowdays my 4-yeard old dresses like pipi several times a week.

My favourite bits were:

1. A statement that they still didn't figure everything out, but they finally had something important: a decision.

2. When they repaired a boat they found, and Moominpappa said it doesn't matter that they don't know who it belongs to... the worst case is they'll give someone back a repaired boat.

For someone who grew up in Poland, this attitude is borderline mind-bending.

What was mind-bending about them?

I think it goes against common Polish mentality. Consensus is rare. Compromise is often called a "rotten compromise", there's a concept of "having right" which implies only one person. Swedes have a phrase "Polish parliament" to describe a fruitless, noisy argument. Second, Poles often see things they find as windfall rather than items lost by people with feelings.

Something unique to Poland is meme pictures with proboscis monkeys. They poke fun at perceived national vices. You might want to do image search for "nosacz".

Excellent! Guess I'll have to rewatch Life of Brian to see if there might be a bit about "Blessed are the big noses."

Where I am, when Napoleon invaded, the local militia defeated one of his recco squadrons. And then went back home and Threw A Party. After all the soldiers had already celebrated victory with a[1] well-merited pint[2], the french main force showed up...

[1] or possibly some

[2] or possibly smaller volumes of stronger beverages

I think what's liked about Pippi is her independence and how she believes she can do almost anything, without it becoming a cliché. It's a fine line. I remember Artemis Fowl for instance (when I was a bit older) became too much for me.

>I think what's liked about Pippi is her independence and how she believes she can do almost anything

Absolutely. I read Pippi as a child (in English) and always thought she was wonderful.

Amusingly, a friend and I both came to the conclusion that Lizbeth Salander[0] was Pippi all grown up.

I wonder if Stieg Larsson had Pippi in mind?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lisbeth_Salander

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stieg_Larsson

Addendum: I found Larsson's Salander novels to be quite good, and thought the Swedish TV movies (with Noomi Rapace) were pretty faithful to the novels. I didn't bother with the American version, as American movies are mostly crap (then again, Sturgeon's Law[2] applies everywhere)

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law

I don't have a source at hand, but I remember reading an interview where Stieg Larsson confirmed both influence of Pippi and that Mikael Blomkvist was inspired by and named after Astrid Lindgren's character Kalle Blomkvist (translated to English as Bill Bergson).

Used to watch Moomin on Swedish TV, never really read the comics. Anime was rare back then and I certainly never realized it was Japanese. The congeniality is quite amazing. Never liked Pippi much, but I devoured other books by Lindgren, Emil of Lönneberga in particular. I find it noteworthy that Miyasaki's Pippi project never saw the light of day.

Miyazaki kind of did Heidi instead not long after Pippi fell through and that became an absolute cult classic in multiple regions while Pippi has a real-life classic already, so noteworthy for sure, but very far from a complete loss.

I read it too young to remember Pippi well, but the Moomins are fantastic. Highly recommended to all.

My son (4.5yo) became a huge fan of Moomin tales recently. Books, audio books, cartoons; he likes them more than super heroes these days. These tales are not only nostalgia material fo adults, these are still great children stories.

The pacing of the animated series (the old version) is just so relaxing it's hard to describe. Instead of the super fast-paced animations we have now it takes its time, like a grandmother or grandfather, to tell a story.

It's perplexing how far we have come from that and now everybody wants to get flashier and faster instead of slowing down. I guess our attention spans have been ruined.

Tove Jansson wrote some books for adults. I very much enjoyed "Fair play", which has a great English translation.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fair_Play_(novel) https://www.nyrb.com/products/fair-play?variant=1094929573

My favorites are the stories of the hattifatteners and the story of the demon who lived on the moon and lost his jewel.


For a dad with 5 yr olds and without experience in Moomins, what books would you recommend starting with? Should they be read in order starting with "The Moomins and the Great Flood"?

Haven't been through all, but I read Farlig midsommer and Trollvinter (Moominsummer Madness and Moominland Midwinter?) to my eldest when she was five, she really liked it then.

We tried The Father and the Sea, which I really liked, but probably went a bit over her head back then.

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