Short Story Monday
As it's Christmas I thought we would have something soothing this week, so I've chosen a story from Tales from Moominvalley by Tove Jansson. She's been getting quite a lot of attention recently with the publications of the Summer and Winter Books, but she's been part of my life since I was very young and my aunt - a wonderful source of good books now as then - sent me a copy of Finn Family Moomintroll. I fell in love instantly with all of the characters: the earnest Moomintroll, the excitable Sniff, Snufkin the wanderer, and the redoubtable Moominmamma, whose bag is the fount of all comforts from raspberry juice to tummy powders.
Moominvalley is populated by a wide variety of creatures and this story concerns a fillyjonk. These are creatures of habit with a strong sense of family ties and an innate love of the beauty of nature. In "The Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters", the fillyjonk is unable to derive comfort from her surroundings because of her fear that some terrible catastrophe will befall her. Her summer home is no comfort - she moved into it because she'd been told her grandmother had stayed there in the past, but this turns out to be a mistake, and the house itself is dreary and forlorn, defying all her efforts to make it cosy. Her fears become so great that she struggles to convey them to her friend Gaffsie over the course of a very uneasy afternoon tea, but Gaffsie is unwilling to allow her confidences. During the night a storm blows up and the fillyjonk is forced to leave her house. Crouching behind a rock she finds an unexpected sense of peace: there is no longer any need to fear disaster. It has happened.
The story is beautifully told. Jansson brings her delicate observation of the discomforts people feel to bear on the teatime conversation:
These may be stories for children, but Jansson always tackles complex feelings in her lucid style. The fillyjonk's liberation from her fears has as much meaning and relevance for an adult as for a child. Indeed, this story makes a companion piece to the previous one in this collection, "A Tale of Horror" in which an inconsiderate child understands for the first time what it means when he frightens others. In all the Moomin books Jansson tackles big themes in a microcosm, and the stories are told with such delicacy and simplicity that you are hardly aware of reading about loss, or loneliness. They are lovely books to read to children, who love their humour and wonderful characterisation, but their gentle poignancy also offers real pleasure for the adult reader.
"This calm in unnatural. It means something terrible is going to happen. Dear Gaffsie, believe me, we are so very small and insignificant [...] Mrs Gaffsie, have you felt it? Tell me that you kmow what I'm talking about! Please!"
Gaffsie was very red in the face and sat twirling the sugar bowl in her paws and wishing that she had never come.
"There can be very sudden storms at this time of year," she said at last, cautiously.
The fillyjonk fell silent from disappointment.
Towards morning the gale was blowing itself out. The fillyjonk hardly noticed it. She was sitting in deep thought about herself and her disasters, and her furniture, and how it all fitted together. As a matter of fact nothing of consequence had happened, except that the chimney had come down.
But she had the feeling that nothing more important had ever happened to her in her life.