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Fillyjonk in Moominland

I’m try­ing hard not to be a Fil­lyjonk. Hon­est­ly, I am. Mrs. Fil­lyjonk is a char­ac­ter in Tove Jansson’s won­der­ful Moom­introll series. Fret­ful Mrs. Fil­lyjonk needs order in her world. If any­thing is out of place, or goes wrong, she is flat­tened by depres­sion and anx­i­ety.

Mrs. Fillyjonk in Moominland

Mrs. Fil­lyjonk, from the Moomin books by Tove Jans­son, cur­rent­ly pub­lished in the US by Square Fish

Is any­thing more out of order than the world we live in now? When the quar­an­tine first began in the U.S., and then Vir­ginia, I didn’t think it would be too bad. I’d get lots of writ­ing done. Our house would be spot­less for once. Overnight weeds would be plucked before dew dried the next morn­ing. I’d have time to cook decent meals.

Instead, I became a news junkie. Hour after hour, I scrolled online sto­ries. Like most of us, my day needs shape. In my nor­mal life, I’d get up at 5:30, feed the cats, make the bed, scoop lit­ter box­es, fix a bowl of cere­al, show­er, dress for exer­cise class, and leave the house at 7:00. On my way home after class, I’d stop at the library, maybe the gro­cery store. Then I’d write until my hus­band came home from work.

Bit by bit, my sup­port sys­tem — like every­one else’s — was kicked out from under me. My husband’s job, exer­cise class, the library. Gro­cery shop­ping was like run­ning a gaunt­let. I took morn­ing naps, after-lunch naps, late after­noon naps. After two weeks of flail­ing, I drew up a sched­ule. By then I’d devel­oped the con­cen­tra­tion of a new­born gnat. My plan was to do some­thing dif­fer­ent each hour: write for an hour, house­work for an hour, walk for an hour. The sched­ule last­ed all of forty-five min­utes before I was scroung­ing in our good­ie draw­er for a Reese’s peanut but­ter egg.

In a recent issue of Fresh Bookol­o­gy, linked to a New York­er piece about Tove Jans­son, author of the Moom­introll books, I real­ized I should try anoth­er avenue of cre­ativ­i­ty. A strug­gling painter, Jans­son cre­at­ed the whim­si­cal Moomins dur­ing World War II when, as she said, “I was feel­ing depressed and scared of the bomb­ing and want­ed to get away from my gloomy thoughts to some­thing else entire­ly.” This I under­stood. My own moods have veered between obses­sive think­ing and out­right fear. Jans­son cre­at­ed an escape hatch, “an unbe­liev­able world where every­thing was nat­ur­al and benign — and pos­si­ble.”

Moon­min­val­ley. A beau­ti­ful place with mead­ows and rivers, where the inhab­i­tants live in peace­ful har­mo­ny with nature. But not always. Moom­introlls face floods, vol­canic erup­tions, even a comet on a col­li­sion course with Earth.

Moominsummer Madness

Moomin­sum­mer Mad­ness, rep­re­sent­ed by the new cov­er (Square Fish) and the orig­i­nal cov­er (Schildts, 1954)

I found the adven­tures of the strange, child­like Moomins made for per­fect sum­mer read­ing. I longed to be care­free, har­mon­i­ca-play­er Snufkin, nev­er dream­ing I’d wind up a neu­rot­ic Fil­lyjonk, intro­duced in Moomin­sum­mer Mad­ness:

But inside a Fil­lyjonk was sit­ting, lis­ten­ing to the tick­ing of her clock and the pass­ing of time. She sighed and wan­dered around, sat down and got up again.                       

This was me to a T, house­bound, for­ag­ing for jelly­beans and choco­late eggs.

Jans­son wrote and illus­trat­ed sev­er­al Moomin sto­ries. Dur­ing the war, she said, “one’s work stood still; it felt com­plete­ly point­less to try to cre­ate pic­tures.” Once the war was over, she pub­lished The Moomins and the Great Flood in 1945. Comet in Moomin­land fol­lowed in 1946.

The Moomins and the Great Flood and Comet in Moominland

Orig­i­nal cov­ers for The Moomins and the Great Flood and Comet in Moomin­land, pub­lished by Schildts in 1945 and 1946

In the lat­ter sto­ry, the Moon­in­trolls lacked a comet-pre­pared­ness plan. (Sounds famil­iar?) To get instruc­tions, they endured tor­na­does, a plague of grasshop­pers, and a jour­ney to the bot­tom of the sea, which caused Snufkin’s har­mon­i­ca to rust. After the comet “whisked” past the cave where the Moomins were hid­ing, they crept out to safe­ty:

The sky was no longer red, but a beau­ti­ful blue once again, and the morn­ing sun shone in its usu­al place, look­ing as though it had been fresh­ly pol­ished … And [the sea] was rolling tire­less­ly in towards them, glit­ter­ing and gleam­ing like soft blue silk, the same old sea that they had always loved!

Mean­while Snufkin had tak­en out his mouth-organ and was giv­ing it anoth­er try. All the notes had come back, even the lit­tle ones, so that he could play to his heart’s con­tent.

I so long for a place where every­thing is nat­ur­al and benign. I’m not imag­i­na­tive enough to cre­ate one, too scat­tered to gath­er any words. The pan­dem­ic will end, though not as soon as we want. When it does, our words and songs and notes will come back. And we’ll emerge from our homes to a clean blue sky and a fresh­ly buffed sun, togeth­er once more.

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