Just before Christmas we were given the most wonderful gift: a trip around the Adventures of Moominland exhibition, which is part of Winter Festival at the Southbank Centre and is now on at the Royal Festival Hall.
As a youngster I was a voracious reader and I adored the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. I didn’t realise it then but I believe it was the tolerant, eccentric nature of the characters which appealed to me, along with the simple but beautiful illustrations.
Truth be told, I wasn’t sure if my children (11 and 9) would enjoy the exhibition. They haven’t read the books or seen the television programmes. They scoff at my taste in literature or films from the ‘olden days’ and can’t begin to imagine a time when there was no gaming. Nonetheless, I took them along and fervently hoped that they wouldn’t whinge their way through it and spoil Mum’s enjoyment.
I needn’t have worried. All three of us were captured in the spell. Out of all the (many) outings we had over the holidays, this was their very favourite thing. It gave me a warm glow in my tummy and that wasn’t just the indigestion of it being two days until Christmas.
The exhibition is not a free-for-all dash around a room, where you can miss all the content (= my kids’ speciality). Nor is it a dry, boring talk showing you things while you stifle a yawn. This is an hour-long guided tour by a Moominologist (I’ve made that bit up) where you literally step right behind the cover of the book (as pictured below) and get to interact in and really explore the world of the Moomins.
As we first enter, our guide introduces us to the Moomins and finds out how many fans there are in the group (answer: a lot, but it really does not matter if you know nothing about them). Each time we move into a new space, we hear from the fantastic guide who is in the room with us, and then an engaging voiceover from Sandi Toksvig while we get to touch things and move around the place. The first room we find ourselves in is actually a tent, where it smells like a fire has just been burning! Sitting there on a little stone, we find out about the early history of Moomintroll and his family in the valley, and have the chance to look at some early illustrations. We continue the adventure into different spaces both indoors and in the wild, into replica living areas, snowy woodlands, even on a boat.
As well as finding out about the Moomins themselves, the tour reveals a lot about their creator, Tove Jansson, born in Helsinki, Finland in 1914. The Moomins are wise but creative, a bohemian family who love adventuring in nature, and it sounds as if they were based on Jansson’s own family and upbringing. It was also really interesting to find out that Jansson’s long term female lover, Tuulikki Pietilä, had to be kept a secret from the outside world, where homosexuality was illegal at the time.
Throughout, we are fully immersed in the magical world, adults and children alike. Everybody is listening hard, and keen to explore everything they can in each new space we move into – and fully encouraged to do so by our lovely, engaging guide. In each separate beautifully-designed area, we uncover a little bit more about the person who dreamt up the Moomin world, and start to understand more why it is the way it is.
The Moomin family’s life pilosophy is a simple one: hibernation in the winter, parties in the summer and a place for everyone in the Moominhouse. If only life could be so simple. You emerge from Adventures in Moominland inspired to aspire to such pure aims again. If you feel like going on an adventure into forests and a different era, and learning about a very wise and very talented artist and writer, whether you are a Moomin fan or a first-timer, this is a magical world which you will fall in love with, and it is definitely not just for the children.
We saw Adventures in Moominland on press tickets. It is on at the South Bank Centre until 23rd April, prices between £13.50 and £16.50. Check the website for further details.