Philosophical and Translatological Wanderings in Moominvalley

by Hanna Dymel-Trzebiatowska (Author)
©2023 Monographs 230 Pages


The bipartite work titled Philosophical and Translatological Wanderings in Moominvalley explores Tove Jansson’s renowned children’s classic to illumine its inherent double-address mode. Part one discusses the plentiful philosophi-cal hypotexts of the Moomin series, ranging from Parmenides to Westermarck and geared to an adult readership. Part two examines the Polish translation of anthroponyms, humour and cuisine terms as central to the Moominvalley idiom and the poetics of the saga. By identifying translation techniques and linguistic shifts, the author provides comparative insights into how the source and target texts address their respective audiences. By highlighting the triumphs and failures of the Polish Moomin books, the argument spells out the implications of double address for translation and translation studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Part I Philosophical Wanderings
  • Chapter One Catastrophism
  • Chapter Two Vitality and Freedom
  • Chapter Three Beauty, Art and Artists
  • Chapter Four Searching for Justice
  • Chapter Five Life is a Dream
  • Chapter Six The Triumph of Life over Death
  • Chapter Seven The Invisible
  • Chapter Eight There Is No Life without Fear
  • Chapter Nine Crisis
  • Chapter Ten A Farewell
  • Part II Translatological Wanderings
  • Chapter One Not Only about the Muskrat, Who Is (Not) a Musk Deer: Translating Anthroponyms
  • 1.1. As Accurately as Possible: Literal Translations, Transfers and Their Hybrids
  • 1.2. As Similarly as Possible: Transcriptions
  • 1.3. As Authentically as Possible: Substitutions
  • 1.4. Conclusion
  • Chapter Two ‘Un- Hemulenish Choices’: Remarks on Translating the Comic
  • Chapter Three ‘You’re badly brought up. Or not brought up at all’: On Culinary Customs and Translating Them
  • Brief Conclusion
  • References
  • Index of Names
  • Series Index


One ambition held by Tove Jansson, the eminent Swedish-speaking Finnish painter and author, was to write not only for children but also for adults. This prompted her to stray ever further from the world of children over the nine volumes of her Moomin saga (1945–1970), weaving an array of compelling intertexts into the fabric of her narratives and thus inviting inexhaustible interpretations. My interpretations in this book are productions of a philosophical-cum-translatological mind stirred by Pippi og Sokrates. Filosofiske vandringer i Astrid Lidgrens verden (Pippi and Socrates: Philosophical Wanderings in the World of Astrid Lindgren) by Norwegian philosophers Jørgen Gaare and Øystein Sjaastad. I read Gaare and Sjaastad’s engaging book quite a while ago, but I still remember thinking of the Moomin series time and again on that occasion. My thoughts would revolve around its multiple references to philosophical, psychological and literary-theoretical concepts and theories. That Jansson herself was an erudite person with versatile interests was made additionally clear to me by her biography penned by Boel Westin. These reading experiences inspired me to bring all these insights and ideas together and combine them with studies on translations of the series, which, though published and re-published in Poland for over fifty years now, have not yet been comprehensively addressed by Polish scholars.

In the first part of this book, entitled ‘Philosophical Wanderings,’ I focus on the explicit and implicit hypotexts whose echoes reverberate in the Moomin saga. Over its ten chapters, we shall hear the voices of Oswald Spengler, José Ortega y Gasset, Socrates, Henri Bergson, Parmenides, Edvard Westermarck, Mikhail Bakhtin, Karen Horney, Antoni Kępiński, Carl Gustav Jung and Sigmund Freud. My intertextually inflected inquiries will seek to highlight the fact that the Moomin series, despite being traditionally categorised as children’s literature, in fact represents double-address fiction. In exploring these classificatory conundrums, I will refer to an increasingly pronounced tendency in Nordic children’s literature that involves abandoning the notion of the implied reader and embracing the moniker of allålderslitteratur (literature for all ages).

Of course, giving a thought to or presupposing the engagement of adult readers with books explicitly addressed to children is by no means a novelty. Indeed, it has already encouraged multiple theorisations within frameworks as varied as those of ambivalence (Shavit 1986), the tripartite taxonomy of dual, double and single address (Wall 1991), multiple address (O’Sullivan 2005), shadow text (Nodelman 2008) and crossover literature (Beckett 2009, 2012). In my discussion of the ways in which children’s books are made to appeal to readers from outside the primary young readership, I interchangeably employ the terms of double and multiple address.1 I regard Jansson’s Moomin series as a conspicuous instance of double-address fiction in which the content comprehensible to experienced readers seamlessly merges with elements deliberately designed to cater to children. Though composed decades ago, the Moomin novels are actually a perfect embodiment of tendencies flourishing today and at the same time a useful resource for studying how translators deal with double-address literature.

Hence, in the second part of this book, entitled ‘Translatological Wanderings,’ I examine the Polish translation of selected language issues I believe to be central to the poetics of the Moomin saga. These include anthroponyms, the comic and cuisine-related items, which I discuss in three dedicated chapters. My analyses cover lexemes and phrases as embedded in broader contexts, the identification of translation techniques and semantic and/or formal shifts in an effort to compare the modes of address of the source and the target texts. In conclusion, I bring my findings and insights together and reflect on the implications of multiple address for translation and translation studies.

English makes this study accessible to a broader reading public. I trust that the world is full of Moomin fans who will find things of interest to themselves among my observations and reflections in this book. I look forward to comments and polemics from Moomin scholars, and I encourage translation researchers to explore this gorgeous series in other languages and offer their thoughts on the utility of my analytical model.

1 Double address can be thought of as a species of multiple address with a narrower semantic field. The very term suggests two target groups (as a rule, children and adults), while multiple address has broader implications and presupposes a variety of readings by variously aged children, adolescents and adults at various stages of and with various experiences in life. In my view, multiple address is a sound notion and a more suitable term, though it certainly does not account for the innumerable factors that affect reading. However, I believe that these terminological differences are not so entrenched and recognisable in literary-studies discourse as to nitpickingly set them apart in my argument. I use them interchangeably with a view to highlighting the idea that the books I discuss are not exclusively meant for young readers.

Chapter One Catastrophism

‘Now the danger had a name: a comet’1

Comet in Moominland

At the beginning of the twentieth century, German philosopher Oswald Spengler (1880–1936) was so hugely popular that the decadence and catastrophism of the time cannot possibly be addressed without referencing his treatise The Decline of the West (1918). Spengler’s revered study, which was also known to Tove Jansson (Westin 2018: 184), is a clear hypotext of multiple motifs, episodes and characteristic traits of the protagonists of Comet in Moominland, the second volume of the Moomin saga (1946).2 The book’s action unfolds against the background of fears spawned by an approaching comet which threatens to destroy the Earth. What stirs up interest in this tale of unsettling, pre-apocalyptic changes experienced by the planet is how differently its characters respond to the looming danger. Some of them seem to ignore the comet altogether (the Muskrat3), others calculate the time of the catastrophic impact, indifferent to its consequences (professors at the Observatory), and yet others want to find out about outer space, whence the doom is coming (Moomintroll and Sniff), or carry on with their routine-based lives (Moominmamma and Moominpappa).

The course of action is constructed from episodes of the tension-ridden and perilous adventures of Moomintroll and his friends on their way to the Observatory atop the Lonely Mountains. Moomintroll’s parents send him off in the company of Sniff on this expedition with the clear purpose of having the children’s attention diverted from the Muskrat’s menacing and pessimistic visions. Of course, the sequence of adventures has a happy ending as the comet passes by the Earth without hitting it, and the circle of friends and companions is augmented with Snufkin, the Snork Maiden, Snork and the Hemulen. All this is in line with Jansson’s recipe for a good children’s book: ‘Children like scary things; they are captivated by grand disasters, but this has to do with adventure, and not with havoc. (…) Stability will eventually be restored; serene, cosy, interesting and as soothing and refreshed as the calm after a storm. Why not? This is the least that we can give them’ (Jansson 1978: 9). At the same time, the ostensibly simple plot – of what is only superficially a children’s book – carries layer upon layer of meaning that is decipherable by more experienced or, perhaps just more open-minded, readers. The book’s implicit meanings build on Spengler and on the symbolism of the comet as war, the trauma of which is not easily assuaged.

In 1918, Spengler’s The Decline of the West repudiated the traditional perception of history as a set of facts, dates and people lined up in a cause-effect sequence and negated its customary division into antiquity, the Middle Ages and modernity. Instead, Spengler proposed the concept of the course of life, in which spiritual content is actualized in eight high cultures, each having its own prime symbols embodied in its productions (such as art). These cultures are dynamic and evolve in the way nature does: ‘Every culture passes through the age-phases of the individual man. Each has its childhood, youth, manhood and old age’ (Spengler 1926: 107). Crucially, when a culture uses up all its available spiritual resources and is unable to create anything new, it dies and mutates into a civilisation. The spiritual death of a culture is heralded by materialism, the rise of cities, an increasing power of money and irreligion, which means that practical moral reflection is emptied of all metaphysics and grounded on purely rational reasoning (Spengler 1926: 33).

Spengler’s depiction of how culture morphs into civilisation sparks associations with the vision José Ortega y Gasset developed in his celebrated essay ‘The Dehumanization of Art’ (1925),4 in which art, along with science, features as the most sensitive barometer of humanity’s attitude to life and thus as a reliable tool for studying social transformations. If until the nineteenth century art pictured the objects it represented in shapes derived from the humans’ lived reality, new art chose to distort reality and abandon its human aspects, in this way espousing dehumanization as an aversion to living forms. As the external world ceased to play its former role, artists turned their eyes to subjective inner worlds.

In Ortega y Gasset’s view, an individual artist’s sensitivity clashes with the legacy of art, and while tradition can be either endorsed or repudiated, there is no evading it. New art not only negates the past but is also hostile to pre-existing principles. Once, art ‘was important for two reasons: on account of its subjects which dealt with the profoundest problems of humanity, and on account of its own significance as a human pursuit from which the species derived its justification and dignity’ (Ortega y Gasset 1968: 50). Art was thus supposed to preserve the world, which was facing an upsurge of relativism in the wake of the fall of religion. Yet, in the twentieth century, art relinquished its transcendent status. As Ortega y Gasset saw it, an era of boyhood had come in which the mind and old age were stepping back to make room for the body and youth: ‘The aspect of European existence is taking on in all orders of life points to a time of masculinity and youthfulness. For a while, women and old people will have to cede the rule over life to boys; no wonder that the world grows increasingly informal’ (Ortega y Gasset 1968: 52).

The decline of culture as conceptualised and envisioned by Spengler and Ortega y Gasset promoted a belief in the abrupt and inevitable destruction of the world, which was only fanned by the general despondent mood fuelled by the First World War and the Great Depression. In Jansson’s novel, this bleak vision is symbolised by the titular comet and the theory itself is trumpeted by the Muskrat, who repeatedly emphasises his ‘philosophical’ mindset. As explained by Jansson’s biographer Boel Westin, the Muskrat was modelled on the writer’s then-fiancé, Atos Wirtanen:

The philosophical Muskrat is related to Atos (…) but it was not so much Wirtanen as a person that the Muskrat personified as rather the idea of a philosopher. There was also a Muskrat in a marsh near the Grankulla house and this became a place of reflection on both Moomintrolls and philosophers: ‘Atos went to the muskrat swamp and pondered upon Nietzsche,’ wrote Tove in her diary on 10th May 1945. Atos was working on his book on this ‘Great Idol,’ as Tove often mentions in her notes. He read Spengler, but could not have been less of a prophet of ruin. (Westin 2018: 199)

The Muskrat is also a reader of Spengler’s study, which Jansson explicitly shows in an illustration preceding the headline of the second chapter of the Comet. The image features the Muskrat wrapped in a blanket, resting in a hammock, with a book bearing Spengler’s name lying on the ground beneath him (Jansson 1991a: 42). This is not the only occasion where Jansson capitalises on the capacity of iconotext, as two other illustrations in the Comet picture, respectively, the Hemulen (Jansson 2001a: 71) and Moomintroll (Jansson 2001a: 113), each of them deep in thought and striking a ‘philosophical’ pose redolent of Rodin’s Thinker.5 While both characteristically rest their heads against their hands with a worried expression on their faces, and both are plunged into their rather ostentatious reverie by the same impending danger, their pensiveness has rather different undertones. The Hemulen is in the throes of egocentric anxiety, as expressed by his verbal commentary to the Rodin-like visualisation: ‘[The sky] can be spotted for all I care. I hardly ever look at it. What worries me is that my beautiful mountain stream is nearly dried up. If it goes on like this for much longer, I shan’t be able to splash my feet’ (Jansson 1991a: 99–100; italics original). Moomintroll’s musings are pervaded by a mixture of altruism and hedonism:


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2023 (July)
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2023. 230 pp.

Biographical notes

Hanna Dymel-Trzebiatowska (Author)

Hanna Dymel-Trzebiatowska is Associate Professor at the Department of Scandinavian and Finnish Studies, University of Gdan´sk, Poland. Her research focuses on reading therapy, Nordic children’s literature, picturebooks, translation and translation theory.


Title: Philosophical and Translatological Wanderings in Moominvalley
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232 pages