And so the tale begins. He leaves the family den and meets the winter creatures of the valley.
Moomintroll visits his sleeping mother.
One thing I love about this book is its atmosphere of cold-weather loneliness. Moomintroll meets lots of characters but they come and go with long periods between visits. Nobody talks much, everyone is isolated, traveling alone. His "friends" are not too friendly, they have other things on their minds. There is much reference to darkness, to everything being held in a kind of icy death, albeit a temporary one.
Moomintroll sometimes goes to his mother, who is still hibernating underground, and asks her questions. By talking in her sleep "from the depths of her womanly understanding of all that preserves tradition", Moominmamma is able to help her son. Here Jansson is softening the blow for younger readers. Without a few kind words from Moominmamma the book's atmosphere of winter melancholy could get genuinely upsetting. This indicates how well-written this book is.
The icy Groke is a wonderful creation. A lonesome wanderer, she is attracted to light and warmth but doomed to extinguish it by drawing close. Moomintroll at first fears her, but then comes to pity her. He learns a lot of other things that winter but Jansson steers away from putting big lessons in her plot. Moomintroll does not have any revelations, he does not seem overly changed by the time spring comes and we reach the end of the story. His growth is slow and gradual, without high risk or climaxes, an ordinary childhood.
As the thaw arrives Moomintroll is at last able to see familiar things emerge from under the snow. In a beautiful bit of dialogue, he makes a complaint to an acquaintance, Too-Ticky. Moomintroll tells her that she should have been more supportive of him when he first found himself awake, alone and unhappy.
‘It’d have been such a comfort. Remember, I said once: “There were a lot of apples here.” And you just said: “But now here’s a lot of snow.” Didn’t you understand that I was melancholy?”
Too-Ticky shrugged her shoulders. ‘One has to discover everything for oneself,’ she replied. ‘And get over it all alone.’