Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Moomins and the Great Flood - 1

In the original Swedish its title is The Little Trolls and the Great Flood. It was written by Tove Jansson in 1945.

It must have been late in the afternoon one day at the end of August when Moomintroll and his mother arrived at the deepest part of the great forest. It was completely quiet, and so dim between the trees that it was as though twilight had already fallen. Here and there giant flowers grew, glowing with a peculiar light like flickering lamps, and furthest in among the shadows small, cold green points moved.

'Glow-worms,' said Moominmamma, but they had no time to stop and take a closer look at them. They were searching for a nice, warm place where they could build a house to crawl into when winter came. Moomins cannot stand the cold at all, so the house would have to be ready by October at the latest.

So they walked on, further and further into the silence and the darkness. Little by little, Moomintroll began to feel anxious, and he asked his mother if she thought there were any dangerous creatures in there. 'Hardly,' she said, 'though we'd perhaps better go a little faster, anyway. But I hope we're so small that we won't be noticed if something dangerous should come along.'

Suddenly Moomintroll gripped his mother tightly by the arm. 'Look!' he said, so frightened that his tail stuck straight out. From the shadows behind a tree-trunk two eyes were staring at them. At first Moominmamma was frightened, too, but then she calmed down: 'I think it's a very small creature. Wait, and I'll shine a light on it. Everything looks worse in the dark, you know.'

And she picked one of the big flower-lamps and shone it into the shadow. Then they saw that there really was a very small creature sitting there, and that it looked friendly and a little startled. 'There, you see,' said Moominmamma.

'What are you?' asked the small creature.

'I'm a moomintroll,' answered Moomintroll, who had got his courage back. 'And this is my mother. I hope we didn't disturb you.' (You can see that his mother had taught him to be polite.)

'That's all right,' said the small creature. 'I was sitting there feeling very sad and was longing for company. Are you in a great hurry?' 'Yes,' said Moominmamma. 'You see, we're looking for a nice, sunny place to build a house in. But perhaps you'd like to come with us?' 'Rather!' said the small creature, leaping out towards them. 'I'd got lost and thought I would never see the sun again!'

So they continued, all three of them, taking a large tulip with them to light the way. But around them the darkness was growing deeper and deeper, the flowers glowed more faintly beneath the trees, and eventually the very last one went out. In front of them gleamed a black stretch of water, and the air was heavy and cold. 'How dreadful,' said the small creature. 'That's the swamp. I don't dare go there.'

'Why is that?' asked Moominmamma.

'Oh, because that's where the Great Serpent lives,' said the small creature in a very low voice, looking about him in all directions.

'Pah!' said Moomintroll, wanting to show how brave he was. 'We are so small that we probably won't be noticed. How will we ever find the sunshine if we don't dare to go across? Now come with us.' 'Perhaps a bit of the way,' said the small creature. 'But be careful. It's for your account and risk.'

So they stepped as quietly as they could from tussock to tussock. The black mud bubbled and whispered all around them, but as long as the tulip lamp burned they felt calm. At one moment, Moomintroll slipped and nearly fell in, but his mother caught hold of him at the last moment.

'We shall have to continue by boat,' she said. 'Now your feet are all wet. Why, you'll catch cold.' Then she got out a pair of dry socks for him from her handbag, and lifted him and the small creature up on to a big, round water-lily leaf. They all three stuck their tails in the water like paddles and then they steered straight out on to the swamp. Beneath them they glimpsed dark creatures that swam out and in between the roots of the trees, there was a splashing and a ducking, and the mist came stealing over them.Suddenly the small creature said: 'I want to go home now!' 'Don't be afraid, small creature,' said Moomintroll in a quavering voice. 'We'll sing something cheerful and...'

At that very moment their tulip went out and it was completely dark. And from the darkness they heard a hissing, and felt the water-lily leaf swaying. 'Quick, quick!' cried Moominmamma. 'The Great Serpent is coming!'

They stuck their tails in deeper, and paddled with all their might so that the water gushed at the prow. Now they could see the Serpent swimming behind them. It looked nasty, and its eyes were cruel and yellow.

They paddled as hard as they could, but it kept gaining on them, and was already opening its mouth, with its long, quivering tongue. Moomintroll put his hands in front of his eyes and cried: 'Mamma!' and then he waited to be eaten.

But nothing happened. Then he looked cautiously between his fingers. Something very remarkable had happened. Their tulip was glowing again, it had opened all its petals and in the midst of them stood a girl with bright blue hair that reached all the way down to her feet.

Brighter and brighter glowed the tulip. The Serpent began to blink, and suddenly it turned right round with an angry hissing and slid down into the mud.

Moomintroll, his mother and the small creature were so agitated and surprised that for a long time they were unable to say anything.

(to be continued)

translated from Finland-Swedish by David McDuff

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