One of the joys of children’s literature is that you can never really outgrow it. The words of Winnie the Pooh, Dr Seuss, Roald Dahl and more, all have so much to teach us about the world and each other. The Moomins of Moominvalley by Finnish author Tove Jansson is another series that retains an allure for grown-up readers, thanks to its deceptively simple observations, memorable characters and distinctive illustrations.
The Moomins have acquired cult like status globally, from bestselling books to movies, TV shows, merchandising and a theme park in Finland, Moomin World.
Here in London, you can experience the Moomins universe in 3D at the immersive exhibition, Adventures in Moominland at Southbank Centre (open until April 23).
There’s an air of anticipation as our Moomins tour guide takes us through the doors of a closed book into a mysterious world hidden within the centre. Southbank Centre back rooms and store cupboards have been transformed with painstaking detail into leafy, scented forests and dimly lit caves. We crunch through fake snow, huddle in a tent, perch on logs and listen to tales of Tove and how her real life blended with her fictional world.
At times, danger lurks (the tour is aimed at slightly older kids, ages 7+), although nothing alarming happens and there’s a feeling of warm fuzziness in abundance at the finish. It’s a tactile, multi-sensory adventure designed to spark the curiosity of even the littlest visitors. Our tour guide was great at keeping the kids engaged and asking questions throughout. The boys loved collaborating on a drawing of their own imaginary character — Jed named him ‘Fred’ (no doubt after Imaginary Fred).
Adventures in Moominland features archival material that’s never been seen before in the UK: handwritten pages, early illustrations and models, photos of Tove in her studio and at her family island of Khlovaru. It’s a fascinating portrait of the artist at a time of great upheaval (the first Moomins stories were published at the end of World War 2).
We learn how the bitter political climate led to Tove creating a place of escape — an enchanting valley where peace, tolerance and eccentricity thrive. Tove’s personal life also finds an alternate home in Moominland: for instance, her same sex relationship (then illegal in Finland) is echoed in the love story between her characters Thingumy and Bob.
Amazingly, the original Moomintroll was a monstrous figure scrawled by Tove in response to an argument with her brother about philosopher Kant (as you do). A far cry from the huggable, hippo-like creatures we know and love today. Adventures in Moominland is Tove’s story, but it’s also a universal story about the transformative power of creativity, told with sparky audio narration by Sandi Toksvig and jazz accompaniment by Aki Rissanen.
You might only catch a ‘glimpse’ of Moominmama, Moominpapa and little Moomintroll inside the tour, but there’s a chance to cuddle one of the Moomins by the pop-up shop afterwards.
Adventures in Moominland runs until Apr 23 at Spirit Level, Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Rd, SE1 8XX (Waterloo/Embankment tube, rail). Ages 7+. Weekends and holiday tours (PEAK) every 15 minutes between 10am – 6pm (last tour enters at 6pm); £16.50/£13.50 (supporter ticket*), £15/£12 (non-supporter ticket). Midweek tours (OFF PEAK) daily, on the hour at 2pm, 3pm, 4pm, 5pm & 6pm + 7pm additional tour for adults only (Thu & Fri); £13.50/£11.50 (supporter ticket*), £12/£10 (non-supporter ticket)
Part of Nordic Festival at Southbank Centre.