Line-Maria Lång's debut collection of short stories, Rottekonge (Rat King) met with widespread acclaim in her native Denmark; it drew the reader into a fantastical and sometimes grotesque world of fairytales for adults. Here she tells us about a series of books which made her feel connected with a mysterious, wintery landscape in the far north of Europe...

Strindberg, Ibsen, Blixen... I always say: Tove Jansson, don't forget Tove Jansson.

When I was little, I often thought about my Finnish family and how they were in Finland. I had never been there. One day, my mother read The Moomins to me. The stories were about small, thoughtful, hippopotamus-like creatures living in isolation in the Moomin valley close to the shadowy forest. It was often dark, but sometimes, the northern lights shone. Perhaps because this was the most I knew of Finland, I imagined my Finnish family in the Moomin valley.

The old lady who lived in the apartment beneath us often said that you could recognise people by the landscapes in which they lived. That the dramatic landscape of Yorkshire had influenced the Brontë sisters and that London had shaped the authorship of Dickens. She said it was just like with people and their dogs – they always end up resembling each other. She thought that if you really wanted to understand a book, you had to go to the place where it had been written. I think the old lady was right. You can always sense the influence: the noise, the smell of urine in the streets, the shops which never close, everything that I imagine as: a city. Or the fields and the pigs shrieking their goodbye as they are led onto a wagon in the early morning. Those pigs stick in your memory.

Photo: Lars Gundersen (all rights reserved)
Line-Maria Lång: "All great books leave us changed."

When I email with my Finnish cousin and she tells me about their house, I see it as the Moomin house. Blue and a bit spooky. I think of her friends and family as creatures of the Moomin valley. I imagine that she happens to meet the cynical Little My, who is always on the look-out for some fun. Or that she bumps into a dress-clad Hemulen, an academic who collects stamps and has an interest for botany, by the bakery. And perhaps that my cousin, heading home with bread and coffee, sees the mute Groke turning everything she touches into ice. My cousin strides on towards the blue house with her iced coffee. I see her meet Moominmamma, and I hope that I can catch a glimpse of what's inside Moominmamma's handbag. I know it hides everything from bark to woollen socks. Moominmamma has given me a morbid obsession with examining ladies' handbags.

All great books leave us changed. The moomins are able to experience the winter in such a way that I can see it afresh. Everything quickly become normal for adults. The overwhelming poetry of the winter, slowing down the pace of life, freezing everything, making it static - it easily glances off us after enough experiences of winter. When I long for the winter, I read a certain Moomin book: Moominland Midwinter. Moomins hibernate, but while the rest of the family sleeps, Moomin suddenly wakes up. He tries to wake the others, but finds himself all alone in a wintery world. He is cold and afraid, but fortunately his fur quickly adjusts to the cold and grows longer and warmer. Moominland Midwinter encaptures in a special way the loneliness and unease that all the Moomin books contain.

I still haven't been to Finland, but the Moomins make me feel connected with it, like a Fillyjonk on Saturdays and a Hattifattener on Tuesdays. Monday is My-day. Finland feels close, actually like family. It's like Moomin says: "It must be true that I'm related to him. Mom always said that our ancestors lived behind the stove."

Teaser photo: Lars Gundersen (all rights reserved)

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