25 October 2010

Book of the Week (78): "The Dangerous Journey" by Tove Jansson, in an English version by Sophie Hannah

Tove Jansson is loved the world over for her Moomin series, books like Finn Family Moomintroll, A Comet in Moominland and Who Will Comfort Toffle? (surely one of most delightful book titles of all time!), which have become some of the most popular of all children’s classics. The Dangerous Journey, reissued next week, was Jansson’s final Moomin book, an illustrated poem about a girl called Sophie who puts on magic glasses and finds herself in a strange world of volcanoes and upside-down birds and harmless snakes and a red and gold hot-air balloon. And Moomins, too – she meets familiar characters from the old books, and they all end their adventures with a party in Moominvalley. It’s an episodic narrative, with each spread bringing Sophie and her friends into a new danger – dark and threatening and a little weird – and then opening up to bright colour for the friendly, festive Moominending.

Made up of Tove Jansson’s last ever pictures of the Moomin world, this book will matter to anyone with affection for the characters, to anyone for whom this world is important (as it is for me, and probably you, too). For my money, though, what makes this so special is Sophie Hannah’s English version of the book, rendered with perfect pulse and rhyme. It’s especially not easy to make such things feel natural and unforced in translation and she pulls it off impeccably – this is a superb achievement.

Recommended by Daniel Hahn

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