Moominvalley is turned upside down by the arrival of a prophet who tells everyone they must begin new lives to free themselves and be happy. “But dear prophet, aren’t we fairly happy?” asks Moominmamma. “Of course not! You’re tied down by traditions and narrow ideas! Do only what you want to do instead!” As they try out their freedoms all relationships disintegrate and anarchy rules, up is down, bad is good, and there’s no such thing as ‘normal’ any more. Just as everyone is beginning to wonder where next to take their new directions, another prophet arrives. What will their alternative commandments bring forth?

Moomin Begins a New Life is the eighth of Tove Jansson’s 21 stories originally created in daily, black and white comic strips for the London Evening News between 1954 and 1959.The complete run is collected in five large hardcover volumes of Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip and Moomin: The Deluxe Anniversary Edition, a single, slipcased compendium volume. This newer series of small, landscape format, flexicover books takes the Moomin strips and repackages them in individual volumes with each story newly coloured by the editorial team at Drawn and Quarterly to give each small book extra kid-friendly appeal. Unfortunately the eccentric colouring is frequently at odds with Jansson’s art, introducing many graphic shapes and background additions which disrupt her original layouts, and is intrusive enough to affect the overall rating.

Parents should note that while these stories appear visually to be a perfect fit for children, Jansson wrote the Moomin newspaper strips to amuse adults first. The ideas, dialogue and situations are sophisticated, subtly existential, philosophical and often quite abstract. Jansson is an expert with layered narratives so that all her stories work on multiple levels, but there’s a lot here that will fly over children’s heads entirely and/or need explaining. Next in the series is Moomin Falls in Love.