Review: ‘The Dangerous Journey’

The Dangerous Journey Writer/artist: Tove Jansson Drawn and Quarterly; $16.95 The latest of Tove Jansson’s works to be republished in North America by Drawn and Quarterly is also the beloved artist’s last. Originally published in 1977, Jansson’s final picture book The Dangerous Journey is a particularly interesting last work, as it can now be read—whether […]

The Dangerous JourneyThe Dangerous Journey
Writer/artist: Tove Jansson
Drawn and Quarterly; $16.95

The latest of Tove Jansson’s works to be republished in North America by Drawn and Quarterly is also the beloved artist’s last. Originally published in 1977, Jansson’s final picture book The Dangerous Journey is a particularly interesting last work, as it can now be read—whether it was originally created with that intention or not—as something of a commentary on Jansson’s decades worth of Moomin work, or her entire creative career, or even her entire life up to that point.

The Dangerous Journey alternately voices frustration with comfort and complacency and extols the virtues of the same. Its heroine finds the power to completely transform her world simply by looking at it in a different way, getting what she wished for only to find it terrifying and perilous, but quite quickly learning that life is not unlike a dream, and a lucid dreamer can transform it for good or ill, exciting or boring, dangerous or safe, depending on her intention. And regardless of the challenges presented, the presence of friends is integral. The role of those friends are played by a handful of Jansson’s Moomin characters, most of whom make at least a cameo in the final pages of the book.

While the Moomins have starred in media of all sorts, this is neither a comic nor straight prose. Big, delicate water-colors in darker, more foreboding colors dominate most of the pages, stretching right across the gutters of each double-page spread (the exceptions are the word-heavy first and last pages, in which images appear in smallish circles.

In the circle on the text-heavy first page we meet Susanna, sitting in a bright green field dotted with flowers, her smiling cat curled up and sitting next to her. It’s a pleasant-looking scene, but she wears an expression of weary irritation.

The rhyming lines read,

Susanna woke one morning
Bored and confused and cross.
She gave her cat a warning.
She told it who was boss.

She takes off her eyeglasses and finds a new pair sitting next to her. Since she can’t find her own, she puts these on, and the world is transformed, as is the art and color palette. Rather than lying on the ground asleep, the cat is now a huge howling monster, with gigantic eyes, a wide open mouth full of sharp teeth, black claws extended, body rounded in an arc, all its hair raised, and leaping into the air.

As the cat flees, Susanna find herself alone in a sickly-colored swamp…alone save for all the snakes. Then in a desert, beneath a sky full of red hot clouds, bizarre noiseless birds, a black sun, and an empty basin where the sea used to be. She encounters rainstorms and snowstorms, a volcano, and a hot air balloon ride over a raging sea before she lands in Moomin Valley, where they have a party.

That the suddenly scary world is rendered less scary doesn’t have as much to do with her arrival in a fun, safe and happy place as it does with meeting the other characters who helped bring her there through all of the various dangers: Hemulen, Sniff, Bob, and Thingummy.

On the last page, the adventure over, Susanna awakes in the field with her cat Mr. Paws and heads for her own home, echoing Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where a little girl out with her cat fell asleep, had amazing adventures, and awoke in time to go home. Was it all just a dream? Perhaps; it depends on which pair of glasses you want to see it through.

You can see a preview at the D+Q website.

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