The Squirrel with the Marvellous Tail, or the importance of minor characters.

tove jansson squirrel

Moominland Midwinter by Tove Jansson

So, you’ve got a strong protagonist or two, a decent antagonist (that Groke, eh? Or maybe the weather itself), some plot and character development (Tooticky: did she support Moomintroll? Or challenge him? Or perhaps a bit of both). The setting is good (plenty of snow, not too many pine needles in the tummy) and the story is rolling along. So why add any more characters?

One reason is to challenge and develop the protagonist. If you think Tooticky was tough on Moomintroll, just wait until Little My comes along. She provides him with a whole new perspective.

Another is to keep our interest. We may feel we’ve heard enough about the protagonist. Give us a lively secondary character and it revitalises our interest in the story. Ski-ing, horn-playing Hemulen anyone? This type of character can draw another dimension out of our protagonist. Who hasn’t had unexpected guests descend upon one and eat everything in the larder except for the strawberry jam?

And then there are minor characters who steal our hearts. Little My does, certainly. She’s a character and a half. Tooticky is very lovable – as Tove Jansson would have been the first to confirm. But for me Moominland Midwinter is hijacked by a character who only appears briefly and then almost immediately (look away now) dies*.

I just love The Squirrel with the Marvellous Tail. There’s not much to him: some whiskers, a bit of scraggly brown fur, sharp eyes, and the most wonderful self-confidence you can possibly imagine. Even the terrifying Lady of the Cold is of no concern to him: he is living in the moment, and in that moment he will live forever. And he does have the most Marvellous tail.

Moomintroll goes through a terrible time, and comes through it stronger and smarter and a little bit more open to change, and that is the arc of the story. But the star turn is a wee beastie who surely, in summer, would have a bow in his tail.

*But NB keep reading. It might not be what you think.

Ekphrasis in practice

http://spontaneity.org/

Undercurrents: welcome to issue 7 of Spontaneity! We are all about ideas, about the interplay between short stories and photography, poetry and flash fiction, music and visual art. Everything here connects to something else, so click on a piece you like, then get beautifully lost – and if you want to be a part of it, get in touch.

My poem in this issue was originally inspired by an exhibition at An Tobar, arts centre of the Isle of Mull. It also links back to a photo by Dimitry Bulkin in Spontaneity issue 6. I love the way in which forms of art inspire and imbue one another.

And Ekphrasis? In its most general sense, it means art inspired by other art – as in a poem inspired by a painting, or vice versa, and that seems to me to be at the heart of what Spontaneity is trying to do.