If, like me, you grew up in the 90s, it’s more than likely you watched Moomin, the Japanese-Finnish-Dutch animation television series, also known as ‘Moominvalley,’ ‘Tales from Moominvalley,’ and ‘Adventures from Moominvalley.’ And it’s likely you had a favourite character. My favourite happened to be the Groke.
Up until a few years ago, my knowledge of the Groke was scant. I’d mostly left her in the 90s, but, with the emergence of my 30’s, I found myself drifting back in the direction of Moominvalley. I wanted to get to know the Groke a bit better – though little is known about her – as well as the family of philosophical trolls around whom Tove Jansson’s stories are centered.
In Swedish, the Groke is called Mårran, an altered version of the word ‘morra’ which means to growl. In Finnish, she’s Mörkö which translates to bogeyman, and in Norwegian she’s Hufsa. As a kid, her appearance fascinated me – her hill-like body and hunched posture, her expressionless face and permanently bared teeth. And the growling, moaning sounds she made unnerved me endlessly.
She’s been through an array of transformations since her initial appearance, though its thought her portrayal in the 90s series is her most terrifying. Wherever the Groke is, you can see her frosty breath, and the ground below her freezes. A blizzard follows her, and if she stands in a place for too long, nothing can grow there again.
When the show had its premiere in Poland – where the Groke is known as Buka – there was widespread panic among the children. (I’m going to try and find an episode in Polish, because her howls and moans are said to be more eerie than in the English version.) Polish children long complained of having nightmares. There was even a forum called ANTY-BUKA where people shared their childhood stories about the Groke.
While she did turn my blood to slush, I did and still do feel for her. As she roams alone through Moominvalley – she’s the very depiction of loneliness – she seeks friendship and warmth, but, her eerie appearance and freezing touch, means she feared by all. Though the Moomins do pity her her loneliness. It was Alison Lurie writing for The Guardian who described the Groke best of all, calling her ‘A kind of walking manifestation of Scandinavian gloom.’