Exploring Tove Jansson and the Moomins
What is Finland's greatest export? Nokia, Angry Birds or the barley and glacial water combination of Finlandia Vodka? No, Finland’s greatest export is undoubtedly Tove Jansson and her peculiar hippo-like creatures. On the centenary of her birth it is worth taking a look at the prolific work of the Finnish-Swedish creative.
The Creative Powerhouse
Jansson is primarily known for the Moomins – she is Finland’s most translated writer with her work now existing in 44 languages – but she was a creative force from an early age and left a legacy spanning various mediums. Aside from penning and illustrating various other children’s and adult titles and illustrating for J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, she was one of Europe’s first female cartoonists and created hundreds of images for Swedish satirical magazine Garm. Not to mention she was an accomplished exhibiting artist in her own right.
The Nordic Dream
The Moomins may appear light-hearted and Jansson's dreamy illustrations may lead you to believe these marshmallowy creatures are living in a Nordic utopia, but think again. She addresses some rather apocalyptic themes with these hippo-trolls – notably comets and floods – and they have their fair share of problems. Born into a complex country during an era of world and civil wars, Jansson clearly reflects this reality in the shadows of Moominvalley. The Moomins deal with complex themes that are still relevant today.
The Moomin Philosophy
The Moomin stories are standing the test of time (they first appeared in the 1940s) and attract readers of all ages for good reason – they have a lot of important lessons to teach us. They share valuable insight into the Finnish way of life regarding good manners, simple philosophies and the importance of a strong connection with nature. Jansson was open about the fact she didn’t write to ‘please children’ and we can all learn something from the Moomins, children and adults alike.
The Free Spirit
A leaf could be taken out of Jansson's book about the importance of following your own path. From an early age she did things her own way - often making and wearing her own fur trousers as a child - and she went on to spend much of her life living quietly on her own island (Klovharu in the Gulf of Finland) with fellow artist and partner Tuulikki Pietilä. Perhaps an inheritance from her artistic parents, her bohemian way of life inspired and enabled her to create fantastic imaginary worlds.
The Tove 100
The Moomins have gone a bit viral in recent years, there is now a dedicated museum in Finland, a Moomin film to be released in October and they've even made it into politics - Finland's first female president Tarja Kaarina Halonen carries the affectionate name 'Moominmamma'. With the first substantial biography of Jansson by Boel Westin’s appearing earlier this year and a plethora of celebratory events happening, this is the time to discover or simply revisit Jansson and the Moomins.