Life is like a river. Some people sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize.
- Moominvalley in November.
Many people remember the Finnish writer Tove Jansson as the creator of the Moomins, but she was able to touch the hearts of every child within us with her books specifically tailored to the young and old. During her life she won many awards including the Finnish State Award in literature, the first Suomi Award, honours from The Swedish Academy, a Pro Finlandia medal, and the Åbo Akademi University even appointed her as their honorary professor.
Tove Marika Jansson was born 9 August, 1914, in Helsinki, Finland. Although Jansson was Finnish, she was part of the fairly sizable Swedish-speaking community there and thus became a Swedish-speaking Finn. From the outset it was clear that she would be very likely to grow up to have a career in the arts for she was born into an artistic family. Her mother Signe Hammersten Jansson illustrated the anti-German magazine Garm and her father was sculptor Victor Jansson. She also had two younger brothers, Per Olov and Lars, who also eventually made it in the arts too.
As a young child, she would spend her summer holidays in the Porvoo islands1 with her family, while the rest of the year was spent studying in school. She wasn't keen on the place though and once said School was boring, and I have forgotten everything about it, including why I was afraid of it.
She left school at the age of 15 and went on to study at Konstfack in Stockholm, Helsinki Art Society's drawing school at the Finnish National Gallery, Ecole d'Adrien Holy and Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. She travelled widely through Europe during the 1930s and took part in a variety of different exhibitions before moving back home to live with her parents until the age of 28.
In Mothers Footsteps
Following in her mothers footsteps Jansson started creating content for the magazine Garm in the latter half of the 1920s, but it wasn't until Finland's Winter War (1939-1940) that the Moomins appeared in her imagination and the central character Moomintroll emerged for the very first time. First set out as satirical figures for the publication, the Moomins were soon so popular that Jansson started work on several novels featuring them, including The Moomins and the Great Flood, which has since been translated into English. In total the author spent 25 years of her life with Garm, before moving to Ny Tid where she continued her creative work until 1948.
Picture idyllic landscapes, where the seasons change and have a knock on affect on it's inhabitants and thus their daily lives. For instance, during the winter months they will hibernate, but the summer brings with it a time to have great adventures. This is Moominvalley home to the Moomins and other inhabitants.
Now imagine trolls, no not those that are of big build, long growing unkempt hair, with a tendency to be rather dim, but the ones that Jansson dreamt up, trolls that look more like hippos and you have the Moomins. Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Snork and Snork Maiden are all hippo-shaped trolls, who live like bohemians and have a penchant for jam. Of course there are a number of other characters that don't appear like that too. They include Sniff who ressembles a kangaroo or aardvark, Little My, a rebellious child and Snufkin who looks rather like an elf. There are also characters that border on evil portrayed in her books such as the Groke, Hemulens and Hattifatners.
In 1953 The London Evening News offered her a contract that would see her Moomins being printed in their publications as satirical cartoons and from there these characters had the potential to take on the world and in the literary sense they did. For Jansson Moomins were a means to provide money so that she could become a painter, but the time consumed on creating six comic strips a week ate away at the idea of pursuing a painter's life and for a while she had to content herself with just this work. Over the course of her career with the newspaper she created over 800 artistic pieces and her books were translated into 34 languages. The book Moomin 1 published by Allan Wingate in 1957 exposed just a glimmer of this artist's work. However, the cartoons that she provided the newspaper with from 1957 to 1959 were never published. In 1959 she handed her job with the London Evening News over to her younger brother Lars2 who continued working for them until 1975, when other people took them on.
Turning her attention to a different audience - that of adults -she wrote 11 books, three of which were translated into English. One of these The Summer Book reads rather like a memoir about a grandmother and her grandchild who visit an island in the Gulf of Finland. It has become a modern classic in Scandinavia, where it has continuously sold off the bookshelves of various shops for more than 30 years. Her final book Fair Play, also appears to portray her life, for it concentrates on the relationship between two women through vignettes. Similar to that of her famous lesbian relationship with graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä3.
Together Jansson and Pietilä ran an art gallery in Helsinki and vacationed on an island in the Pellinge archipelago near Porvoo. Pietilä was later to make several films of the couple's life, which have since been well documented.
I couldn't continue. I couldn't go back and find that happy Moominvalley again. But one thing I did, not only for the children but for myself as well, in the very last sentence of the book you see the Moomins' lantern approaching in the distance.
In 1987, The Moomin Museum opened up at the Tampere Art Museum. On display is a lot of Moomin memorabilia and her drawings from Garm.
Jansson passed away on 27 June, 2001, at the age of 86, in Helsinki. She will always be remembered for her literary work, particularly the Moomins, who have gone on to be successful in a television series made by the Japanese and two theme parks; one in Japan, the other in Finland.