I only recently discovered Tove Jansson. I didn’t grow up with the Moomins and it was probably only five years ago that I realised she was a woman. What I am now discovering is that she was a fascinating and talented woman. Jansson illustrated anti-fascist magazine Garm in the 1930s and continued to work as an artist throughout her better-known writing career. There is currently a retrospective of her art at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London, which I hope to visit. Her books have a gentle, nature-loving heart and yet still manage to deal with some really tough subjects.
My first Jansson read was The Summer Book and I loved it. It’s the semi-autobiographical tale of a young girl who summers on an island with her (largely absent) mother and her grandmother. Next, I read a collection of Jansson’s short stories Letters from Klara, which are often sharply funny and switch easily from light to dark. Then I finally turned to her best-known creation: the Moomins.
Sort-of Books are reissuing the Moomins novels, starting this month, in beautiful special hardback editions with Jansson’s original illustrations and they kindly sent me three titles. I dug into the one that catapulted Jansson to fame, though it’s actually the third in the series: Finn Family Moomintroll. As the jacket copy says:
“The Moomins, in case you haven’t already met them, are kind, philosophising creatures with velvety fur and smooth round snouts, who live in a beautiful valley in a forest in Finland. They have the most natural way of turning friends into family – Moominmamma simply adds another plank to the table and Moominpappa builds a new bed. The Moomins sleep through the winter, when the snow turns their house into a giant snowball. But when spring comes they wake and clamber down rope ladders hanging from their windows, ready for a bright new adventure.”
This novel follows the extended Moomin family over the course of one summer in which they have adventures largely centred around a magic hat. It’s occasionally a little scary and more often strange, but in a really lovely, attractive and accepting way. Very different characters (indeed, different species of animal) get over their initial fears and concerns and learn to be friends, or at least to peacefully co-exist.
I know I’m very late to the party, seeing as the first Moomins book was published in Swedish (Jansson was part of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland) in 1945, and the first to appear in English translation was Finn Family Moomintroll in 1950, but I am now eager to share these books with the children in my life, and indeed read the rest of them myself.
Did you grow up with the Moomins books? What do they mean to you?