Tove Jansson: the incredible woman behind the Moomins

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Tove Jansson's Moomin

Who wouldn’t instantly recognise those white creatures with big round snouts? The Moomins are a cult classic already. Some of us watched cartoons and others read comics and novels about the adventures of a family of Moomintrolls. Today let’s talk about the woman behind those beloved characters.

Tove Jansson: the incredible woman behind the Moomins
Tove Jansson, source: Wikipedia

Their creator, Tove Jansson, a Finnish artist and writer, was a fascinating person that is an inspiration for many up until this day. She was born in Helsinki in 1914 in a Swedish-speaking family of artists – her father was a sculptor, her mother worked as a graphic artist and both of her two younger brothers became artists as well. Therefore, it was only natural that she pursued creative hobbies such as illustration and writing from a very young age and by the age of fifteen she was already a published comic artist and illustrator.

What some might find surprising, is that Tove considered herself to be primarily an artist. She studied art in Stockholm, Helsinki in Paris and had multiple solo exhibitions. As a young artist, her style was more inspired by impressionism and then evolved into more abstract one as she matured. Tove painted numerous murals in public buildings around Finland. The ones commissioned by the city of Helsinki to be painted at the town hall can be still admired at HAM (Helsinki Art Museum).

She also did illustrations, bringing her own style to beloved stories such as Hobbit or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Of course, she is also the author of the iconic illustrations depicting the adventures of Moomin, his family and friends.

The first book about the Moomins – The Moomins and the Great Flood, published in 1945, wasn’t very successful. It was only when the second (Comet in Moominland) and third (Finn Family Moomintroll) books came out that the adventurous family gained popularity. After that, Moomins quickly became a global phenomenon. Translated into over forty languages, adapted into theatre plays and various TV series and films all over the world. The most notable adaptations include the Polish-Austrian stop-motion series, the beloved Japanese one that popularised the soft pastel look of the Moomins and the newest British-Finnish collaboration that was animated in 3D.

Tove Jansson: the incredible woman behind the Moomins
Moominvalley, the 2019 TV show, surce: moomin.com

Besides the Moomins, Tove is also the author of some picture books and fiction for more grown-up readers. One of her most critically acclaimed work is The Summer Book, a novel that, unsurprisingly, takes place during summer and describes life of an elderly women and her granddaughter on a small island. They talk about all sorts of things, including the meaning of life and nature.

When it comes to the private life of the beloved author, Tove was in relationships with both men and women until she met the love of her life – Tuulikki Pietilä in 1956. Tooti was also an artist and even though the two women lived and worked separately in neighbouring houses, they were connected via a passageway in the attic. They also built a summer house together to spend the warmer months of the year surrounded by nature.

Tuulikki was the inspiration behind the character of Tooticky, that first appeared in the book Moominland Midwinter. This was not the only time Tove drew inspiration from her surroundings to create Moomin’s companions. It is said that beloved Snufkin was based on Jansson ex-fiancé Atos Wirtanen who also owned a green hat, a pipe and loved to wander. Moominmamma and Moominpappa were reflections of Tove’s parents and even the author herself described Moomin as her alter ego.

Tove was an incredibly inspiring figure. She opposed the societal conventions and notions about gender and sexuality, living her life as she wanted. She was a creative that left behind the legacy that is still very much alive, teaching new generations of both kids and adults about family, nature, love and life.

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