Oh, What Happiness! Remembering ‘Moomin’ Creator Tove Jansson
Tove Jansson, the creator of Moomin, one of the most beloved children’s comic characters in the world, was born on August 9, 1914.
Jansson's characters have lived on past nine novels, five picture books, and an ongoing comic strip to become beloved of multiple generations. In addition to many television series, animated movies, and reprinted books, the world’s love of the Moomin family has also led to a Moomin museum and a Moomin theme park in Finland.
Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki to a creative family of Swedish-speaking Finns. Her mother was an illustrator and graphic designer, and her father was a sculptor. Jansson wrote and illustrated from an early age, creating her first picture book at the age of 14, Sara and Pelle and the Water Sprite's Octopuses, later published in 1933. She studied art and illustration from 1930-1938 in Finland, Sweden, and France.
Jansson’s professional career as an artist began before her formal artistic education in the 1930s; she had begun to publish her illustrations in magazines during the previous decade. She continued to contribute illustrations to magazines and newspapers through the '30s, including to the anti-fascist satirical magazine Garm, as well as designing book covers and writing short stories and articles for various periodicals. Her first solo exhibition was held in 1943.
Her first Moomin-like character debuted in an illustration in Garm in 1943. This character was a bit skinnier and uglier than the Moomin the world has grown to love, who first appeared in The Moomins and the Great Flood in 1945. That children’s novel introduced the Moomin family, including Moomintroll, Moominmamma, and Moominpappa. The story follows Moominmamma and Moomintroll on a great adventure as they search for Moominpappa, who climbed a tree to escape a great flood. Eventually they find him --- and the house he built --- carried into what will become Moominvalley.
The Moomin family are round, white trolls with big snouts and small arms. They live in Moominvalley with various other iconic characters such as Snufkin, a human, and best friend of Moomintroll; Little My, an aggressive grumpy child eventually adopted by the Moomins; the Hattifatteners, tall cylindrical creatures with eyes and hand-like appendages, who seem to communicate by telepathy; and Snorkmaiden, who looks very much like the Moomins but for some blonde hair on her head.
Snorkmaiden and Snufkin, and other important characters, were introduced in Jansson’s next Moomin book, Comet in Moominland, published in 1946. Jansson continued to write children’s Moomin novels and also expanded to picture books, starting with The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My in 1952.
In 1952 Jansson was also approached by a British newspaper publisher about writing and drawing a daily Moomin comic. She had worked in the comic format before, having drawn a longer Moomin story for a Finnish paper, and accepted the offer. The comic strip Moomintroll was published in the British newspaper the Evening News from 1954 to 1975, illustrated by Jansson until 1960, and her brother Lars Jansson in the years following.
Jansson has said in interviews that many of the Moomin characters were inspired by herself and members of her family, but the ultimate spirit of the Moomin comics and books were a reaction to Jansson’s experiences during World War II. After living through so much horror, she wanted to write stories that were ingenuous and simple.
After giving the daily comic strip to her brother, Jansson spent more time on illustration and painting, as well as extensive travel with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, also an artist. Jansson won the Hans Christian Andersen medal in 1966, an honor awarded to authors and illustrators who have made lasting contributions to children’s literature through their body of work. She stopped writing Moomin books in 1970, but continued to write, creating five more novels and five short story collections before her death in June 2001.
The Moomin family has lived on beyond Jansson’s death. In 2006, Drawn & Quarterly began reprinting the Moomintroll comic strip in a series of books --- the first time the comic strip has been published in North America. Tove Jansson’s innocent, loving family of trolls has created a lasting legacy of joyful pleasures in children’s literature.