Marja-Leena Rathje
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Tove Jansson biography


Way back in February of 2005, I wrote about trolls and my love of folk legends, myths and fairy tales especially anything Finnish. In that context came up the name of internationally well-known Tove Jansson and her Moomintrolls. There were some interesting conversations in the comments that I've enjoyed rereading just now.

Recently, Finland's biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (in English) published an interesting article, Dedicating 25 years to Tove Jansson. It is about Jansson's biographer Boel Westin and how her relationship to the author began first as a child reader, then as researcher for her doctoral thesis in 1988 when she met and became friends with Jansson. Westin went on to do an extensive biography, "Ord, liv, bild" ("Word, Life, Image") now appearing in Sweden and in Finland. "The book, which is a rich and tantalising depiction of both Jansson and the cultural history of Finland, will appear next year translated into Finnish by Jaana Nikula." If you are a fan of Tove Jansson's books, do read the article which gives us some interesting perspectives on Jansson and her biographer.

I'm really looking forward to that Finnish translation and hope that an English one will soon come out as well.

It's been fascinating for me to have learned over time how much academic interest Tove Jansson has attracted. For example, when I met author, college instructor and blogger Kate Laity of Wombat's World, I was surprised to find out that she has also studied Tove Jansson and just recently attended a conference on her.

Addendum May 21.07: Dem, comic strip artist extraordinaire at the Guild of Ghostwriters has shared, in the comments below, a fabulous link to the Drawn & Quarterly site's previews of their recently published book of Jansson's comic strips. Enjoy! Until Dem told me, I didn't know Drawn & Quarterly is Canadian!! And they even have a blog. Thanks, Dem!

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip - Book One, of a series, has now been added to my shopping list, thanks to this reminder.


13 comments

My brother loved the Moomins when we were children - truth to tell I thought the name Tove was a man's. Then a year or two ago I found 'The Summer Book', which was pure delight. She was an interesting figure from an interesting family, wasn't she?

I loved the Summer Book too. And have now given L the Winter Book but not had a chance to read it yet.

Tove was a genius. The Summer Book is essential reading. I feel that hot behind the eyes feeling of imminent happy tears as I recall it, and a pleasant shiver down my spine and across my scalp. I had the privilege of seeing many of her original illustrations in the Tampere library (which houses the Moomin museum) and they are even more magical like that than when printed in the books. Thanks for the link to the Sanomat article - I hope the biog gets an english translation anon! That reliably beautiful Canadian comic publisher Drawn & Quarterly are publishing her daily Moomin comic strips, a preview of which is available on their website...
http://www.drawnandquarterly.com/artPreviews.php?artist=a43cd43019761a&type=1

Lucy, I must get "The Summer Book" too. And yes, quite an interesting family, isn't that often the case with writers and artists?

TG - and I must read the Winter Book, too. I wonder if our library has them?

Dem, I was hoping to hear from you, being a comic strip artist and with your connections to Finland! Thanks for telling me about the Moomin Museum in the Tampere library - must go one day. And thanks for the fantastic link to the Moomin comic strips!

I bought a couple of the Moomin books for one of my grand-daughters for Christmas and was surprised how many were back-dated, so they must be sellling well. Some were out of print and some are new prints. It's high time for me to try read them all. I've only read a couple a very long time ago.

I have read all the Moomin books (except the comics) many times. Moominland Midwinter is my favorite; I would class it with Wind in the Willows and The House on Pooh Corner as one of my all-time favorite children's books. Moominpapa at Sea is filled with subtle psycho-sexual imagery that only the adults will appreciate. (Moominpapa spends much of the book trying to get his lighthouse to work and plumbing the depths of a mysterious pool.) Moominvalley in November is perhaps the deepest of the lot, suffused with angst and melancholy. I also love some of the short stories collected in Tales from Moominvalley, such as "The Hemulen Who Loved Quiet," "The Spring Tune," and "The Fillyjonk who Believed in Disasters." The others are lighter fare, but still tremendous fun. Snufkin's battle with the evil park keeper in Moominsummer Madness is classic.

Dave, thanks for your insights on these books! When I was a child already living in Canada, aunts in Finland sent me many Finnish story books, as well as a huge book of translated Grimms' Fairy Tales, but never any of the Moomin ones. I've wondered if they were not reaily available in Finnish in their towns (they were originally written in Swedish I think) or maybe there was a bit of anti-Swedish bias, but I never knew about them until I was grown up! I came across some when buying for my own kids. Now I want to read them all!

Right on, Dave! Midwinter is also about how you live life (with gusto and enjoyment, and trust). Thanks for this, Marja-Leena!

PS: They were written originally in Swedish.

I'd echo most of Dave's comments and add that the dress rehearsal in Moominsummer Madness is the best, most accurate literary description of a dress rehearsal I've ever encountered and tells me that Tove must have sat in on a few of them when she was working in theatre. I'd take slight issue with his description of them as children's books though - to me they are great literature that children can enjoy too (but then perhaps all really great children's literature, like the others he cites, are exactly that).

I've been trying to find it since I read your entry and failing but somewhere I stumbled upon various great comics creators (Seth is the one that springs to mind now) describing the importance to them of Tove Jansson as comic strip creator. If I find the link again, I'll let you have it.

The books were originally written in Swedish and Finnish translations came much later. I believe that in many if not all cases, the books were available in English before Finnish. I'm not sure about anti-Swedish bias because my dealings with Finns over the last few years have suggested that to present day Finnish speaking Finns (I've only met two or three Swedish speaking Finns), Tove Jansson and the Moomins are a more universally celebrated source of Finnish pride than Mannerheim, Kivi, Runeberg et al and has never been tarnished (in my experience) with the pampered aristocratic minority tag with which some Finnish speakers label/regard Swedish speakers. It's probably more likely that they were not available in Finnish during your childhood, or were not then as popular as they have become since.

Peter, thanks for chiming in. Yes, I was pretty sure they were originally written in Swedish. Jansson was one of the Swede-Finns in Finland, and her first language was Swedish. Readers will appreciate the clarification.

Dem - Thanks again, I'm learning so much here. When I was researching to buy for my granddaughter, I read that some of the books are rather dark and perhaps unsuitable for some younger children. Perhaps that's why my daughter was hesitant about my giving her these, though I made sure I chose the happier earlier ones. In that research, I noticed that sometimes the titles varied a bit, depending on who the publisher was, so that may be why you are having a hard time finding the book you are looking for. And some are out of print.

Interesting points that the Finnish translations came later, even later than the English, and about the popularity. So that may be why I missed out on them in my childhood. The English ones were unlikely to have made it to the Winnipeg libraries at the time.

The "aristocrat" label was probably just a vestige by the middle of the 20th century. Sometimes it takes a few generations to get over the class distinctions of the older society, after all Sweden controlled Finland for centuries before Russia took over. (I know you know all this, Dem, I'm just clarifying to readers here.)

Here's another tidbit: the English they were rendered in was British English, often by Thomas Warburton. As a result, there were some very uneasy cultural/linguistic misunderstandings for North American English readers.

The one I most remember is from a note left to Moomin from Snuffkin, which reads in part, "Cheerio...and keep your pecker up!" I forget which book it's from, but I remember my eyebrows rising involuntarily as I was first reading it to my daughter (who is half-Finnish)--frankly, I paraphrased it on the spot.

Peter - that's funny! Have you told your now-older daughter this?
What a great example of cultural/linguistic differences.

Not yet--she is too busy being Herself. When things calm down a little (like when she's 30), we'll talk about things like that. :)