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for Books and Writers
by Bamber Gascoigne

Tove (Marika) Jansson (1914-2001)


Finland-Swedish artist, novelist, and children's book writer, famous for Moomintrolls which have found friends worldwide. Tove Jansson began her Moomin series in 1945. Her books have been compared to the work of Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien. Moomintroll is a bland-faced little creature, who lives with his father Moominpappa and mother Moominmamma in the Valley of the Moomins.

"Life is like a river. Some people sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize." (from Moominvalley in November, 1970)

Tove Jansson drew the comic strip Moomin for the Evening News, London, from 1953 to 1959, and then was succeeded by her brother Lars Jansson, who had helped Jansson to translate the original texts into English. After Lars Jansson, who drew and wrote Moomin until 1975, the work was continued by others. The Moomintrolls became a huge success with their individualistic characters, sophisticated humour, and deep sense of freedom. Although Jansson's works have gained worldwide popularity among children, the Moomintrolls are also much appreciated by adults.

The international Moomin boom came in two waves, first in the 1950s in the West, and then in the 1960s and during the 1970s in the East Europe and other sides of the globe, including Japan. The Moomin are now licensed, and Jansson has little to do with the recent avalanche of comic books, Japanese animated movies, toys, sweets, and other products (see From Moomins to a Party Game by Juhani Niemi in Muumien taikaa, 1996).

Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki. Her father was the sculptor Viktor Jansson (1886-1958), a patriarchal figure, and mother the graphic artist Signe Hammarsten-Jansson (1882-1970), who moved to Finland in 1914, after marriage. "Father hated all women except mother and me," Jansson said. Her parents belonged to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and the family heritage - art, creativity, and tolerance - later marked Jansson's stories, in which she showed an understanding of the bohemian lifestyle and mildly anarchistic individualism. In Sculptor's Daughter (1968) she returned to her childhood and her father. For the first six years Tove was the only child in the family. Her brother Per Olov was born in 1920 and in 1926 her second brother Lars (d. on July 31, 2000).

The bright summer days of her childhood Jansson spent in the Porvoo islands, fifty kilometers from Helsinki. The family used to rent a cottage from the local fishermen at the end of May and return to the city in early September. This happy milieu became the later scene for many Moomin adventures. She was brought up in the art nouveau milieu of Katajanokka in Helsinki, playing with a little boy called Poyu. He was Erik Tawaststjerna, who became a distinguished music critic and biographer of Jean Sibelius. In the evenings she sat in front of the fire in the studio and listened to her mother's stories, which were often about Moses and later "about Isaac and about people who are homesick for their own country or get lost and then find their way again; about Eve and the Serpent in Paradise and great storms that die away in the end. Most of the people are homesick anyway, and a little lonely, and they hide themselves in their hair and are turned into flowers. Sometimes they are turned into frogs and God keeps an eye on them the whole time and forgives the when he isn't angry and hurt and destroying whole cities because they believe in other gods." (trans. by Kingsley Hart, from Helsinki: a literary companion, 2000)

At the age of fifteen Jansson moved to Sweden where she studied art in Stockholm (1930-33) at Konstfack. She then studied at the Helsinki Art Society's drawing school at the Finnish National Gallery (1933-37), and in Paris at Ecole d'Adrien Holy and Ecole des Beaux Arts (1938). In the 1930s she also made several trips to Germany, Italy and to France. From 1932 Jansson participated in several exhibitions in Finland and abroad; her first private exhibition was in 1943 in Helsinki. This period also brought a great change in her life - she did not leave home until the age of 28.

After starting to live independently she continued to keep close ties especially with her mother - Jansson once said that she had always tried to draw like she did. Jansson's second exhibition, in 1946, at the Bäcksbacka gallery, was a commercial success, and her works received critical acclaim. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Jansson was considered to be among the most prominent young artists in Finland, including Torger Enckell, Eva Cederström, and Sam Vanni. Her first picture book, SARA OCH PELLE OCH NÄCKENS BLÄCKFISKAR, was published in 1933, under the name Vera Haij. In 1944 Jansson moved into a studio home on Ullanlinnankatu in Helsinki, which then served as her working place.

"Every children's book should have a path in it where the writer stops and the child goes on. A threat or a delight that can never be explained. A face never completely revealed." (Tove Jansson in Moominvalley, ed. by Mirja Kivi, 1998)

In the late 1920s Jansson started her career as a cartoonist and illustrator in the magazine Garm, publishing her first drawing there at the age of 15. During World War II Garm was among the few magazines that distanced itself from Finland's official foreign policy and represented antifascist, liberal views. Jansson's works appeared in the magazine for 25 years. Her drawing also appeared in the Christmas magazines Julen and Lucifer. From 1947 to 1948 she worked for Ny Tid and from 1953 to 1959 for The London Evening News. In 1991 Jansson donated to the Art Museum of Tampere her drawings made for Garm between the years 1933-1953.

Jansson's early stories were light and amusing, but later she started to focus more on the psychology of her characters. Her first Moomin story SMÅTROLLEN OCH DEN STORA ÖVERSVÄMNINGEN was published in 1945. She adapted her story Comet in Moominland into a comic strip for the magazine Ny Tid and made a study trip to The Evening News, learning the basics of professional cartoon production. Later Jansson depicted these experiences in a short story, which was published in the collection DOCKSKÅPET OCH ANDRA BERÄTTELSER (1978).

In 1949 Comet in Moominland was produced in Svenska Teater. Lilla Teater produced in 1958 Jansson's Troll i kulisserna. The production later visited Sweden and Norway. Jansson wrote lyrics for the play, the music was composed by Erna Tauro. In 1952 Jansson designed stage settings and dresses for Ahti Sonninen's balet Pessi and Illusia and in 1974 the Moomins climbed onto the opera stage - the music was composed by Ilkka Kuusisto. Jansson's last Moomin book, the melancholic Moominvalley in November (1970), appeared after her mother's death, and deals with the theme of leaving and loneliness. The Moomin family has gone and nobody knows where. Hemulen, Toft, Fillyjonk, Snufkin, Little My, Grandpa-Grumble, and other characters of the world, prepare for the winter. Gray and foggy tones dominate illustration, not the usual black-and-whites.

"In nearly every Moomin story there are characters, who lose themselves and the feeling that they exist: in other words, their identity. Such characters are Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll, three Filijonks, the Groke, the fisherman i.e. the lighthouse keeper, Snufkin, three Hemulens, the creep and Ninny. In the end, however, they manage to find their true selves and can feel alive again." (Shizuo Takahashi in Muumien taikaa, toim. Virpi Kurhela, 1996)

Jansson has also written adult fiction, short stories and memoirs. Although she became famous with the Moomin characters, Jansson has considered herself first as an artist. Her first large mural painting was made for the restaurant Kaupunginkellari in 1947. The work was followed by several others, among them the paintings for the Aurora Children's Hospital in Helsinki. After Jansson concluded her career as a cartoonist in 1959, she has devoted herself to art. Her style has changed during the years from figurative expression into something more abstract, but in 1975 she returned again to figurative art, after spending time in Paris in Cité des Arts. In 1992-93 Amos Anderson Art Museum presented Jansson's paintings in a large exhibition.

The Moomin museum was opened in Tampere in 1987. The Moominvalley collection at Tampere Art Museum comprises some 2 000 items, including over 1 000 Moomin illustrations. In Naantali the Moomin World has been a very popular visiting place. During her long career as an artist, Jansson received a number of awards. In 1963, 1971 and 1982, she was awarded the Finnish State Award in literature and, in 1993, the first Suomi Award. The Swedish Academy has honored her twice, she has received Pro Finlandia medal, and she was appointed honorary professor at the Åbo Akademi University. In 1995 she was awarded the title Honorary Professor. Among Jansson's illustrated fantasy works for other writes are translated editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

Jansson's companion in life was the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, whose personality inspired the character Too-ticky in Moominland Midwinter (1957). Moomintroll and Little My can be regarded as the artist's psychological self-portraits. The Moomins, in general, bore a strong resemblances to Jansson's own family - they were bohemians, lived close to nature, were tolerant towards the peculiarities of other creatures, and fond of Moominmamma's cooking. "Sometimes, Jansson's characters border on the sinister, like the Hemulens, who are always officials, or the strange Hattifatners, who move in a singleminded, menacing crowd. Novelist Alison Lurie has described the Groke, a dark, mound-shaped creature with staring eyes, as 'a kind of walking manifestation of Scandinavian gloom; everything she touches dies, and the ground freezes wherever she sits.'" (Ros Coward in Guardian, June 30, 2001) Tove Jansson died on June 27, 2001. Her last collection of short stories, VIESTI, appreared in 1999.

More information: Tove Jansson, The Moomintroll Home Page; Muumilaakso-Moominvalley - For further reading: Tove Holländer: Från idyll till avidyll (1983); W. Glyn Jones: Tove Jansson: Moominvalley and beyond (1984); Tordis Örjasaeter: Tove Jansson, muumilaakson luoja (1987); Boel Westin: Familjen i dalen (1988); Erik Kruskopf: Kuvataiteilija Tove Jansson (1992); Barbro K. Gustafsson: Stenåker och ängsmarken (1992); Salme Aejmelaeus: Kun lyhdyt syttyvät (1994); Skämttecknaren Tove Jansson, (1995, foreword by Erik Kruskopf); Muumien taikaa / The Magic of Moomins, ed. Virpi Kurhela (1996); 'Tove Jansson' by Erik Kruskopf, in Kansallisgalleria, pp. 214-221 (1996); Muumilaakso - Moominvalley - from stories to a museum collection by Mirja Kivi (1999); Helen Svensson (ed.): Resa med Tove (2002); Vilijonkka ikkunassa by Sirke Happonen (2007) - See other fantasy worlds: C.S. Lewis (Narnia), J.R.R. Tolkien (Middle-Earth), Lewis Carroll's Wonderland

Selected works:

  • SARA OCH PELLE OCH NECKENS BLÄCKFLASKAR, 1933 (pseudonym Haij, Vera)
  • LILL-OLLE OCH HARPALTEN, 1943 (with Brita Hiort af Ornäs)
  • OM FLUGA MAJA, 1944 (with Martin Söderhjelm)
  • SMÅTROLLEN OCH DEN STORA ÖVERSVÄMNINGEN, 1945 Muumit ja suuri tuhotulva (suom. Jaakko Anhava) - The Moomins and the Great Flood (trans. by David McDuff)
  • KOMETJAKTEN, 1946 / MUMINTROLLET PÅ KOMETJAKT, 1956 / KOMETEN KOMMER, 1968 - Muumipeikko ja pyrstötähti (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Comet in Moominland - (trans. by Elizabeth Portch)
  • BRÖDERNA BORGS BEDRIFTER, 1947 (with Don Carlos)
  • TROLLKARLENS HATT, 1948 - Taikurin hattu (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Finn Family Moomintroll / The Happy Moomins
  • MUMINPAPPAS BRAVADER, 1950 / MUMINPAPPAS MEMOARER, 1968 - Muumipapan urotyöt (suom. Laila Järvinen) - The Exploits of Moominpappa (trans. by Thomas Warburton)
  • HUR GICK DET SEN?, 1952 - Kuinkas sitten kävikään? (suom. Hannes Korpi-Anttila)
  • FARLIG MIDSOMMAR, 1954 - Vaarallinen juhannus / Takaisin Muumilaaksoon (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Moominsummer Madness (trans. by Thomas Warburton)
  • MUMINTROLLET, 1957 - Muumipeikko
  • TROLLVINTER, 1957 - Taikatalvi (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Moominland Midwinter (trans. by Thomas Warburton)
  • VEM SKA TRÖSTA KNYTTET?, 1960 - Kuka lohduttaisi Nyytiä? (suom. Kirsi Kunnas) - Who Comforts Toffle? (trans. by Kingsley Hart)
  • DET OSYNLIGA BARNET OCH ANDRA BERÄTTELSER, 1962 - Näkymärön lapsi ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Tales from Moomin Valley (trans. by Thomas Warburton)
  • PAPPAN OCH HAVET, 1965 - Muumipappa ja meri (suom. Laila Järvinen) - Moominpappa at Sea (trans. by Kingsley Hart)
  • BILDHUGGARENS DOTTER, 1968 - Kuvanveistäjän tytär (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori) - Sculptor's Daughter
  • SENT I NOVEMNER, 1970 - Muumilaakson marraskuu (suom. Kaarina Helakisa) - Moominvalley in November (trans. by Kingsley Hart)
  • LYSSNERSKAN, 1971 - Kuuntelija (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori)
  • SOMMARBOKEN, 1972 - Kesäkirja (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori)
  • ORM I SALONGEN, 1974
  • SOLSTADEN, 1974 - Aurinkokaupunki (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori)
  • MUUMIOOPPERA, 1974 (opera libretto)
  • FÖSTRET, 1976
  • DEN FARLIGA RESAN, 1977 - Vaarallinen matka (suom. Panu Pekkanen)
  • DOCKSKÅPET OCH ANDRA BERÄTTELSER, 1978 - Nukkekaappi ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Eila Pennanen)
  • MUMIN 1-2, 1977 - Muumi 1-2
  • SKURKEN I MUMINHUSET, 1980 - Outo vieras muumitalossa (suom. Panu Pekkanen)
  • MUMIN 3-10 (with Lars Jansson), 1978-81
  • DEN ÄRLIGA BEDRAGAREN, 1982 - Kunniallinen petkuttaja (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • STENÅKERN, 1984
  • RESA MED LÄTT BAGAGE, 1988 - Kevyt kantamus (suom. Oili Suominen)
  • RENT SPEL, 1989 - Reilu peliä (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää)
  • BREV FRÅN KLARA, 1991 - Seuraleikki (suom. Eila Pennanen)
  • Suuri muumikirja, 1995
  • ANTECNINGAR FRÅN EN Ö, 1996 (illustrated by Tuuliki Pietilä) - Haru, eräs saari (suom. Liisa Ryömä)
  • MEDDELANDE: NOVELLER I URVAL 1971-1997, 1998 - Viesti: valitut novellit 1971-1997 (trans. by Kyllikki Härkäpää et al.)
  • The Book About Moomin, Mymble and Little My, 2001 (trans. by Kingsley Hart)
  • ALLTING SOM ÄR TREVLIGT ÄR BRA FOR MAGEN, 2002 (ed. by Helen Svensson)

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