Tove Jansson: Writer, Artist, Genius

Tove Jansson was born in Finland in 1914. She is most famous for creating the ‘Moomin’ series of books but there is so much more to her talent. For my British readers there is a documentary about Tove Jansson broadcast tonight on BBC4 at 9pm (or catch it on the BBC iplayer), so I thought it was only right that I should pay my own tribute to a wonderful and unique talent.

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As a child I was obsessed with the Moomin books. I was bought my first one, ‘Comet in Moominland’, at age seven and I was hooked. I bought them all and read them over and over again until the covers fell off at which point I saved up to buy them again. The first ever Moomin book, ‘The Moomins And The Great Flood’, has just been released for the first time in the UK and I have bought myself a copy as a Christmas present. I will be reading it eagerly this weekend.

The Moomin books inspired me to become a writer, and especially to write for children. They brought me so much joy and happiness that I hope that my book, ‘Tortoise Soup’, can have the same effect on my readers when it is released, hopefully, in 2013.

So what is so great about the Moonin books of Tove Jansson? Well the first thing to emphasise is the quality of the writing. Jansson’s prose is beautifully crafted and precise, it is like poetry that drips from the page. They are just as enjoyable for adults as for children as Tove weaves interesting philosophical elements into the stories. And of course, the plots themselves are great – full of adventure and excitement, romance and love.

The other joy of the Moomin books, of course, are the illustrations by Tove Jansson herself. Tove was a remarkably talented illustrator and she brings her words to life with stunning effect.

The Moomin books themselves would be enough to cement Tove Jansson’s position in the pantheon of literature: in my opinion they are the greatest series of books in children’s literature. But she also wrote some amazing work for adults.

‘The Summer Book’ is a moving and simply beautiful account of an artistic old woman and her young grand daughter spending summer on an isolated Baltic island. It deals with death, religion and love in a matter of fact way and leaves a lasting impression upon the reader. In Scandinavia it is rightly recognised as a Twentieth Century classic of European literature. Jansson’s short story collection ‘The Winter Book’ (also published by ‘Sort Of Books’) is also highly recommended.

Jansson was a great writer and illustrator, a philosopher and also a great human being. She filled her writing and art with her love of nature and her lust for life. Her legacy lives on, not least in Finland itself where there is a Moomin museum, a Moomin theme park and where Tove is featured on a coin. In Covent Garden, London there is a delightful ‘Moomin’ shop selling many varied Moomin products.

Do yourself and your children a favour, check out the wonderful work of this idiosyncratic yet magnificent writer. I will finish with some quotes from the great woman herself:

“Lie on the bridge and watch the water flowing past. Or run, or wade through the swamp in your red boots. Or roll yourself up and listen to the rain falling on the roof. It’s very easy to enjoy yourself.”

“It’s strange,” Moominmamma thought. “Strange that people can be sad, and even angry because life is too easy. But that’s the way it is, I suppose. The only thing to do is to start life afresh.”

“Twilight is the border between day and night, and the shore is the border between sea and land. The border is longing: when both have fallen in love but still haven’t said anything. The border is to be on the way. It is the way that is the most important thing.”

“A theatre is the most important sort of house in the world, because that’s where people are shown what they could be if they wanted, and what they’d like to be if they dared to and what they really are”

“One summer morning at sunrise a long time ago I met a little girl with a book under her arm. I asked her why she was out so early and
she answered that there were too many books and far too little time. And there she was absolutely right.”

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