All Things Tove Jansson

Dear Reader,

It very much has been ‘All Things Tove Jansson’ here with me over the last couple of months; I’ve pretty much been reading her words in anyway I can, from her adult and children’s fiction to her short stories and letters…

A little while back, I listened to a podcast on BBC Sounds in which interviewee Frank Cottrell Boyce was talking about Jansson and in particular the creation she is most well known for – The Moomins. It was fascinating to hear all about her inspiration and also the person behind the stories. She didn’t set out to be famous for her writing and certainly not with her entourage of chubby white, philosophical Moomins! The fame from this was almost accidental but Jansson embraced it and poured all of herself into writing them – no surprises then that we see familiar traits and personality types within the creatures of her stories.

I grew up with an almost subconscious awareness of the Moomins – I would recognise them on sight and the name itself was familiar, but I had no idea what world they inhabited, what adventures they went on and I certainly had no idea about the woman who created them. In fact I only read my first Moomin book last summer, The Moomins and the Great Flood.

The Moomins and the Great Flood by Tove Jansson

The Moomins and the Great Flood was the first of Jansson’s stories containing these unusual, but lovable, creatures. I was fascinated by the fact that it was first published in Swedish in 1945, the year that saw the end of the Second World War. When you delve deeper you can in fact see many influences of the time interwoven throughout the narrative, and the illustrations in particular show the darkness that lurked in every shadow waiting to catch you off guard and smother you. The concept is simple but powerful – a search and a journey. In the book the Moomins have to resourcefully and stoically face the imminent destruction of their home in a great flood.

I didn’t read anything of Jansson’s after that until picking up her short stories for adults at the start of this year. A Winter Book seemed appropriate seasonal reading and appealed to me partly for that reason – although I feel I should mention that not all of the stories are set in winter! Jansson wrote several collections of short stories for adults and this particular collection draws on a multitude of these and includes some of Jansson’s favourites. I especially loved The Squirrel and Travelling Light, both of which explore life and society from an older vantage point. Like The Moomins, Jansson writes in a very philosophical manner, her gently questioning nature is ever present and can be felt in every word. Likewise her love of the outdoors and nature can be seen in her descriptive writing, and her perception of the human spirit in her characters. I thoroughly enjoyed the collection, many of her stories seemed to draw closely on her own life and experiences and dipping in and out of the microcosm worlds she created felt as if I was getting closer to the writer herself. She has a lovely tongue-in-cheek humour too. On finishing, I was eager to read more of her words.

A Winter Book: Selected Stories
by Tove Jansson

Sometime, back at the beginning of last year, my mum purchased Letters from Tove, a collection of Tove’s letters – as the name suggests. Jansson was a prolific letter writer throughout her life, in particular to her family whom she was very close to, and especially her mother. My Mum had heard parts of the book being read on the radio and was interested to read more. At the time it slipped my attention somewhat but after reading Jansson’s short stories my interest was piqued!

Letters from Tove,
Written by Tove Jansson, Edited by Boel Westin & Helen Svensson and Translated by Sarah Death

The volume is a large one and contains a substantial collection of letters; I have not read it all by any stretch of the imagination, but the correspondence I have read is beautiful. Jansson has such a lightness of touch and can relate events with such animation and conjure scenes in so few words – no wonder really. Her letters contain evidence of her future storytelling ability from a young age. Her letters from her time at Art School in Helsinki are such a window onto her character and I am very much looking forward to reading more from her time away travelling – another passion of hers (which she shares with Snufkin, a character from the Moomin books). That leads me on to the book in which I first met Snufkin, Comet in Moominland.

“But it’s true,” said Snufkin. “We’re all like that. You must go on a long journey before you can really find out how wonderful home is.”

Comet In Moominland, Tove Jansson, 1946
Comet in Moominland by Tove Jansson

This is probably my favourite book of hers I’ve read so far. It seems to encompass her skills in setting, storytelling, humour and wisdom with a vibrancy that makes the story strangely compelling. I can only liken it to Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree; a fascinating blend of reality and fantasy, simultaneously quaint and absurd, with their strange lands and even stranger inhabitants. It reads like an old fairy-tale or folklore – as if it should be told round an open fire….do you get what I mean?

Comet in Moominland follows on from The Moomins and the Great Flood but is the first of the Moomin books to be truly recognisable in the format of the series we know today. I loved reading Comet in Moominland, it was wholly absorbing and I felt strangely bereft when the adventure came to an end.

No surprises then that I have ordered the third book in the series and am all ready to jump back into their world! The Moomins have become my number one literary companions, particularly at present. The parallels between the unstoppable threat of the approaching comet and that of Coronavirus were strangely comforting – visiting the scientists for information, their familiar world turned unfamiliar, having to hide in the cave from the outside world, irritability and minor obsession in the face of fear… but also the power of working together. And what inspired me most was their inexhaustible capacity for hope.

I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the iconic artwork of the Moomin creations. It is easy to see how they have become so popular. The copies I bought contain her original black and white prints. They are so atmospheric and detailed and add enormously to the magic aesthetic of the tales. Several of them I found myself looking right into, discovering the hidden details and absorbing the sights of the travellers…

Next on my Jansson reading list is her most well known book for adults The Summer Book. Though we’ll have to see if my seasonal reading OCD means I don’t get around to it for a few months…!

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson

As always, I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the books I’ve mentioned or whether you’ve been inspired to try one – drop me a line in the comments or over on Twitter 🙂 Oh and if you enjoyed this post, please do hit like to show your support.

Happy reading!

Meg Readz xx

“What’s a catastrophe?” asked Sniff.

“It’s something as bad as it can possibly be,” said Moomintroll. “Like earthquakes, and tidal waves, and volcanoes. And tornadoes. And plagues.”

“In other words – fuss,” said the Hemulen. “One never has any peace.”

Comet in Moominland, Tove Jansson, 1946

5 thoughts on “All Things Tove Jansson

  1. Loved reading this.
    Mrs Evans read us The Moomins in year 1 at the end of the day and even though I remember littke of the actual stories my love for them has remained. I reread Moomin Midwinter last year and adored it so I definitely need to fit in the others again too, and her adult books and letters. She just has such a way.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thank you – I’m so pleased! What a lovely memory, thanks for sharing 🙂 It’s magic the way certain reading experiences stay with us. Completely agree with you – Tove has such a unique way about her. I’ve heard so much about Moomin Midwinter in particular that I have bought that one to read too – looking forward to it x

      Liked by 1 person

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