I’ve made no secret of my love for Moomins, but I’ve not spoken as much about how much I adore their creator, Tove Jansson. There are a lot of people who enjoy the characters of a particular world without knowing a lot about the creator – and that’s fine, but for me it’s a bit different. I was a Moomins fan as a kid via the anime and first few books, but I grew out of it and unlike Sailor Moon, I totally forgot about the existence of the Moomins until I was around 20.
I ran into Tove Jansson and her books for adults whilst studying for my degree, and became enthralled with her precise, compact writing. Tove’s writing is an exercise in stringent editing, clarity of expression and neat integration of ideas. Up until then I had been attracted to a maximalist tendency in art; all abstract references, excessive adjectives and full orchestras. Tove’s writing (and her paintings, as I later discovered) is not like that – it is intricate and purposeful and sparing.
It took me a while to put two and two together, but when I realised the wise, minimalist Tove of my artistic re-awakening was also Tove Jansson, the creator of my childhood favourites I dove straight back into the Moomin books. The Moomin series gets increasingly more surreal and bizarre as the series goes on. Main characters disappear or break down, locations continually morph and in the final book, the titular Moomin family are completely absent. Tove’s life changed enormously whilst writing the Moomin books and Moominvalley is a place where she explores those changes.
Tove always felt she was a painter first and writer second, and she strove for authenticity and honesty in her work. Her words have had a profound effect on my ideas of artistry and work, and I am inspired by her success in different mediums. Artists struggle a lot; what are we doing, what do we stand for, why? Tove asked these questions repeatedly, and points a lens on herself throughout her writing. Her books for children and adults alike are sprinkled through with her perceptions on art and life, love and work.
Whilst visiting Helsinki I re-read my favourite of her books. Given my current state of mind I found them incredibly reassuring – reading about Tove in her twenties, trying things out and learning what kind of artist she wanted to be gives me hope. I intended to visit MoominWorld in Naantali (3 hours away). Our original plans involved heading over there at 8am, visiting for 4 hours and getting the latest train possible back to Helsinki. It all seemed very tiring and rushed.
Tove turned down many opportunities to commercialise the Moomins in her lifetime, only taking offers she deemed creatively rewarding. It explains why there is a Moomin ballet and a suite of eclectic Moomin music, but no all-star blockbuster Moomin film or collectable models. The Jansson family retain rights to the Moomins and have turned down multiple offers from Disney and Warner (who would no doubt franchise the hell out of it).
MoominWorld was specifically built on a small island rather than an area of land that could be expanded later. Intentionally, there are no traditional theme park rides so visitors can explore the park at a gentle pace together. The more I thought about it, the more I realised trekking to Moominland in a frantic hurry was just not a fitting tribute to find the Tove I admire and have tried to understand.
Instead I stayed in her beloved Helsinki and ate bread with lingonberry jam for breakfast, as her characters sometimes do. I visited the Helsinki Art Museum and their permanent Tove Jansson gallery. We drank coffee from the stall she mentions in her books, and sat in the park next door. I visited her building; Tove’s studio still exists and you can still see the Jansson name on the door. It is almost as though you’ll find Tove in there, hard at work in her turret. I left feeling inspired, energised, eager to get home and work; head full of Tove’s words. I guess in a way, you still can find Tove and her wisdom if you just know where to look.
If you’d like to know some of the spots I visited in Helsinki related to the Moomins and to Tove Jansson then keep an eye out for a guide next week. Please note – I’ve blurred the other names in the above photo as it is still a residential building. My camera is fine!