The world of Tove Jansson’s Moomins

The Moomin stories, created by Finnish author and artist Tove Jansson, are loved by children all over the world. The main characters are Moomintroll, a friendly and curious creature who looks like a white hippopotamus standing on its hind legs, his love interest Snorkmaiden, and his parents – adventurous Moominpappa and down-to-earth Moominmamma. They live in Moominvalley, an idyllic, whimsical place near the mountains and the sea. Aside from the Moomin family, there are many more characters created by Jansson who live in and visit Moominvalley, and their unique personalities and behaviours ensure that the Moomins are never short of adventure.

Moomintroll, photo taken by Elinor via Flickr.

Tove Jansson (1914-2001) was born in Finland to artist parents, and she herself was artistic from a young age. She studied at art schools in Helsinki, Stockholm, and Paris, then became a cartoonist and illustrator for Garm, a Finnish magazine. She published her first Moomin novel, The Moomins and the Great Flood, in 1945, which was soon followed by Comet in Moominland (1946) and Finn Family Moomintroll (1948). Over her lifetime, Jansson published nine novels, five picture books, and five volumes of comic strips featuring the Moomins. The picture books are primarily aimed at young children but the novels and comic strips can be interesting to older children and adults, as while they still have engaging characters and adventures, the comics are often satirical in nature and some of the later novels deal with difficult themes such as uncertainty and loneliness.

Photo of Tove Jansson via Wikimedia Commons.

Many characters in Moominvalley are comedic and light-hearted, but some are symbolic of certain worldviews and moods, while others are even based on people that Jansson knew. Here are some of my favourite characters from the Moomin stories:

Snufkin: First appearing in Comet in Moominland, Snufkin is one of Moomintroll’s closest friends. He wears a distinctive green hat and is rarely seen without his pipe. Snufkin differs from most of the Moomin characters in his aversion to material possessions, living in a tent because he does not believe in private property. He has on numerous occasions fought back against authority figures, such as police officers and park keepers who have tried to establish rules and order in Moominvalley. Snufkin could be seen as representing some of Jansson’s left-wing beliefs. His philosophic outlook on the world results in many characters turning to him for advice, especially Moomintroll. Snufkin does not like staying in a particular place for long and his departures from Moominvalley make Moomintroll sad, but he always returns there for spring and summer, cheering up everyone by playing his harmonica.

Moomintroll and Snufkin on a mug. Photo by Elin Melaas via Unsplash.

Little My: She may be tiny, but Little My arguably has the biggest personality out of all the Moomin characters. She wears her hair in an iconic topknot and is the half-sister of Snufkin. Little My is afraid of nothing, and attempts to rescue other characters from dangers they find themselves in. Her blunt personality contrasts with the passive nature of the Moomin family, and she inspires them to take more risks in life. She is up for any adventure, declaring her intention to be a pirate in Moominpappa at Sea (1965). Along with Moomintroll, Little My is thought to have been modelled on Jansson’s own personality.

Little My on a mug. Photo by Nik via Unsplash.

The Groke: A minor yet sinister character is the Groke. She resembles a large, shapeless ghost, and rarely talks. The ground freezes beneath her wherever she travels. No-one wants to associate with the Groke because her very presence causes other characters to think sad thoughts, and she has been deemed ‘loneliness personified.’ However, Jansson portrays her in a sympathetic light in the later Moomin novels, and Moomintroll forms a bond with her in Moominpappa at Sea. The Groke perhaps embodies the sadness that Jansson felt about the state of the world during and after World War II.

Too-ticky: Another interesting character in Moominvalley is Too-ticky. She wears a small, blue hat and a striped jumper, and lives in the Moomin family’s bathing hut. Like Snufkin, she gives sound advice, but she is also sympathetic towards outsider characters of the Moomin world such as the Groke. She is practical and pragmatic, helping Moomintroll when he wakes up early from hibernation in Moominland Midwinter (1957) by showing him how to deal with the uncertainty of living in winter conditions. Too-ticky is arguably the most personal character to Jansson, since she was based on her partner Tuulikki Pietilä, nicknamed ‘Tooti.’

Cover of ‘Moominland Midwinter’ featuring Too-ticky. Photo by Annie Spratt via Unsplash.

Despite Jansson’s first Moomin book being published over seventy-five years ago, the world of the Moomins remains widely popular today. The Moomin stories have been adapted into films, TV series, video games, and even theme parks. With such memorable characters, the Moomin world is bound to be a childhood literary staple for many future generations.

Featured image: Sarari1123 via Pixabay.

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