If you’re not yet acquainted with The Moomins, prepare for a treat. The ever-bumbling hippo-like creatures star in the novels and comic books of Tove Jansson, a Finnish artist with a taste for the simple life.
The Moomin family, which includes Moominmamma, Moominpapa and Moomintroll along with their extensive circle of friends, are the inhabitants of Moomin Valley, a beautiful land where the only ambition is to “live in peace, plant potatoes and dream”.
Tove Jansson died in 2001, but her legacy lives on with extensive celebrations for the centenary of her birth in 2014 and now, a brand new motion picture.
The Moomins on the Riviera is released in the UK on May 22, and the exquisitely crafted animation sees the family romping round the south of France.
As they take centre stage on the silver screen, here are 10 facts you might not know about our eccentric, plump-nosed friends.
The iconic Moomin design was first published in the Finnish anti-fascist magazine Garm. In 1938 when the publication chose her anti-Hitler cartoon for the cover (above left), Jansson signed herself off with an angry Moomin – can you spot him?
Tove first drew the character as a child whilst hiding in the bathroom, following an argument with her brother over the philosopher Immanuel Kant.
She scrawled the ugliest character she could dream up and scribbled ‘Kant’ underneath.
Jansson was committed to promoting love without boundaries in all her art. Thingumy and Bob, who appear in Finn Family Moomintroll, represent a same-sex love in her own life, Tove’s affair with a married woman named Vivicka Bandler.
The couple’s fear of discovery is mirrored in the two characters, who speak a language the others can’t understand and are constantly pursued by the Groke, a fearsome creature who freezes everything she touches. In later books, the much-loved resident tomboy, Too-ticky, was based on Jansson’s life partner, designer Tuulikki Pietila.
The beautiful Moomin Valley was based on the summerhouse that Jansson spent childhood visiting. Located on the idyllic island of Klovharu in the Gulf of Finland, it was also the subject of her adult novel The Summer Book. Visitors to Tove Jansson’s official website can take a digital tour of the island and the cottage she would later build there.
Her niece Sophia Jansson once said: "If you read the Moomin books there are many things that are, to me, completely normal and to other people are completely fantastical. But in Finland that's what you do when you are on the islands. That's what they did and it's what we've always done."
Growing up in an artistic household in Helsinki, the eccentric members of Tove’s ‘extended family’, which included an argyle–sweater-wearing monkey and a nanny who loved to read Plato aloud, formed the inspiration for many of the inhabitants of Moomin Valley.
She also turned her hand to The Hobbit, Alice in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark.
Image Source: Hunajaista.com
Moomin obsessives can now visit the Valley in real life! Moomin World in Finland is a children’s theme park that invites visitors into the world of Jansson’s stories, with a full sized replica of the iconic blue Moomin house complete with a witch’s labyrinth, Hattifattener’s Cave and Groke’s lair.
The Moomins first crossed UK borders in 1953 in the pages of the daily London Evening News. From here the series ran for five years in 40 newspapers across the world, after which Jansson realised the gruelling daily schedule was harming her creativity, and began to look for other outlets for her art.
In fact, Tove was so sick of the overwhelming popularity of her cartoons that she wrote in her notes; “Those damn Moomins, I don’t want to hear about them anymore. I could vomit on the Moomintrolls”.
Image Source: Italian Beach Scene, ToveJansson.com
Jansson was a multitalented artist who also undertook painting, sculpting, writing, producing theatre, creating murals, models for museums and mosaics. A wonderful selection of her work can be seen here.
Image Source: BBC4
Tove Jansson has proved a significant influence on modern fiction for both children and adults. Jeanette Winterson, Philip Pullman, Michael Morpurgo and Frank Cottrell Boyce have all named her as an inspiration.
Boyce loved her Moomin creation so much as a child, he didn’t believe it was set in a real place, saying; "I thought she'd made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them - noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks."