Treasure Tove

Finland is celebrating Tove Jansson, creator of its most famous cultural export – the Moomins

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. © Moomin Characters™

Self-portrait: Tove Jansson with her creations. © Moomin Characters™


Moomins, those cheerful, practical, appealingly hippo-like trolls, are Finland’s most famous cultural export. As well as Moomin cuddly toys, the creations of the artist and writer Tove Jansson appear on everything from plates, pens and stationary to watches, bedlinen and even the wings of Finnair planes.

This year is the centenary of Jansson’s birth, and as part of the Tove 100 celebrations ( Ateneum, the Finnish national gallery, is hosting a huge show of her illustrations, cartoons and monumental murals.

If you knew Jansson’s work only from those cute toys and notebooks you might assume it to be fluffy and sweet. But the stories that accompany her delightful illustrations are full of existential angst. As the writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce said of his childhood discovery of her work, “it was as though Kierkegaard had come round on a play date”.

And yet, as Cottrell-Boyce points out, the stories are also full of kindness. I find the Moomin books enormously comforting not because they are safe or cosy – they’re not – but because they are wise. Whatever terrible and frightening things happen to them, the Moomins face their problems with humour and bravery.

Jansson was interested in pretty much everything, as we’re reminded in a fascinating new authorised biography by Boel Westin, Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words (Sort Of Books, £25). As well as her paintings, political cartoons, comic strips and children’s books (which include some of the most wonderful, innovative picture books ever produced), Jansson wrote a number of celebrated books for adults, such as The Summer Book , a funny, sad and beautiful novel.

In 1979 she documented her relationship with Tuulikki Pietila in the novel Fair Play , which she described as “rather happy tales of two women who share a life of work, delight and consternation”. Like all of Jansson’s work, it’s humane, witty and slightly wild – just one of the many reasons to celebrate her centenary.

Anna Carey’s latest novel is Rebecca Rocks

Sign In

Forgot Password?

Sign Up

The name that will appear beside your comments.

Have an account? Sign In

Forgot Password?

Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In or Sign Up

Thank you

You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.

Hello, .

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

Thank you for registering. Please check your email to verify your account.

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.