The Moomins are an imaginary family of white and roundish trolls with large snouts created by the Swedish-speaking Finnish novelist, painter, illustrator and comic strip author Tove Jansson (Helsinki 1914-2001). They were born before the Second World War and today they are some of the best ambassadors of Finnish culture.
The Moomins are well known throughout the world and the cause of real passion in some countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom, Poland, Austria, Sweden and Russia, where at different times they were featured to massive audiences in television films and animated series. Today they have a dedicated museum in Tampere (Finland) and theme parks in Naantali (Finland) and Saitama (Japan).
But the world phenomenon happened long time after these lovely characters were created by Tove Jansson's portentous imagination. The early life of the original Moomins can be followed in eight story books, four picture books and countless comics series. Materials that show creatures in which the author captured the personalities of her closest people, particularly her parents and her lesbian lover the artist Tuulikki Pietilä.
An article written by the journalist Suvi Ahola and included in the book Finland, a cultural encyclopedia published by the Finnish Literature Society, explains the birth and evolution of the Moomin family. According to the author, the first Moomin of which there are references was Moomintroll, created by Tove Janson in the early 1930s and used as a pseudonym in the humorous drawings that Jansson made for the political satire magazine Garm.
Image: © Moomin Characters™
Later Moomintroll became the main character of the first Moomin book (The Moomins and the Great Flood), written during the war times and published in 1945. In this story, Moomintroll's parents (Moominpappa and Moominmamma) were also depicted for the first time.
The Moomins live in Moomin Valley, whose landscape is reminiscent of the bushy eastern inner archipelago of the Gulf of Finland, though they have also had temporary residences in places such as a lighthouse and a theater. The blue, tower-shaped, Moomin house, resembles one of the old tile stoves. According to Suvi Ahola, this is "a reminder of the Moomin's past, when they lived behind the stoves of people's houses".
The characters' evolution
The form of the Moomins has changed from the 1930s to the 1970s on account of the evolution in drawing techniques and thematic development. As Ahola points out, "their long, sharp noses became rounded, their mouths disappeared beneath them, and their figures grew plump".
Tove Jansson with her characters. Image: © Moomin Characters™.
As shown in the book The Exploits of Moominpappa (1950), Moominpappa was initially an orphan that was abandoned with his memoirs wrapped in newspaper on the stairs of a children's home. During his youth, he travels the oceans and meets his wife on a stormy night, when a breaker throws her on to the shore. Soon the couple have a child, Moomintroll, and then the parents are separated by a flood.
Once this contrariety has been overcome, they move to Moomin Valley, where soon the family grows. There they will be joined by other characters, including adopted children, neighbors and friends: Sniff, the wandering Snufkin, Little My, the siblings Snork and Snork Maiden.
The article included in the book Finland, a cultural encyclopedia explains that "the whole Moomin family is largely modeled on examples from Tove Jansson's own family". Thus, "the Moomins do not do 'real' work but live on invisible wealth, like the Finland-Swedish patrician and artist families at the beginning of the 20th century. They are tolerant and bohemian and are not startled by sudden changes in their lives".
The real people behind the trolls
Moominpappa is a character inspired in the person of Tove Jansson's father, the sculptor Viktor Jansson (1886-1958). Both the real and the invented characters are melancholic artists who are encouraged by emergency situations. This is why the fictional character takes the children to observe disasters such as fires, thunderstorms and stormy seas. "There is a perpetual struggle within Moominpappa between the need to be a respectable family father and his soul of a lonely adventurer.
Moominmamma was created after the author's mother Signe Hammartsen Jansson (1882-1970), who was also an artist and during three decades designed postage stamps and banknotes for the Finnish state. Like many other women in her time, she was condemned during most of her life to take a secondary role for the sake of her husband's work.
This is why Moominmamma is an efficient housewife, a loving mother and at the same time an artist. She is a practical person, but her creativeness leads her from time to time (for example in the book Moominpappa at the Sea, 1965) to a personal crisis and to demand her own space as an artist.
The Moomin family. Image: © Moomin Characters™
Moomintroll could be taken as a self-depiction of the writer herself. The character is going through the process of growing from childhood into puberty. And in its modern, uncertain, illogical intolerance, is also a prototype of the destructive modern man, explains Suvi Ahola. Moomintroll will not grow any further than adolescence because at that point Jansson decided to end the series and moved into adult prose.
One interesting thing is that although Moomintroll's parents are clearly sexualized, he himself is a peculiarly androgynous figure, and so are his closest friends.
In fact, the friendship of Moomintroll and Too-ticky (Moominland Midwinter, 1957), has been described as "a beautiful portrait of the beginning of the relationship between Tove Jansson and her companion, the graphic artist and professor Tuulikki Pietilä (1917-2009), which lasted for many decades.
During her life, Jansson loved and was loved by both men and women. Homosexuality was illegal in Finland until 1971 and declassified as an illness in 1981.
In the books, the Moomins usually have to face all kind of disasters or experience great adventures (a comet that threatens the Earth, a hurricane, a sea monster...) that lead to a journey and eventually a return to the safety of home. In the end, the lives of the Moomins always recover security and the books end with a celebration of this outcome.