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Tove (Marika) Jansson (1914-2001)


Finland-Swedish artist, novelist, and children's book writer, famous for Moomintrolls which have found friends worldwide. Tove Jansson began her Moomin series in 1945. Her books have been compared to the work of Lewis Carroll and J.R.R. Tolkien. Moomintroll is a bland-faced little creature, who lives with his father Moominpappa and mother Moominmamma in the Valley of the Moomins.

"Life is like a river. Some people sail on it slowly, some quickly, and some capsize." (from Moominvalley in November, 1970)

Tove Jansson drew the comic strip Moomin for the Evening News, London, from 1953 to 1959, and then was succeeded by her brother Lars Jansson, who had helped her to translate the original texts into English. Lars Jansson drew and wrote Moomin until 1975, and then the work was continued by others. The Moomintrolls became a huge success with their adventurous, freedom loving spirits, sophisticated humour, and existentialist sense of aloneness. Although Jansson's Moomintrolls gained worldwide popularity among children, they are also much appreciated by adults.

The international Moomin boom came in two waves, first in the 1950s in the West, and then in the 1960s and during the 1970s in the East Europe and other sides of the globe, including Japan. The Moomin are now licensed. Jansson had little to do with the avalanche of comic books, Japanese animated movies, and toys, sweets, soft drinks, mugs, bowls, glasses, and other products (see 'From Moomins to a Party Game' by Juhani Niemi in Muumien taikaa, 1996).

Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki into an artistic family. Her father was the sculptor Viktor Jansson (1886-1958), a patriarchal figure. Her mother, the graphic artist Signe Hammarsten-Jansson (1882-1970), moved to Finland in 1914, after marriage. "Father hated all women except mother and me," Jansson said. Her parents belonged to the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland and the family heritage - art, creativity, and tolerance - later marked Jansson's stories, in which she showed an understanding of the bohemian lifestyle and mildly anarchistic individualism. Signe Hammarsten-Jansson provided the model for the Moominmama, who loves her vegetable garden and potted plants, and who always has an extra place at the table for the unexpected guest. In Sculptor's Daughter (1968), a collection of autobiographical short stories, Jansson returned to her childhood and her father, whom she portrayed as a formidable patriarch. The family practically lived in his atelier.

For the first six years of her life, Tove was the only child of her parents. Tove's brother Per Olov was born in 1920 and in 1926 her second brother Lars (d. on July 31, 2000). She was brought up in the art nouveau milieu of Katajanokka in Helsinki, playing with a little boy called Poyu. He was Erik Tawaststjerna, who became a distinguished music critic and biographer of Jean Sibelius. The bright summer days of her childhood Jansson spent in the Porvoo islands, fifty kilometers from Helsinki. The family used to rent a cottage from the local fishermen at the end of May and return to the city in early September. This happy milieu became later on the scene for many Moomin adventures.

While in Helsinki, Jansson sat in front of the fire in the studio and listened to her mother's stories, which were often about Moses and later "about Isaac and about people who are homesick for their own country or get lost and then find their way again; about Eve and the Serpent in Paradise and great storms that die away in the end. Most of the people are homesick anyway, and a little lonely, and they hide themselves in their hair and are turned into flowers. Sometimes they are turned into frogs and God keeps an eye on them the whole time and forgives the when he isn't angry and hurt and destroying whole cities because they believe in other gods." (translated by Kingsley Hart, from Helsinki: a literary companion, 2000)

"Maybe we will get a big artist out of Tove some day, a really big," her father once said. At the age of fifteen Jansson moved to Sweden where she studied art in Stockholm (1930-33) at Konstfack. She then studied at the Helsinki Art Society's drawing school at the Finnish National Gallery (1933-37), and in Paris at Ecole d'Adrien Holy and Ecole des Beaux Arts (1938). In the 1930s she also made several trips to Germany, Italy and to France. From 1932 Jansson participated in several exhibitions in Finland and abroad; her first private exhibition was in 1943 in Helsinki. This period also brought a great change in her life - she did not leave home until the age of 28.

After starting to live independently she continued to keep close ties especially with her mother - Jansson once said that she had always tried to draw like she did. Jansson's second exhibition, in 1946, at the Bäcksbacka gallery, was a commercial success, and her works received critical acclaim. In the late 1930s and early 1940s Jansson was considered to be among the most prominent young artists in Finland, including Torger Enckell, Eva Cederström, and Sam Vanni. Her first picture book, Sara och Pelle och näckens bläckfiskar (1933), was published under the name Vera Haij. In 1944 Jansson moved into a studio home on Ullanlinnankatu in Helsinki; it then served as her working place.

"Every children's book should have a path in it where the writer stops and the child goes on. A threat or a delight that can never be explained. A face never completely revealed." (Tove Jansson in Moominvalley, ed. Mirja Kivi, 1998)

Jansson's career as a cartoonist and illustrator began in the late 1920s in the magazine Garm, where her works appeared for 25 years. Her first drawing she published at the age of 15. During World War II Garm was among the few magazines that distanced itself from Finland's official foreign policy and represented antifascist, liberal views. One drawing shows several Hitlers looting from Lappland; they rummage through a chest of drawers, push a carriage loaded with furniture, and burn houses. A little Moomin like figure, a proto-type called 'the Snork,' hides behind the letter M. Jansson's drawing also appeared in the Christmas magazines Julen and Lucifer. From 1947 to 1948 she worked for Ny Tid and from 1953 to 1959 for The London Evening News. In 1991 Jansson donated to the Art Museum of Tampere her drawings made for Garm between the years 1933-1953.

Jansson's early stories, written during her travels in Europe in the late 1930s, were light and amusing, but later on she started to focus more on the psychology of her characters. Her first Moomin story was Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen (1945, The Moomins and the Great Flood). Jansson began writing the book during the winter of 1944, when the war was still going on and Helsinki was bombed by Soviet planes.  Though this work passed almost unnoticed, Jansson continued the series with Kometjakten (1946, Comet in Moominland) and Trollkarlens hatt (1948, Finn Family Moomintroll), having from the beginning a strong belief in her tolerant, caring, polite, and righteous creatures, that looked like small hippoes. (However, in one comic strip the Moominfather says: "We are no hippopotamuses! We are Moomins!") The Moomin Valley is a place, where everyone does what one can and gets what one needs. However, in spite of the idyllic surroundings, there is often a feeling of  impending disaster hovering over the fairy tale world. 

Jansson adapted Kometjakten into a comic strip for the magazine Ny Tid and made a study trip to the London Evening News, learning the basics of professional cartoon production. Jansson depicted these experiences in a short story, which was published in the collection Dockskåpet och andra berättelser (1978). Between 1953 and 1959, Jansson drew a comic trip based on the Moomin family for the Evening News. At its most popular, it appeared in 120 papers in 40 countries. After Jansson concluded her career as a cartoonist, she poured her joy and creativity into art and writing. "The only honest thing is pleasure, the wish, the joy - and nothing I have forced myself into has been of joy for my surroundings," she wrote.

In 1949 Comet in Moominland was produced in Svenska Teater. Lilla Teater staged in 1958 Jansson's Troll i kulisserna. The production later visited Sweden and Norway. Jansson wrote lyrics for the play, the music was composed by Erna Tauro. In 1952 Jansson designed stage settings and dresses for Ahti Sonninen's balet Pessi and Illusia and in 1974 the Moomins climbed onto the opera stage - the music was composed by Ilkka Kuusisto.

The melancholic Moominvalley in November (1970), Jansson's last Moomin book, which dealt with the theme of leaving and loneliness, came out after her mother's death. The Moomin family has gone and nobody knows where. Hemulen, Toft, Fillyjonk, Snufkin, Little My, Grandpa-Grumble, and other characters of the Moomin Valley, prepare for the winter. Gray and foggy tones dominate illustration, not the usual black-and-whites. "Sometimes, Jansson's characters border on the sinister, like the Hemulens, who are always officials, or the strange Hattifatners, who move in a singleminded, menacing crowd. The novelist Alison Lurie has described the Groke, a dark, mound-shaped creature with staring eyes, as 'a kind of walking manifestation of Scandinavian gloom; everything she touches dies, and the ground freezes wherever she sits.'" (Ros Coward in Guardian, June 30, 2001)

The theme of death is present in Moominland Midwinter (1959), where the Lady of the Cold (Isfrun) casually scratches a squirrel behind one ear and leaves him lying stiff and numb with all his paws in the air. Little My says, "He's quite dead." However, later on Jansson makes a reference to the Buddhist doctrine of rebirth when Moomintroll sees a similar squirrel with a marvelous tail and cries, "Is it really you? Who met the Lady of the Cold?" One of the pictures in Hur gick det sen? (1952) referred indirectly to Jansson's childhood reading, Elsa Beskow's Tomtebobarnen (1910), in which an ugly mountain troll lurks behing boulders. It had scared her as a child.

Jansson also wrote adult fiction, short stories and memoirs. Although she became famous with the Moomin characters, Jansson considered herself first as an artist. Her first large mural painting, two large pictures, was made for the restaurant Kaupunginkellari in 1947. These joyful scenes were called 'Festival in the Country' and 'Festival in the Town'. Jansson put also herself in the painting - she is alone, smoking, a glass is in front of her, and in one hand she holds a spread fan. The frescoe was followed by several other public works, including the paintings for the Aurora Children's Hospital in Helsinki. Her style changed during the years from figurative expression into something more abstract, but in 1975 she returned again to figurative art, after spending time in Paris in Cité des Arts. In 1992-93 Amos Anderson Art Museum presented Jansson's paintings in a large exhibition.

The Moomin museum was opened in Tampere in 1987. The Moominvalley collection at Tampere Art Museum comprises some 2 000 items, including over 1 000 Moomin illustrations. In Naantali the Moomin World has been a very popular visiting place. During her long career as an artist, Jansson received a number of awards. In 1963, 1971 and 1982, she was awarded the Finnish State Award in literature and, in 1993, the first Suomi Award. The Swedish Academy has honored her twice, she has received Pro Finlandia medal, and she was appointed honorary professor at the Åbo Akademi University. In 1995 she was awarded the title Honorary Professor. Among Jansson's illustrated fantasy works for other writes are translated editions of Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and The Hunting of the Snark, and J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit.

Jansson's companion in life was the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä, whose personality inspired the character Too-ticky in Moominland Midwinter (1957). Moomintroll and Little My can be regarded as the artist's psychological self-portraits. The Moomins, in general, bore a strong resemblances to Jansson's own family - they were bohemians, lived close to nature, were tolerant towards the peculiarities of other creatures, and fond of Moominmama's cooking. The Moomin father showed his leadership skills as a project manager in Pappan och havet (1965, Moominpappa at Sea), when he takes his family to a stormy island to guard a lighthouse. Jansson's last collection of short stories was Meddelande (1999). Tove Jansson died on June 27, 2001.

For further reading: Från idyll till avidyll by Tove Holländer (1983); Tove Jansson: Moominvalley and beyond by W. Glyn Jones (1984); Tove Jansson, muumilaakson luoja by Tordis Örjasaeter (1987); Familjen i dalen by Boel Westin (1988); 'Tove Jansson and Her Readers: No One Excluded' by Nancy Huse, in Children's Literature - Volume 19 (1991, pp. 149-161); Kuvataiteilija Tove Jansson by Erik Kruskopf (1992); Stenåker och ängsmarken by Barbro K. Gustafsson (1992); Kun lyhdyt syttyvät by Salme Aejmelaeus (1994); Skämttecknaren Tove Jansson (foreword by Erik Kruskopf, 1995); Muumien taikaa / The Magic of Moomins, ed. Virpi Kurhela (1996); 'Tove Jansson' by Erik Kruskopf, in Kansallisgalleria (1996, pp. 214-221); Muumilaakso - Moominvalley - from stories to a museum collection by Mirja Kivi (1999); Resa med Tove , ed. Helen Svensson (2002); Vilijonkka ikkunassa by Sirke Happonen (2007); Tove Jansson Rediscovered, edited by Kate McLoughlin and Malin Lidström (2007); The Facts on File Companion to the World Novel: 1900 to the Present, edited by Michael Sollars (2008); Muumiopas by Sirke Happonen (2013) - See other creators of imaginary lands: Lewis Carroll (Wonderland), J.M. Barrie (Never Never Land), L. Frank Baum (Oz), J.R.R. Tolkien (Middle-earth), C.S. Lewis (Narnia)

Selected works:

  • Sara och Pelle och Neckens bläckfiskar, 1933 (pseudonym Haij, Vera)
  • Lill-Olle och Harpalten, 1943 (with Brita Hiort af Ornäs)
  • Om flugan Maja, 1944 (with Martin Söderhjelm)
  • Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen, 1945
    - Muumit ja suuri tuhotulva (suom. Jaakko Anhava, 1991)
    - The Moomins and the Great Flood (translated by David McDuff, 2nd ed. 2006)
  • Kometjakten, 1946 / Mumintrollet på kometjakt, 1956 / Kometen kommer, 1968
    - Muumipeikko ja pyrstötähti (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1955)
    - Comet in Moominland (tr. Elizabeth Portch, 1951)
  • Bröderna Borgs bedrifter, 1947 (with Don Carlos)
  • Trollkarlens hatt, 1948
    - Taikurin hattu (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1956)
    - Finn Family Moomintroll (translated by Elizabeth Portch, 1950) / The Happy Moomins (tr. 1950)
  • Muminpappas bravader, 1950 / Muminpappans memoarer, 1968
    - Muumipapan urotyöt (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1963)
    - The Exploits of Moominpappa (translated by Thomas Warburton, 1952)
  • Hur gick det sen?, 1952
    - Kuinkas sitten kävikään? (suom. Hannes Korpi-Anttila, 1952)
    - Moomin, Mymble and Little My (translated by Kingsley Hart, 1965) / The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My (tr. 1965)
  • Farlig midsommar, 1954
    - Vaarallinen juhannus (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1957) / Takaisin Muumilaaksoon (suom. Laila Järvinen; sisältö: Muumipeikko ja pyrstötähti, Taikurin hattu, Muumipapan villi nuoruus, Vaarallinen juhannus, Näkymätön lapsi, 1988)
    - Moominsummer Madness (translated by Thomas Warburton, 1955)
  • Mumintrollet 1, 1957
    - Muumipeikko 1 (suom. 1958) / Muumi 1 (suom. Ritva Adenius, 1978) / Muumipeikko 1 (suom. Juhani Tolvanen ja Anita Salmivuori, 1990)
    - Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Book One (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2006)
  • Mumintrollet 2, 1957
    - Muumi 2 (suom. Timo Mäkelä, 1978) / Muumipeikko 2 (suom. Juhani Tolvanen ja Anita Salmivuori, 1990)
    - Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Book Two (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2007)
  • Mumintrollet och hemliga tecknen, 1957
  • Trollvinter, 1957
    - Taikatalvi (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1958)
    - Moominland Midwinter (translated by Thomas Warburton, 1958)
  • Troll i kulisserna, 1958
  • Mumintrollet 3, 1958
    - Muumi 3 (1958; suom. Ritva Adenius, 1979) / Muumipeikko 3 (suom. Juhani Tolvanen ja Anita Salmivuori, 1990)
    - Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Book Three (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2008)
  • Mumintrollet 4, 1958
    - Muumi 4 (suom. Timo Mäkelä, 1981) / Muumipeikko 4 (suom. Juhani Tolvanen ja Anita Salmivuori, 1990)
    - Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Book Four (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2009)
  • Momintrollet 5, 1960 (with Lars Jansson)
    - Muumi 5 (suom. Ritva Adenius, 1982) / Muumipeikko 5 (suom. Juhani Tolvanen ja Anita Salmivuori, 1991)
    - Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip: Book Five (Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2010)
  • Vem ska trösta knyttet?, 1960
    - Kuka lohduttaisi Nyytiä? (suom. Kirsi Kunnas, 1960)
    - Who Comforts Toffle? (translated by Kingsley Hart, 1960)
  • Det osynliga barnet och andra berättelser, 1962
    - Näkymätön lapsi ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1962)
    - Tales from Moomin Valley (translated by Thomas Warburton, 1963)
  • Pappan och havet, 1965
    - Muumipappa ja meri (suom. Laila Järvinen, 1965)
    - Moominpappa at Sea (translated by Kingsley Hart, 1966)
  • Bildhuggarens dotter, 1968
    - Kuvanveistäjän tytär (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1969)
    - Sculptor's Daughter (translated by Kingsley Hart, 1969)
  • Sent i november, 1970
    - Muumilaakson marraskuu (suom. Kaarina Helakisa, 1970)
    - Moominvalley in November (transl. by Kingsley Hart, 1971)
  • Lyssnerskan, 1971
    - Kuuntelija (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1972)
  • Sommarboken, 1972
    - Kesäkirja (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1973)
    - The Summer Book (tr. Thomas Teal, 1974)
  • Orm i salongen, 1974
  • Solstaden, 1974
    - Aurinkokaupunki (suom. Kristiina Kivivuori, 1970)
    - Sun City (tr. Thomas Teal, 1976)
  • Muminoperan / Muumiooppera, 1974 (opera libretto)
  • Hemulen som älskade tystnad, 1974-75
  • Föstret, 1976
  • Gymnastiklärarens död, 1976
  • Den farliga resan, 1977
    - Vaarallinen matka (suom. Panu Pekkanen, 1977)
    - The Dangerous Journey (tr. Kingsley Hart, 1978; Sophie Hannah, 2010)
  • Kvinnan som lånade minnen, 1977
  • Dockskåpet och andra berättelser, 1978
    - Nukkekaappi ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Eila Pennanen, 1980)
    - Art in Nature (translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal, 2012)  
  • Mumin 1-2, 1977
    - Muumi 1-2 (suom. 1978) 
  • Filifjonkan som trodde på katastrofer, 1978
    - Vilijonkka joka uskoi onnettomuuksiin (äänite, suom. Laila Järvinen, 1989)
  • Skurken i muminhuset, 1980
    - Outo vieras muumitalossa (suom. Panu Pekkanen, 1980)
  • Mumin 3-10 (with Lars Jansson), 1978-81
    - Muumi 3-4 (suom. 1979-1981)
  • Den ärliga bedragaren, 1982
    - Kunniallinen petkuttaja (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1983)
    - The True Deceiver (translated by Thomas Tea, 2009)
  • Stenåkern, 1984
    - Kevyt kantamus ja muita kertomuksia (suom. Oili Suominen, 1989)
  • Resa med lätt bagage, 1988
    - Kevyt kantamus (suom. Oili Suominen, 1989)
  • Rent spel, 1989
    - Reilu peliä (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää, 1990)
    - Fair Play: A Novel (translated by Thomas Teal, 2007)
  • Brev från Klara, 1991
    - Seuraleikki (suom. Eila Pennanen, 1990)
  • Stora muminboken, 1995
    - Suuri muumikirja (toimittanut Gunnel Malmström)
  • Anteckningar från en ö, 1996 (illustrated by Tuuliki Pietilä)
    - Haru, eräs saari (suom. Liisa Ryömä, 1996)
  • Meddelande: noveller i urval 1971-1997, 1998
    - Viesti: valitut novellit 1971-1997 (suom. Kyllikki Härkäpää et al., 1999)
  • Allting som är trevligt är bra för magen, 2002 (edited by Helen Svensson)
  • Moomintroll and the End of the World: Tove Jansson’s First Moomin Comic Strip with Essays on Her Life and Work, 2008 (translated by Peter Marten)

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