Jansson, Tove (Marika)

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JANSSON, Tove (Marika)

Nationality: Finnish (Swedish language). Born: Helsinki, 9 August 1914. Education: Studied at art schools in Stockholm, Helsinki, and Paris. Career: Writer and artist: creator of the Moomins in cartoon and book form; cartoon strip Moomin appeared in Evening News, London, 1953-60; several individual shows. Lives in Helsinki. Awards: Lagerlöf medal, 1942, 1972; Finnish Academy award, 1959; Andersen medal, 1966; Finnish state prize, 1971; Swedish Academy prize, 1972.


Short Stories

Det Osynliga Barnet och andra berättelser. 1962; as Tales from Moominvalley, 1963.

Lyssnerskan [The Listener]. 1971.

Dockskåpet och andra berättelser [The Doll's House and OtherStories]. 1978.

Den ärliga bedragaren [The Honest Deceiver] (novella). 1982.

Brev från Klara [Letters from Klara]. 1991.


Sent i November. 1970; as Moominvalley in November, 1971.

Sommarboken. 1972; as The Summer Book, 1975.

Solstaden. 1974; as Sun City, 1976.

Stenåkern [The Stony Field]. 1984.

Resa med lätt bagage [Travelling Light]. 1987.

Rent spel [Fair Play]. 1989.


Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen [The Small Troll and the Large Flood] (stories for children). 1945.

Mumintrollet och Kometen (for children). 1946; as Comet in Moominland, 1951.

Trollkarlens Hatt (for children). 1949; as Finn Family Moomintroll, 1950; as The Happy Moomins, 1951.

Muminpappans Bravader (for children). 1950; as The Exploits of Moominpappa, 1952.

Hur Gick det Sen? 1952; as Moomin Mymble and Little My, 1953.

Farlig Midsommar. 1954; as Moominsummer Madness, 1955.

Trollvinter. 1957; as Moominland Midwinter, 1958.

Vem Ska trösta knyttet? 1960; as Who Will Comfort Toffle?, 1960.

Pappan och Havet. 1965; as Moomin Pappa at Sea, 1966.

Muminpappans memoarer. 1968.

Bildhuggarens Dotter (autobiography). 1968; as Sculptor's Daughter, 1969.

Den farliga resan. 1977; as The Dangerous Journey, 1978.

Våra berättelser fran havet [Our Tales from the Sea] (for children). 1984.

Anteckningar från en ö (with Tuulikki Pietilä) [Notes from anIsland]. 1996.


Critical Studies:

Jansson: Pappan och Havet (in English), 1979, "Jansson: Themes and Motifs," in Proceedings of the Conference of Scandinavian Studies in Great Britain and Northern Ireland, 1983, and Jansson, 1984, all by W. Glyn Jones; "Jansson: The Art of Travelling Light" by Marianne Bargum, in Books from Finland 21(3), 1987; "Equal to Life: Jansson's Moomintrolls" by Nancy Lyman Huse, in Webs and Wardrobes: Humanist and ReligiousWorld Views in Children's Literature, edited by Joseph O'Beirne Milner and Lucy Floyd Morcock Milner, 1987; "Tove Jansson's Moomin World: Fairytale or Surrealist Fantasy?" by W. Glyn Jones, in Essays in Memory of Michael Parkinson and Janine Dakyns edited by Christopher Smith and Mike Carr, 1996.

* * *

Tove Jansson has sometimes been characterized as a children's writer and likened to the Swedish Astrid Lindgren (see, for example, W. Glyn Jones in Tove Jansson). While it cannot be denied that among the readers of Jansson's books there are many children, it is less clear that the author originally set out with the intention of writing especially or solely for them. In an interview published in 1971 she is quoted as replying to the question "who do you write for?" in these terms: " If my stories are addressed to any particular kind of reader it is probably to an inferior sort of one. I mean the people who find it hard to fit in anywhere, those who are outside and on the margin, rather as when one says 'small and dirty and frightened of the train.' The fish out of water. The inferior person one has oneself succeeded in shaking off or concealing."

Jansson's earliest books were fairy tales, but while appealing to children, they also had a distinctly adult flavor. Småtrollen och den stora översämningen (The Small Troll and the Large Flood) was the first of her Moomin books, begun during the winter of 1939 when her work as a visual artist seemed superfluous. "I excused myself by avoiding princes, princesses and small children, and chose instead my ill-natured signature figure from my humorous drawings and called him Moomintroll," the author wrote in a reminiscence. In the course of the narrative Moomintroll and his mother pass through all kinds of dangers and adventures in their quest for Pappa Moomintroll, who is eventually discovered, a victim of the Great Flood—surely a symbol of the war, and of Finland's national calamity—high up on the branch of a tree to which he has attached an S.O.S. flag. The story of how the missing father is restored to his family is founded, one feels, in a collective and individual psychology that is Jungian in content and significance (the illustrations, with their moons, trees, rivers, and phallic towers, certainly encourage such a view), while the poignancy of the concluding scenes in which Moominpappa reclaims the family home is given additional depth by the sense of an intertwining of personal and national need and destiny.

The Moomin books that followed developed further this blend of an adult consciousness of evil and inadequacy with the child's experience of fear and joy. In the early volumes we observe the same picaresque type of narrative that characterizes the story of the Great Flood. Mumintrollet och Kometen (Comet in Moominland) develops the character of the "little animal," Sniff, and also introduces us to the artistic, self-sufficient, and sensitive Snufkin, whose tent seems to symbolize the calm with which he views the world and its perils. Trollkarlens Hatt (Finn Family Moomintroll) describes a journey made by the Moomintroll family to a desert island and the adventures they experience when a magician plunges them into a muddle concerning his hat. While the outline of the story resembles a children's tale, there are many features of the book, including the portrayal of the "dissolute" hattifatteners and the recurrent irony, that suggest that the author is also addressing the concerns of adults. Much of the tension centers on a dichotomy between a longing for safety and security on the one hand and a need to experience the world and its dangers on the other. This theme is particularly evident in Muminpappans Bravader (The Exploits of Moominpappa), in which the hattifatteners, symbolizing the primitive human instincts, and the Groke, a kind of monster threat, play a particularly important role, and where a violent storm and a visit to an island are part of the plot in a way that was to become characteristic of the Moomin books. Det Osynliga Barnet och andra berättelser (Tales from Moomin Valley) is a collection of short stories that signaled a change in Jansson's development as a writer. In these short pieces she concentrates more intensely on aspects of personality, and her writing is, as Glyn Jones has pointed out, "less tied to a linear action." In general it seems possible to say that the Moomin books are parables concerning the continuing role of childhood in adult experience, a facet of that experience that is often repressed and that, in Jansson's stories and drawings, receives expression in a way that is equally accessible to both children and adults alike. Children, after all, have some idea of the preoccupations of adults, and for them these books may serve as a kind of a hint or clue to what lies ahead in life. It is noteworthy, however, that the final volume in the Moomin series, Sent i November (Moominvalley in November), is intended almost exclusively for adults and focuses on the problems of old age, loneliness, obsession, and change. These were to become the predominant themes of Jansson's subsequent fiction, nearly all of which is intended to be read by adults and falls quite outside the category of "children's literature." The principal works of the post-Moomin period are probably Bildhuggarens Dotter (Sculptor's Daughter) and Sommarboken (The Summer Book). The first of these is closely related to the Moomin books and concerns a child and her relation to fear, while the second is an extended study of old age and describes a child's life with her grandmother. Among Jansson's later works (not yet translated into English in their entirety) is the short novel Den ärliga bedragaren ( The Honest Deceiver), about the relationship between two aged women, one of whom is despairing and helpless in her loneliness, and the other, her helper, tough, realistic and practical, and the collection of short stories Brev från Klara ( Letters from Klara). The title story of this collection has been translated into English (in the journal Books from Finland, 1992) and concerns an old woman's preparations for death and her settling of accounts with those around her.

Jansson can perhaps best be characterized as a romantic realist, for whom the creations of her imagination are always molded and checked by a sense of practical morality. This morality is not in any sense religious or prescriptive but derives from an ethical awareness of the uniqueness and aloneness of each human being and from a desire to penetrate to the essence of humanity through its individual manifestations.

—David McDuff

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Jansson, Tove (Marika)

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