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"Bookshelf of UNESCO cities": Tove Jansson "All about the Moomins"
25.04.2022

On the bookshelf of UNESCO cities, we will meet many different authors from different parts of the world with their multifaceted works that have excited more than one generation of readers. Polina Nikolaeva, press secretary of the program, a young poet and writer from Ulyanovsk, will tell us about them.
Why not remember the good old fairy tales? And who said they're just for kids? But no, it will also be interesting for an adult to plunge into the world of funny and cute stories about the mysterious Moomins.

A few words about Tuva Jansson
Tove Jansson was born in 1914 into a bohemian family: her mother was the prominent artist Signe Hammarsten, a book illustrator who came to Finland from Sweden, her father was the recognized Finnish sculptor Viktor Jansson. Tove was the first child in the family. Her brother Per-Olof later became a photographer, another brother, Lars, an artist.
At the age of 15, Tove Jansson leaves to study in Sweden, having received a diploma from the Faculty of Fine Arts of the College of Art. She is doing an internship at art schools in France, Germany, Italy. By this time, in her homeland, she had already achieved some recognition, since almost from the age of 10 she had been illustrating for a popular children's magazine, the editor-in-chief of which was a good friend of her parents. In addition to Swedish and Finnish (which were native to her), Tove Jansson was fluent in English, French, and read German with a dictionary.
After completing his studies abroad, Tove returns home and begins to illustrate books and draw cartoons commissioned by various publications. Jansson gained worldwide fame thanks to the book series about the Moomin trolls: charming creatures that live in the idyllic Moomin Valley.
These books, illustrated by Jansson herself, broke all records in popularity in the 50s and 60s. They sold in millions of copies and were published all over the world. For example, The Wizard's Hat alone has been translated into 34 languages, including Japanese, Thai, and Farsi.

 

All about Moomins
In total, Jansson wrote 8 stories about the Moomins (“Little Trolls and a Big Flood”, “Moomin and the Comet”, “The Wizard's Hat”, “Dangerous Summer”, “Moominpappa's Memoirs”, “Magic Winter”, “Papa and the Sea", "At the End of November"), one collection of short stories "The Invisible Child", 4 picture books ("Dangerous Journey", "What's Next", "Who Will Comfort the Little One", "Swindler in the Moomin House" ). In 1949, Vivica Bandler offered to stage a play based on the book Moomintroll and the Comet at the Swedish Theater. Tove herself became the author of the play and scenery. The premiere took place on December 28, 1949. The play became a success. Jansson personally adapted her books for the theatre. Based on Dangerous Summer, she first wrote the play "Moomin-trolls backstage", and then the libretto for the musical "Moomin Opera".
Despite the fact that the trolls were borrowed by the writer from Swedish fairy tales, their image was significantly reworked, and in general, we can say that folklore had a minimal impact on Tove Janson's work.
At the heart of the artistic world of Tove Jansson lies the image of the house - a house in which the light is always on, loved ones are waiting for you, delicious food and a warm bed are ready. This is an unshakable citadel of safety and love, one thought of which allows you to overcome any adversity, this is a place where you can always return. So, Moomin-mother calmly waits for the end of the protracted wanderings of Moomin-troll at the set table (“The Comet Arrives”).
Another important motif in Tove Janson's work is freedom. Everyone has the right to creative self-expression, since nature itself, the whole surrounding world, is free in its manifestations. A character can only limit his freedom of action in accordance with his own ideas about duty, but he does not have the right to impose these ideas on others.
And, of course, one of the defining themes of the Moomin series is the theme of loneliness. Moomintroll is lonely (this is especially felt in "Magic Winter"), Snufkin is lonely, and many other characters are lonely in the depths of their souls. The physical embodiment of this "loneliness of the soul" was Morra: infinitely lonely, icy, misunderstood and frightening in the first books and "thawed" in the last.
Thoughts about the first Moomin book came to Tova Jansson in 1939 during the Winter War. She was shocked by the war, she really wanted to give both herself and the world something good and safe. This is how Moomindol appeared, its inhabitants: the Moomintrolls and their many friends and relatives.
She was inspired to create this world by her family and childhood spent on the island of the Pellinki archipelago. Every summer, the Janssons rented a house by the sea there and enjoyed nature, communication and creativity. For Tuva, the summer months were the happiest childhood memories, and the island itself became the prototype of Moomin-dol. In addition, it was there that Tove came up with the future Moomintroll. And she painted it on the toilet wall! The fact is that the toilet in the summer house was on the street. From the inside it was pasted over with cardboard, and the whole Jansson family drew and wrote messages to each other on it, and sometimes argued on philosophical topics. Once brother Tuva wrote a story about Kant there. Tove could not come up with a decent answer to him. Then she drew the ugliest creature in the world that she could think of, and wrote "Kant" on top. This was the first Moomintroll. From the wall of the toilet, he migrated to Tuva's children's diaries, and later became a kind of emblem with which she signed her works. For the first time, such a signature emblem appeared on an anti-Hitler poster in the Garm magazine in the late 30s. It was a big-nosed character, sometimes he was depicted in black, and his name was Snork.

 

Who are the Moomin trolls?
Moomin trolls are distant descendants of the Scandinavian trolls, outwardly white and rounded, with large muzzles, because of which they resemble hippos. Judging by the drawings of the writer herself, Moomin-trolls look like mysterious little animals, toys come to life, like figures in children's drawings. In the past, Moomin trolls lived behind stoves in people's houses, like trolls and brownies. But over time, steam heating almost replaced stove heating, and the Moomins had to look for other shelters.
Initially, Tove Jansson called the Moomintroll Snork and used his image as a kind of emblem or signature. The Snork figurine was present in all the illustrations and cartoons drawn by Jansson. Snork differed markedly from the later image of the Moomintroll - he was thinner, with a long narrow nose and ears similar to horns (the Moomins have a similar appearance in early illustrations).
Tove Jansson's books tell about one family of Moomin trolls - the Moomin family. An amazing atmosphere reigns in the house of the Moomins and in their Valley. Here, with open arms, anyone who comes will be accepted, seated at the table, put to bed, left to live "for good". "Moominpappa and Moominmamma just put in new beds and expanded the dining table." The kind and disinterested world of the Moomin trolls opposes the greedy and indifferent, "cold" Morra, with expressionless eyes, from whose mere presence the earth freezes.
Moomin trolls are fantastic creatures that lead a completely human lifestyle. Their fabulous dream is a dream of realizing in everyday life the best possibilities inherent in a person. The miracle of ordinary life, which they sing about, can take place only under one condition: everyone has the right to be himself, but no one has the right to think only about himself. Books about them are full of humor and optimistic.

 

 

So we met with another author and another wonderful work from the shelf of UNESCO cities of literature. Share your opinion about the work and ask your questions in the comments, and the directorate of the Ulyanovsk - UNESCO City of Literature program will be happy to answer them.