Monday 2 April 2012

Moominspring Celebration

Today is International Children’s Book Day. It’s celebrated today because this is the birthday of Hans Christian Andersen, the author of so many familiar children’s stories. The day is organised by the International Board on Books for Young People and they award the Hans Christian Andersen Award to a living author whose complete works have made a lasting contribution to children’s literature. This year’s award went to Philip Pullman.

The recipient of the Hans Christian Andersen Award in 1966 was Tove Jansson (1914-2001). She is one of the more neglected of children’s authors, and in my childhood her books were very popular in my family.

Born in what was then the Grand Duchy of Finland in the Russian Empire, Tove came from an artistic family. Her mother was an illustrator for an anti-German magazine called “Garm” and at the age of 15 Tove began submitting cartoons featuring a troll. This troll character would evolve into Moomintroll, the central character in a series of children’s books and comic strips that Tove would write for the next 30 years.

The first Moomin book was “Moominsummer Madness” (1954). What appealed to me as a child was the variety of characters and creatures Tove created (I was terrified of the Hattifateners!), and the simplicity of the illustrations. Each character had his/her/its own fully-developed personality, something lacking in other popular children’s books in the 1960s.

The Moomins became a worldwide success, particularly in Japan strangely, and in independent Finland they made Tove Jansson a leading national figure (not unlike J. K. Rowiling – but without the money!). In 1987 a Moomin museum opened in Finland, and later a Moomin World.

In the last 30 years of her life Tove wrote stories and books for adults, including several semi-autobiographical books. In some of these she explored same-sex desire and relationships, perhaps expressing her own difficulties in being in a same-sex relationship during a time when such a thing was not openly welcome.

Tove Jansson lived with her partner Tuulikki Pietilä on a bleak Finnish island. Tuulikki was the inspiration for the character Too-Ticky in the last Moomin book, “Moominland in November” (1970).

I still adore the Moomins. I’m also pleased that they have remained “pure” and untainted by the big money of Hollywood.

Long live the Moomins!

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