An artistic and bohemian upbringing coupled with a desire to battle depression in post-war Europe inspired Tove Jansson to create the Moomins – some of literature’s most intriguing creatures. Though she is best known for the books set in Moominvalley, Jansson’s writing touched readers of all ages.
Jansson was born into a family of Swedish-speaking Finns in Helsinki, Finland, in August 1914 – less than two weeks after the start of World War I. Art was in her blood - her father, Viktor, was a sculptor, and her mother, Signe, was an illustrator. Her siblings, Per Olov and Lars, became a photographer and a cartoonist, respectively. Tove could paint before she could walk.
Tove embraced her creativity throughout her childhood and teenage years, and would study art in Sweden and France before returning to Finland. Tove spent her formative years surviving the period of social and political upheaval between the World Wars. She was tired and depressed, and sought to create something innocent and naive to combat this bleak period. Deciding that the opulent princes and princesses of past children's novels would not connect appropriately with modern children, Jansson created a new world featuring characters envisioned in her own childhood.
Moominvalley was born. This pastoral setting served as the backdrop for an eclectic host of characters. The Moomins - a family of trolls who resemble hippopotamuses - are joined in their adventures by many different friends, each with their own ties to the family and Moominvalley. Though Jansson’s Moomin stories started out in a very child-like vein - focusing on fantastical tales of adventure and the supernatural - she would also explore deeper psychological themes that were more accessible to adult readers such as loneliness, change, and balance in life.
From The Moomins and the Great Flood to Skurken i muminhuset (translated to An Unwanted Guest), Jansson published dozens of Moomin novels and short stories between 1945 and 1980. She also wrote and illustrated a Moomin comic strip from 1954 until 1959, which was taken over by her brother, Lars, and carried on until 1975. The Moomin comic strip was published in dozens of newspapers and provided an international following that reached up to 20 million daily readers at its height.
In 1966, Jansson was awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award in recognition of her contribution to children's literature. Her most notable adult books were The Sculptor's Daughter and The Summer Book. Jansson continued to write and paint well into her later years, and died at the age of 86.