“I lived on this great big housing estate in suburban Liverpool, from a working class background, and somehow this bohemian, upper middle-class, Finnish lesbian eccentric felt like she was speaking directly to me,” said Frank Cottrell Boyce.
“They are just fantastically enriching books. One of the things I really took from them was the importance of small pleasures, that life is really worth living if we’re just nice to each other and make really good coffee, and the pancakes are just right – then nothing else really matters in any substantial way.”
I love this quote, taken from a BBC News article on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Tove Jansson, artist, writer and creator of the Moomins. Her life is currently being commemorated in countries across the world, through Tove100.
Jansson, a Finnish woman born into a creative family and with a precocious talent that led to her first becoming published at the tender age of 14, translated her life into homely tales with a slow, melancholic air. The family life she longed for, her relationships with other women, and the loss of people close to her are all apparent in the unfolding of the Moomin sagas.
Jansson’s creation is a land populated by forests, shrill-voiced witch-like Mymbles and gentle creatures not dissimilar to hippos. I wasn’t quite the right age for the Moomin series when it hit our small screens – too old, and not quite old enough – but I’ve since developed a fascination for these humble little creatures. Over the years, there’s been a slow gathering of Moomin artefacts in our home.
MoominPapa keeps Austin and Gwen company during their nightly bathing session. This is the one piece of bath plastic I feel very, very happy about us owning:
Jansson’s characters are also to be found on several of our plates, bowls and mugs. We just love those little snub-nosed, snowy creatures.
So, I was pretty excited when I heard about two productions, to be staged this summer as part of Tove100. The first, Moominsummer Madness, played first at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, and then moved to the Polka Theatre, London, from 11 Jun-16 August 2014. It features “breathtaking puppetry, live music and humour”, and shows the familiar characters pulling together to brave a flood. (Disclosure: we were given press tickets to see this performance at the Polka and you can read the review here).
Unlike Frank Cotterell Boyce, for me the main attraction of Tove Jansson’s books is that – despite the fact that danger often lurks at the fringes of the plot (whether that’s impending apocalypse from a comet, or a big winter storm) – the characters face their difficulties with cheerful stoicism. Yes, there’s comfort in the familiar trappings of their home; but they’re not afraid to venture afield if needs be.
Just so long as they all, somehow, end up together. It’s a delightful message; one which we’re looking forward to hearing more of this summer.
You can read more about the Moomins on this website: