Tag Archives: Tove Jansson

Letters from Tove

I’d like to think that even people who don’t know anything about Tove Jansson would enjoy reading her letters. As the publicist for the English translation of Letters from Tove said, one can enjoy dipping in, reading a bit here and a bit there. You sort of eavesdrop on Tove’s life, which looks to have been both long and full of events.

Tove Jansson, Letters from Tove

The translation by Sarah Death is so spot on, that if I didn’t know whose letters I was reading, I could easily believe they were from a young, arty English girl. At least, were it not for the people Tove writes about, and the recipients of the letters.

For the most part I don’t know who they are. Some are obvious, others might be names I vaguely have heard of, being Swedish. But many correspondents are just that, someone Tove knew and exchanged letters with. The Resident IT Consultant felt he didn’t know enough, but I suspect that’s because he believed that a Swedish speaker would automatically know all about Tove’s people.

Well, we don’t, and the book is more exciting for it. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that someone Tove’s age would have spent time in prewar Paris, mixing with other arty people. But somehow I’d not thought about this. And I know the grass is often greener, but I am always struck by how interesting life in the past seems.

And then there is the more normal life at home, which is surprisingly normal, even for non-arty me, so much younger than Tove. It’s as if there is something timeless and Nordic about certain aspects of how we live.

I think this will be interesting to read, whether or not you are a Moomin fan. And perfect to keep near you for dipping into. There are many years of numerous and long letters to discover.

(Starting today as Book of the week on BBC Radio 4.)

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

It is rather sweet. Even people who know nothing about Christmas, can get it right, completely by accident. In this case the people are the Moomin family. They hibernate, so tend not to be awake or aware of Christmas, unlike their friends and neighbours. But this time the Hemulen comes and wakes them up, because he’s fed up with all the preparations for Christmas.

Aren’t we all?

But knowing nothing, the poor Moomins are alarmed at first, worrying about this unknown monster coming for them. It needs a tree. The tree needs to be dressed. It needs food. And on top of that it requires presents.

Christmas comes to Moominvalley

Were it not for a tiny, shy creature drawn to their house by the kindness of Moominmamma, they’d know very little. With its help, they find pretty things to put on the tree, and they wrap presents, and Moominmamma gets busy in the kitchen.

After all that they do the most sensible thing of all and go back to bed.


I seem to know the story from a long time ago. However, it has been ‘adapted from the Tove Jansson classic,’ with words by Alex Haridi and Cecilia Davidsson – translated by A A Prime – and illustrations by Filippa Widlund. So I’m not sure what it is I remember.

But it is a lovely story, with pretty pictures, and who needs a star at the top of the tree when you can have a rose?

The Moomins of Moominvalley

Philip Ardagh

As we entered the Corner theatre at Sunday lunchtime, there was a creature sitting quietly in the corner (where else?) of the room. It was Philip Ardagh, pretending he wasn’t already there. Quite eerie.

Once Jane Sandell had introduced ‘the best’ author, big in Germany (I’ll say!), Philip asked us a question. I’m afraid I have forgotten which one, but we all raised our hands, and he commented on our ‘fine variety of armpits.’

The World of Moominvalley

It seems there is more to Tove Jansson and the Moomins than the mugs.

The young Philip liked going to the library. He also liked book tokens. In the library he discovered his first Moomin book, which was Comet in Moominland. (Snap.) Before long his collection of Moomin books had grown, later supplemented with some ‘nice to have, stolen property’ in the shape of a few early hardbacks, so battered and unwanted the library didn’t want to keep them.

(We had better mention that Philip obviously didn’t mean any of these admissions to criminal behaviour.)

Getting on to business, he showed us his own new book about the Moomins – The World of Moominvalley – with pages and pages of facts about every last little creature in Moominland. He’s done a lot of research, although he did also have the help of an assistant. And he’s been hanging out with Sophia Jansson…

The World of Moominvalley

Philip is Sniff. (At least he didn’t say Little My!) There was some pondering on how – when you are not wearing clothes – you can have a pocket watch. Also, what’s the difference between a Snork and a Moomin? (Snorks can change colour.) The Moomins have a different kind of ancestor to you and me; as their ancestors are still alive, coming out to live in their house when the rest of them hibernate.

Frank Cottrell Boyce wrote a couple of chapters for this book, as he’s a Moomin fan, too. Apparently, he is also married to Little My. In Philip’s words, Frank ‘is an extraordinary man, and so is his wife…’

The audience was quite a knowledgeable one, meeting Philip’s standards regarding all things Moomin. There was one hairy moment discussing ‘girly pink’ but it was almost OK.

Another author in the yurt had informed Philip that ‘you’re exhausting.’ Something to do with his Sheldon-like fascination for certain things, maybe?

I hardly snoozed at all. At one point the Photographer prodded me to make sure I was awake. And I was. Really. (It was the early start. Nothing to do with the Moomins. Or Philip Ardagh.)

Philip Ardagh

‘I’ve been sensational,’ he told us, when it was time to go.

(Photos Helen Giles)

Forævar and ævar

The very lovely, and kind, Ævar Þór Benediktsson, is very lovely. And kind.

Just thought I’d mention that. He likes me. This is understandable, if unexpected. He read my recent blog post about Moomin mugs and about having too many or – as in my case, and the former case of Daniel Hahn’s – of owning just the one.

So he emailed to ask how he could send me something. I told him.

And it has arrived! The something being my second Moomin mug!!!

And, it’s weird. I am a witch. We know that. But I didn’t know that Ævar is too. Because another thing about Moomin mugs is that you sort of know what your next one would be if you were to go shopping. And that’s precisely the mug Ævar sent me… The Moomin house; the mug with a hat.

Moomin mug

Isn’t it wonderful?

Now, what else could I blog about that would make someone want to give me presents?

Except this won’t work, because I do my witching for no reward. I can’t be bought. In this Moomin mugs instance I remained completely oblivious to even the possibility that an Icelandic author might suddenly be afflicted by a bout of generosity and send me such an exquisite gift.

More Moomin mugs

How time passes…

You will remember the Aarhus 39 story collections. Yes, you will. In the younger one there was a rather lovely story by Ævar Þór Benediktsson called The Great Book Escape, in which a dedicated librarian discovers that all the books in her library have disappeared. She reacts as any sensible librarian would do by dropping her favourite mug. It’s a Moomin mug. Obviously.

Some pages later, after looking into this dreadful state of things, ‘she sighed deeply and took a gulp from a different Moomin mug (anyone who owns one Moomin mug owns at least three).’ And then she knew what to do.

That statement about owning more than one Moomin mug, is so true. And yet not.

In a blog nine years ago I wrote about School Friend and her thirteen mugs. I’m surprised, but relieved, that it was as long ago as that, because I’d been wondering how I was going to explain away her current number of Moomin mugs, which is too great for me to even know, other than that her cupboards are brimming over. (I believe she’s a bit touched.)

But I only have one Moomin mug, so don’t fit the pattern of multiple Moomin possessions. I’m quite happy with the one, but now fear a situation such as our librarian experienced.

I admitted this pitiful state of affairs to Daniel Hahn last month, as he is the editor of the Aarhus 39 collection. And actually, it seems that he was in an identical position until quite recently, and happened to mention this to Ævar, and was duly presented with a second mug when they met.

Danny can now afford to drop one.

Moomin mugs

Write to me

Authors’ letters are drying up, it seems. Maybe they were a luxury, anyway, and now it’s all many can do to keep their heads above water, writing things that might pay. On the other hand, there is nothing actively wrong with emails. Paper can burn, while cyberspace could be lost in, well, cyberspace, as it were.

Anything can disappear, but most things can also last surprisingly well.

I read an article in Vi magazine the other week, about the correspondence of authors. One of the people interviewed was Peter Englund, former Permanent Secretary to the Swedish Academy. He saves every email. Which should mean that mine to him must be there, somewhere. (As is his to me; in my archives, so to speak.)

The article touches on one published volume of letters, which I’ve already blogged about. I did some more research on what they said, and decided that I was possibly slightly misinformed back then. But so were they. I believe the letters were from the author to ChocBiscuit’s father’s first wife’s first husband’s mistress. Rather than the other way round.

Tove Jansson is mentioned by someone who met her, many years ago. She astounded her companion by saying she read every letter, and replied to them as well. This someone wrote to Tove afterwards. He never had a reply.

Oh well.

As I said, I’ve got a small email archive here. If I save emails, it’s either because I might need to remember what someone said. Or because they wrote so well that I like keeping it. I very much doubt that I will publish any books off the back of my collection, however. So please continue writing.

Besides, most of them are signed xxx, and perhaps an initial, if I’m lucky. (And if I may quote briefly from one, ‘holy shit Batman!’ does not necessarily have a lot of literary merit.)

The Red Tree

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

It has a rather Finnish, Tove Jansson kind of feel to it. The Red Tree by Shaun Tan is a book I’d not read before, and I was struck by how Finnish it seemed. Not surprising, but still.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

I can’t make my mind up whether it is sad or not. It deals with feeling sad. Days that start bad and get worse. Shaun’s pictures show pretty vividly how bad you can feel; lonely and dark, and unsure of who you are, even.

Reading this book and discovering you are not alone in feeling alone, ought to be a good thing. Finding you can share your thoughts and feelings with someone who has been there.

Shaun Tan, The Red Tree

And then there is the ending…

A very beautiful book.

Translated

It should have been like Desert Island Discs, where you are encouraged to think beyond the world of the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare. The authors should have been told that ‘no, you can’t have the Moomins; people always pick it. Think of another translated book!’ (Apologies to Gill Lewis who was allowed to choose the Authors’ Author.)

After all, the rest of the world must be able to offer one or two children’s books not originally published in English (which is a great language, but not the only one). There’s the Moomins. Still leaves at least one other book.

In The Guardian’s list of favourite – translated – children’s books nine authors have picked theirs. It’s everything from Tove Jansson and Astrid Lindgren to Janne Teller and Kim Fupz Aakeson and Niels Bo Bojesen. It is a varied list. But I suppose I’d hoped for something different. As I said, ban Astrid and Tove, and probably Erich Kästner, too, and what do you get?

The Resident IT Consultant muttered about classics, but it’s hard enough to get children to read English language classics. I’d like to see more recent fiction translated. You know, the kind of books German and Italian and Finnish children have enjoyed in the last five or ten years. (And I don’t mean Harry Potter!)

I don’t know what they are. That’s why I rely on publishers, whose job it is to bring out books. But I do know that the few modern French books I’ve read, have all been better than average. I’m suspecting there could be more where they came from.

Even setting aside very country specific fiction, there must be a few books that would appeal to British and American children? I’m not counting the Australians or readers in New Zealand, because those countries seem more open to books from ‘other’ places.

Mårten Sandén, whose book I reviewed on Monday, has written lots of books. He’s not the only Swede to have done so. Take a group of successful children’s writers from maybe ten countries, and you should have a lot of choice. Nordic crime is popular with older readers, so why not for children?

There are one or two ‘crime novels’ from my own childhood which still stand out in my memory. I have no idea how well they’d do today. It could be that the grass seemed greener then. In which case there must be some fresh grass to replace my hazy memories.

Gunnel Linde, Osynliga Klubben och Kungliga Spöket

And if you think children don’t want to read about strange children in strange places, there were millions of us who consumed Nesbit and Blyton despite their foreign-ness, and don’t even get me started on Harry Potter…

There’s Nuffin like a Puffin

‘It’s a shame it wasn’t in a better place,’ the Resident IT Consultant remarked as we left Lyme Park after seeing the Puffin exhibition there. And he doesn’t complain at the drop of a hat. (That’s my job.)

Don’t misunderstand me; Lyme Park is a wonderful place and Lyme Hall is a great house, and the There’s Nuffin like a Puffin exhibition put together by the fantastic Seven Stories was interesting. But it would have helped tremendously to be able to see all of it.

A dark corridor leading to the toilets and the restaurant is not the place in which to see.

I’d been sorry to miss the original exhibition in Newcastle and I was excited when it came to my neck of woods (even though it took me forever to find a free weekend to go and have a look) so that I could take it in after all.

They had long (wide) photos of Puffin book spines. Close to knee height for me, so I didn’t see so much of those. They had letters from Puffin’s past, shedding some light (hah!) on how the literary business was handled in those golden days. Except, letters behind glass, high up on a wall in the dark…

Sometimes exhibitions exhibit old things which would die very quickly if subjected to daylight. But most of what we saw were facsimiles of letters and illustrations. They would have survived some lamplight.

One bonus of Lyme Hall as a venue was that we were allowed into rooms I’ve never seen before. One rather nice one where children could paint and have stories read to them. There were boxes of older books, too, but I suspect it’s less likely that parents bring that age group to this type of thing. A piano to bang – sorry, play – on was a nice touch.

The room for fans of Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl was empty, apart from the bemused room steward who tried to tell us why we were in the wrong place (for our age group). The room for the Borrowers, on the other hand, was just perfect. Daylight and stuff to see and touch. Stig’s room of rubbish, likewise.

There's Nuffin like a Puffin - Borrowers' room

We came to the conclusion we were too old for the Puffin trail through the gardens, so finished off in the Orangery where we found a by now not so hungry caterpillar. He was resting on the echeveria, looking quite content. Bet they will soon realise it’s a mistake to put a caterpillar in an Orangery. They eat stuff.

In a hitherto unknown room behind the scenes, we could have coloured in butterflies, and they had Puffin bookmarks to design. Very nice. I took one home to do. Two, actually.

We were glad we went as adults. It would have been hard to hit just the right age with a child or two in tow. It’s easy to think that children’s books are just right for ‘children.’ Any age.

Who wants to read letters to and from Kaye Webb? Not your average six-year-old. I wanted to, but couldn’t. I was glad to find that even back then authors were lovely people who would draw and paint for someone they liked and cared for. There was a wonderful letter from Jill Murphy to Kaye Webb, and a card from Tove Jansson, featuring a Little My doodle.

So, as the Resident IT Consultant so rightly said, somewhere else, where we could have looked at all of it, with enough lighting and enough space to allow necks to remain un-cricked and knees not being required to bend to toddler level, it would have been most enjoyable.

The Moomins and the Great Flood

Moominmamma is definitely me. In this new version of Tove Jansson’s first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood, both Moomintroll and Moominmamma are slimmer than ever before. It’s almost to such an extent they don’t yet look as lovable and friendly as they do in later incarnations.

But whereas the illustrations still have some developing to do, as people they are definitely themselves. I mean, as Moomins, they already are what they have always been. The book was first published in 1945, and here it is in a fresh new English translation by David McDuff.

The images of these slimmer Moomins are in black and white or in sepia, and are a far cry from the plump and colourful television cartoon creatures. But they are still the same on the inside. And it’s fascinating meeting Moomintroll and his mother and Sniff at such an early stage, before they have even found their lovely tall house, and before they know all the people they are friendly with in the later books.

Tove Jansson, The Moomins and the Great Flood

I suspect the book will appeal more to adult fans than to children. Some of the illustrations are a little scary, and a young reader could feel as intimidated at times as Moomintroll does. In fact, Moominmamma feels scared too, except she needs to put a brave and calm face on for Moomin and Sniff. And, when you look braver than you feel, you might find that you become a little braver after a while.

Moominpappa has disappeared and Moomintroll and Moominmamma have gone to look for him. There has been a great flood and lots of creatures have been displaced and are (feeling) lost.

This is the most wonderful Moomin-journey tale, and even someone as jaded as I am, found it both charming and strangely soothing. I am more than a little scared of the Great Serpent, and almost wish it hadn’t been given such a prominent position. But you can always turn the pages faster.

Preface by Tove herself, from 1991.