Tove Jansson: Love, War & Moomins
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Tove Jansson: Love, War & Moomins
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This year Finland is celebrating the centenary of the birth of Tove Jansson, creator of the Moomins, and one of the most successful children's writers ever. Her life included war and lesbian relationships - both reflected by the Moomins in surprising ways.

There is Moomintroll, Moominmamma and Moominpappa - little white trolls who live in Moominvalley, with other fantastical creatures such as the Hattifatteners, Mymbles and Whompers.

Tove Jansson's Moomin books have sold in their millions, and been translated into 44 languages.

Philip Pullman, author of His Dark Materials, has described her as a genius. Other devotees include Michael Morpurgo, writer of War Horse and dozens of other children's books, and Frank Cottrell Boyce, who scripted the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.

"I was completely blown away and enchanted," says Boyce, who read Finn Family Moomintroll as a 10-year-old, after discovering the book in a Liverpool library.

"I didn't realise it was set in a real place. I thought she'd made Finland up. Finland was like Narnia, with these incredible characters that were so strange but instantly recognisable because you had met lots of them - noisy Hemulens or neurotic, skinny Fillijonks."

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Tove Jansson grew up in an artistic household in Helsinki. Her father, a Swedish-speaking Finn, was a sculptor, her Swedish mother an illustrator.

While her mother worked, Tove would sit by her side drawing her own pictures. She soon added words to the images. Her first book- Sara and Pelle and the Octopuses of the Water Sprite - was published when she was just 13.

She later said that she had drawn the first Moomin after arguing with one of her brothers about the philosopher Immanuel Kant. She sketched "the ugliest creature imaginable" on the toilet wall and wrote under it "Kant". It was this ugly animal, or a plumper and friendlier version of it, that later brought her worldwide fame.

Jansson studied art in Stockholm and Helsinki, then in Paris and Rome, returning to Helsinki just before the start of World War Two.

"The war had a great effect on Tove and her family. One of her brothers, Per Olov, was in the war. They didn't know where he was, if he was safe, and if he was coming back," says Boel Westin, a friend of Jansson's for 20 years and a Professor of Literature at Stockholm University.

Jansson's first Moomin book - The Moomins and the Great Flood - was published in 1945, at the end of this difficult and nerve-wracking period, with Comet in Moominland following soon afterwards.

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Family (1942): Jansson's brothers - Per Olov in uniform and Lars in civilian clothes - play chess while she and her parents sit in silence. "The atmosphere is sad," says Boel Westin. "Tove is dressed in black like a widow. It's a wonderful painting which she painted from the bottom of her heart. It was very important to her."

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I like to look at the human self-model as a neurocomputational weapon, a certain data structure that the brain can activate from time to time.

Thomas Metzinger
2014 Mar 13 11:19
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