Undiscovered Country

Comet in Moominland

by Tove Jansson, translated by Elizabeth Portch
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 192 pp., $3.95 (paper)

Finn Family Moomintroll

by Tove Jansson, translated by Elizabeth Portch
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 174 pp., $3.50 (paper)

Moominsummer Madness

by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Warburton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 159 pp., $4.50 (paper)

Moominland Midwinter

by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Warburton
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 159 pp., $4.50 (paper)

To most Americans Finland is a strange and remote country. When they think of it they imagine a largely empty landscape: frozen snow-smothered forests, gray rocky shores, icy lakes, and black rivers pass before their inner eyes to the accompaniment of the melancholy tone poems of Sibelius. Some, though, have a more benign vision. Because they know the children’s stories of Tove Jansson, they see Finland as bright with birds and flowers, and inhabited by fantastic creatures: the Moomintroll family and their sometimes charming, sometimes difficult or even obnoxious neighbors, so different from us in appearance yet so much like people we already know.

Today Moomintroll is famous almost all over the world; his adventures have been translated into thirty-three languages, and in England he has been the hero of a comic strip and a television series. But in America, until very recently, he was unknown. Now, however, his adventures are becoming available here. The first four in the series (Comet in Moominland, Finn Family Moomintroll, Moominsummer Madness, and Moominland Midwinter) have just appeared, and more will follow.

Tove Jansson, the creator of Moomintroll, is probably the best-known writer in Finland—not only for her children’s books, but for her fine stories and novels for adults, one of which, Sun City, is set in an upmarket retirement home in Florida. She is also a successful artist who illustrates her own work with deceptively simple line drawings.

Jansson was born in 1914 of Swedish-speaking parents settled in Helsinki. Both were artists: her father, Viktor, was a well-known sculptor. Her mother, Signe, was not only a gifted illustrator who designed two hundred Finnish stamps, but a famous storyteller. Tove Jansson inherited their talents. At fifteen she entered art school: later she studied art in Germany, Italy, France, and London. Her first, brief, Moomintroll tale appeared in 1945. It was followed the next year by Comet in Moominland and then by eight more full-length Moominland books. Jansson, who has never married, spends part of the year in Helsinki and the rest on a remote and beautiful island in the Gulf of Finland where her family has gone in the summers since she was a small child. The island appears both in her adult stories and in Moominpappa at Sea.

The author of the only book about Tove Jansson in English has compared the world of Moomintroll to that of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh. There is something to be said for this, though Jansson, by her own account, did not read the Pooh books until long after she had created Moomintroll. Perhaps the resemblances are the result of what a folklorist would call polygenesis: similar human situations tend to produce similar stories.

Tove Jansson’s characters, like Milne’s, are highly individual creatures, part human and part animal and part pure invention, living in a remote and peaceful rural world. Jansson’s simple language, comic gift, and down-to-earth relation of odd events all remind one of Milne; so does …

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