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The Moomins: Escape Into the Gentle Fantasy of Tove Jansson

Moominvalley awaits. 

moomintrolls exploring the gentle fantasy of tove jansson
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A few strange fantasy creatures have experienced a recent resurgence of love. The source of fascination is the kind, philosophical Moomin family, alongside the eccentric neighbors they take into their care. For many people, the pastoral world of the Moomins is the perfect escape from the modern world's difficulties into a sweet, at times melancholic, land.

Come explore the realm of these gentle creatures, created from the wondrous imagination of Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson.

Who are the Moomins?

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  • Photo Credit: Alchetron

The Moomins are a family of trolls with white, velvety fur, smooth round snouts, and tufted tails. They appear to be hippopotamuses, but they don’t share the temperament. They are a peaceful and welcoming bunch. When new friends need a place to stay, the Moomins simply add a new plank to the dinner table and build a new bed in the Moominhouse, their three-story home shaped like a ceramic fireplace.

(Lore has it that the Moomins used to live behind the ceramic fireplace in Jansson’s home in Finland. They built their new house to remind them of their first home.)

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Every winter, blizzards turn the Moominhouse into a huge snowball, and the Moomins go into hibernation. When the spring sun returns, they wake up and clamber down rope ladders hanging from their bedroom windows, ready to face the new year’s escapades.

Between 1945 and 1975, Jansson wrote nine books in the Moomin series, plus a few picture books and a comic strip featuring the same characters.

Get to know Moomintroll

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  • Photo Credit: Moomin Wiki

The main character of the Moomin stories is Moomintroll, a sensitive, curious young Moomin growing up in Moominvalley with his mother and father. 

Moomintroll thinks Moominvalley is the most beautiful, interesting place in the world. He is a brave explorer, with a desire to investigate the strange things and weird creatures who pass through the valley. Moomintroll has an open heart to understand everyone exactly the way they are. For him, the only frightening thing in the world is being left alone.

A dreamer and thinker, you can often find Moomintroll collecting rocks and shells at the beach. He loves his family and friends above all else. He thinks his home is the most interesting, safest place to be, but he always welcomes a new adventure.

Whisper your secrets to Moominmamma

Moomintroll’s calm and collected mother ensures that each adventure is a safe endeavor. She never lets the little things get on her nerves, and she is a source of wisdom for Moomintroll and all of his friends. In fact, she’s the reason his friends turn into new family. She always invites others to stay in the Moominhouse as long as they require her hospitality.

Moominmamma can find a solution to the most difficult dilemmas, and she is always ready to console friends in their time of need. Rest assured, if you tell Moominmamma your secrets, she will never tell a soul.

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On nice days, Moomminmamma can be found collecting shells with her son or crafting little bark boats to float on the river. She always wears an apron and carries a handbag full of essentials. 

Follow Moominpappa’s misdeeds

The proud head of the family, Moominpappa is a responsible and philosophical thinker, with the top hat and cane to match. His restless spirit spurs on Moomintroll’s own curiosity and bravery.

A skilled sailor, Moominpappa has traveled the vast world so he is a knowledgeable expert in many fields. He is always keen to share advice, and he loves to learn secrets of the Moominvalley. But careful—he’s more likely than Moominmamma to accidentally let one or two of them slip.

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Moominpappa ponders life’s big issues and writes them down in his memoirs, which he enthusiastically shares with Moomintroll and friends. The top floor of the Moominhouse is dedicated to his study.

Wander the night With Snufkin

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  • Snufkin, pictured on the right in red. 

    Photo Credit: Moomin Wiki

Down the path from the Moominhouse resides a small green tent, home of Snufkin, Moomintroll’s best friend. A scruffy vagabond of a fellow, Snufkin spends his days wandering the world, fishing and playing the harmonica. He is a carefree creature with many admirers, though he never stays in the same place for long.

Snufkin goes south every November for winter, but he promises Moomintroll in a handwritten letter that he will return to the Moominvalley on the first day of every spring.

While Snufkin has a warm heart, he prefers to travel alone. You can often find him traveling at night with only the company of moonlight.

Get rich quick with Sniff

Or you can try to, at least. Sniff lives in the Moominhouse and is Moomintroll’s good-natured but cowardly companion. He has big pointy ears, a long nose, and a long skinny tail. He loves shiny, sparkly objects, but he’s too lazy to follow through on any of his financial schemes.

Sniff is by far Moomintroll’s most timid friend, and he is usually the first to quit a new adventure. Still, he is the one friend who accompanies Moomintroll to the scariest place in Moominvalley—the Lonely Mountains. The high mountain range in the east is a land of mystery, but Sniff and Moomintroll traverse its peaks in search of professors to learn more about a strange comet passing through the skies.

Daydream with Snorkmaiden

Snorkmaiden looks like a Moomin, but she’s actually a slightly different creature—a Snork. What distinguishes the two is that Snorks can change colors depending on their moods. When Snorkmaiden is upset, she turns light green. She always wears her hair in a neatly combed fringe, and she adorns herself with a gold anklet.

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Snorkmaiden is one of Moomintroll’s playmates, and Moomintroll has quite the crush on her. A happy and energetic daydreamer, Snorkmaiden’s one flaw is that she's inconsistent, much to Moomintroll’s broken heart. Snorkmaiden can be a little vain and flirtatious, but she is also very resourceful when trouble strikes, rescuing her friends from dangerous sea creatures.

Play hide and seek with Little My

Little My
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While Snorkmaiden helps Moomintroll get out of trouble, Little My is probably getting him into it. Good thing she can adapt to anything that comes her way.

This fearless little girl has a temper, but is ultimately loving. She simply likes to make decisions for herself. A little mess and untidiness only make her life more exciting.

Little My moved into the Moominhouse after getting lost. She is Snufkin’s half-sister, and she shares his restless spirit. She is small enough to fit into troublesome places, and Little My's favorite place to curl up is in her big brother’s coat pocket.

Journey through the Rest Of the Moominvalley

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Moomintroll’s adventures with his friends carry him through the various locations around the valley. A winding path connects him to everywhere he needs to go, from the Moominhouse over the rushing river to the Lonely Mountains, or through the forest to the seaside. In the summer, his family visits the Boathouse to go sailing and enjoy the beach. When he needs a quiet place to think, he can visit Sniff’s cave, just to the south of the bluffs.

Jansson created the Moominvalley using inspiration from her homeland of Finland. Brought up by an artistic family, she inherited a deep appreciation for nature and exploring the outdoors, especially the sea. In 1960, Jansson and her partner, female artist Tuulikki Pietilä, made a home on an island in the Pellinki archipelago, and spent 30 summers by the water. 

Finland’s Söderskär Lighthouse is supposedly the inspiration for a distant lighthouse that Moominpappa becomes fixated on in one of Jansson's later Moomin books, Moominpappa at Sea. Jansson made several trips around the European countryside and drew inspiration from her travels as well.

A way to process life’s pain

Readers have speculated that the Moomin books were Jansson’s way of processing World War II. The first two books were written in 1945 and 1946, when Europe was rebuilding itself after Nazi occupation.

For example, in Jansson’s first book, The Moomins and the Great Flood, Moomintroll and Moominmamma traverse a dark forest searching for Moominpappa, who has disappeared with unsavory friends. Dangerous creatures and wild storms obstruct their search, and it builds until a giant flood crashes through the valley. The Moomins’ neighbors work together to help Moomintroll find his father. In kind, the Moomins save small animals from the deep waters using their sailing skills.

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The tumultuous story has the same sense of upheaval that Jansson experienced. But also, it relays warmth and camaraderie as the community helps each other through their shared hardships.

Jansson used the Moomin books to relay her philosophies on the world, and her hope for the future imbues each journey. It’s no wonder these stories have entranced worldwide readers for decades.

A beloved legacy

Tove Jansson
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  • Tove Jasson in 1956.

    Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Jansson’s whimsical Moomin world earned her the Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1966. Her work has been memorialized in the Moomin Museum in Tampere, Finland, which displays 2,000 exhibits on Jansson’s writings and art. 

Superfans can even visit Moomin World, a theme park in Southwest Finland, which features the blueberry-colored Moominhouse, Snufkin’s camp, and Moominpappa’s boat. Winding paths take visitors around the island to meet Moomin characters and immerse themselves in the story.

But the best way to immerse yourself in Jansson’s imaginative valley is by picking up her books, in which you can pour over the gentle world first-hand. With millions of copies sold in 44 different languages, you’ll be joining a global adoration, dedicated to kindness and curiosity. 

Like Moomintroll, you will find Moominvalley to be the most beautiful, interesting place in the world.