Mika is turning 35 and I wanted to celebrate it organizing a small library party. Library party means cake, flowers and chat about books and is my usual way to celebrate everything worth celebrating in life. I needed a theme and thought nothing could be as suitable as a Moomin garden party. I’ve been re-reading Tove Jansson stories to my son this summer and The Exploits of Moominpappa (1950) and especially the description of their fantastic garden party made me immediately think of Mika and different fantasy elements in his shows and how much he – at least I imagine so – would enjoy a party like that.
A journey through a green wild flower garden. A beautiful, blue lake and explosions and showers to wet the guests in their little boats in the middle of it. A giant fake spider built to scare the whole crowd. A merry-go-around with white horses, an orchestra playing on the background and an egg-hunting lottery with golden painted eggs. Some lottery prizes meant for lazy ones, some that can be found with methodical search and some asking for a certain amount of imagination. The last group naturally meant and available only for the most creative ones!
Tove Jansson’s biography Tove Jansson Life, Art, Words by Boel Westin is a description of Tove Jansson’s life and career not only as seen from outside but also using her own words and thoughts as written in her numerous personal diaries and detailed letters she wrote throughout her whole life. It was not a coincidence Tove Jansson became the world-known author and illustrator she was. As a daughter of a sculptor and an illustrator she knew from an early age she wants and will be an artist and wrote and illustrated small books since she was 6 and published her first story at the age of 14.
Despite of battling between art and responsibilities, the growing Moomin business expanding her duties, she always knew what is important. Her art. Her art and pure, honest joy. Young Tove Jansson attended several art schools in different countries and even after that never stopped learning. She constantly practiced new methods and techniques. She traveled, learnt from books, filled a notebook after a notebook with her texts, illustrations and research. She lived and spent time in her beloved Paris breathing the atmosphere and inspiration, pictured Italian landscapes from her trips in her stories and drew her sharp political observations in hundreds of political caricatures.
Even though Tove Jansson loved traveling, a small quiet island near the town of Borgå was her special place and she spent there summers writing, fishing and doing ongoing research on the sea and nature, making notes about colors and textures to later use in her books like Moominpappa at Sea (1965) and Moominvalley in November (1970).
One of my favorite Moomin books is the short story collection Tales from Moominvalley (1962). It starts with Snufkin on one of his many adventures. Snufkin, Moomintroll’s dear friend, stays in Moominvalley only summertime, otherwise he’s away. He needs his alone time and loving Moomintroll stays in the valley sitting at home, waiting and longing for his friend, trying to be brave, trying to accept that Snufkin must go away. Makes me a little sad to think about loving Moomintroll and his terrible longing but as Moomin wisdom tells “you can’t ever be really free if you admire somebody too much” and while walking Snufkin writes his spring tune and I always wonder if writing songs is like that in real life as well.
“It’s the right evening for the tune, Snufkin thought. A new tune, one part of expectation, two part of spring sadness and for the rest, just the great delight of walking alone.”
The other short stories in the book include the story of Fillyjonk who feared an unknown natural disaster, then faced a storm and experienced a weird feeling of freedom after that – when the worst has happened there’s nothing left to be afraid – and the heart-breaking story of the invisible child. When children are treated badly they eventually become invisible and no one can see them anymore and takes a lot of time and good care and learning to fight for them to become visible again.
The first Moomin book The Moomins and the Great Flow was written 1945 in the end of World War II to create something innocent after the depressing war years and the second book Comet in Moominland was out a year after that. As an opposite to cheerful Pippi Longstocking by Swedish Astrid Lindgren (equally familiar to many generations and published at the same time) Moomins bring the war, the darkness and fear, natural disasters and people leaving their homes for everyone to see. The both authors had a nontraditional, even bohemian perspective to the concept of the family. Pippi lives alone accompanied just by her monkey and horse. The Moomin family is enlarged and includes friends and foster children and the door of their originally round-shaped house is always open for everyone in need of warmth and comfort.
The Moomins and the Great Flow describes how Moominmamma and her son Moomintroll look for and eventually find both Moominpappa (who had gone away with hattifatteners) and a peaceful place to live in Moominvalley. Comet in Moominvalley offers a full range of dark, scary things. The comet that many ways can be seen as a symbol of an atomic bomb is coming and the red glow in the sky looks day by day more and more threatening. Everything is covered by grey dust, the ocean disappears and the dry bottom of it is soon filled by refugees who’ve been forced to leave their homes. In the middle of it Moomins try to hold on to small familiar things.”But first I should like to have some coffee.“Oh I want to dance! Couldn’t we dance?”
Many characters in Moomins are inspired by people close to Tove Jansson: her family, friends and lovers, both male and female. Moomintroll and later Toft (from Moominvalley in November) are said to be her own alter egos even both are actually male characters, Moominmamma ja Moominpappa have features from her own artist parents. The real life role model for Snufkin was Tove Jansson’s friend and fiancé Atos Wirtanen, a Finnish intellectual and journalist and, using Jansson’s words, “an enfant terrible” in our parliament. Tiny duo Tingumy and Bob in Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) refers to Jansson’s short but passionated relationship with theater director Vivica Bandler (characters are originally called Tofslan and Vifslan referring to Tove and Vivica) and energetic Tooticky in her red and white striped shirt is based on her long-time partner Tuulikki Pietilä, one of the most influential people in Finnish graphic arts. Moominland Midwinter (1957) where the two characters meet was written soon after the couple started their relationship in real life.
Year 1947 Tove Jansson painted herself and Vivica Bandler on a fresco ordered by Helsinki City Hall and in the biography Westin sees that something that can be compared to Tingumy and Bob opening their mystical suitcase, something that showed the couple’s love to the whole world. In Moominland Midwinter Moomintroll finally finds his inner freedom and Jansson writes in her personal letters how she’s finally arrived to the person she wants to be with, how she’s finally found the peace in her world. Sometimes the line between the fiction and real life is hard to see and according to the (biography) author it’s supposed to be like that. The reality fed the story and the story fed the reality and it’s hard to tell where something ends and something else starts and I find that astonishing. How someone’s personal life and art, their current time and the surrounding world could be integrated that way is fascinating beyond words.
People often read Moomins to children but the stories and wisdom in them are equally interesting and important for adults and that’s how Tove Jansson meant them. In the beginning her publisher was careful and said “the books might amuse also adult readers” but during time it became more and more obvious Moomins are not just for children and in some countries it was asked if they are suitable for children at all. Well of course they are.
Age is a complicated thing. I know from my own experience children are capable of very advanced thinking and on the other hand, the essence of us stays the same throughout our lives. What is deep in us was there already when we were children, it never really goes away. I know I can be as adult and mature as ever needed but when no one is asking or demanding anything I choose to do the same things I did when I was a little girl, I spend time with my dog and stay in my own thoughts thinking about different themes behind the books and music I love. I can’t always see the child in people, I can’t always see their real passion, maybe because our society often wants us to leave that behind. Lucky for us for artists it’s different. Their inner child is connected to creativity. Their inner child accepted, even encouraged.
I baked a berry cake to celebrate this special day hoping Moomins would approve it. I didn’t send any birthday gifts this year, there are no gigs at the moment and it felt appropriate to donate money to refugees instead. A lot of people are forced to leave their homes today the same way people were forced to leave their homes the time when Moomins were created. Happy 35th birthday to my favourite singer and one of my very favourite people. Have some cake everyone xxx