How Tove Jansson’s love of nature shaped the world of the Moomins

From The Guardian:

In 1964, when she was in her 50s, the Moomin creator Tove Jansson settled on her dream island. Klovharun in the Finnish archipelago is tiny – some 6,000 sq metres – and isolated, “a rock in the middle of nowhere”, according to Jansson’s niece, Sophia. It has scarcely any foliage, no running water and no electricity. Yet for Jansson, it was an oasis. For 18 years she and her partner Tuulikki Pietilä spent long summers there, heading out from Helsinki as soon as the ice broke in April, leaving only in early October. The island meant “privacy, remoteness, intimacy, a rounded whole without bridges or fences”.

Klovharun encapsulates something of Jansson’s originality as an artist and writer – and her human presence. Her illustrated Moomin books, which began to be published just after the second world war, brought her phenomenal acclaim and devotion. The tales of amiable troll creatures have been taken to generations of hippy hearts; their pear-shaped faces have adorned a million ties. Their marketing triumph – in which Jansson enthusiastically participated – has overshadowed her other achievements as a painter, novelist, short-story writer, anti-Nazi cartoonist, and designer of magazine covers

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In the last decade nature writing has surged in Britain, and proved extraordinarily varied. Robert Macfarlane has caused us to look at paths as revealing “the habits of a landscape”. Tim Dee has reminded us to look up at the sky and listen to the birds; Merlin Sheldrake’s studies of fungi are making us consider what fusions are going on under our feet; Alice Oswald’s poetry can make you hear water moving as if it were the blood in your veins. These investigations have reverberated strongly in cities over the last year, with lockdowners thrilling to the idea of unreachable wide open space and to the miniature excitements of their own neighbourhoods, the individual blooms they can entice into their flats.

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Tove Jansson’s writing is different. She has wonderful passages in which entire landscapes are made by peering at blades of grass and scraps of bark. Yet her main Moomin adventures are startlingly catastrophic. For all the light clarity of the prose – which is comic, benign and quizzical – these books show places gripped by ferocious forces, laid waste by storms and floods and snows. They speak (but never obviously) of characters resonating to the winds and seas around them. They include visions that now read like warnings of climate change: “the great gap that had been the sea in front of them, the dark red sky overhead, and behind, the forest panting in the heat”.

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There is some relish in these extremes: Jansson loved a storm and her island aesthetic is distinctive. Anti-lush, sculpted by the elements rather than softly shaped by a human hand. This is not like living in a garden. Everything is provisional, prey to winds and fogs and being swept away. It is the outdoor equivalent of chucking out your chintz. What’s more, this is writing about nature that provides not only wonder and leisure but a living. Jansson and Pietilä worked hard to support themselves on Klovharun: they chopped wood, made fires, rowed boats, gutted fish. Their attitude reminds me of James Rebanks, the inspiring Cumbrian sheep farmer, who points out that while visitors look at the fells and hills and see beauty, his fellow farmers see sustenance, income and labour.

Link to the rest at The Guardian