Tove Jansson, the creator of the beloved Moomin characters, was not only a master of whimsy and fantasy, but also a keen explorer of the darker aspects of human nature. In a new exhibition at the British Library, titled Tove and the Fantasy Worlds, visitors can discover how Jansson was influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, as well as her own experiences of war, love, and loss.
The exhibition, which runs until March 2023, features over 150 items, including original illustrations, manuscripts, letters, photographs, and personal objects. It traces Jansson’s artistic journey from her early years as a painter and cartoonist in Finland, to her international fame as the author of the Moomin books and comics, to her later works as a novelist and short story writer.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the display of Jansson’s own copy of The Hobbit, which she read in Swedish translation in 1946. The book inspired her to create her own fantasy world, populated by the Moomins, a family of friendly and adventurous trolls. Jansson also admired Tolkien’s use of maps, languages, and mythology, and incorporated some of these elements into her own stories.
Another source of inspiration for Jansson was Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which she first encountered as a child. She was fascinated by Carroll’s wordplay, logic, and absurdity, and often referenced his characters and scenes in her own works. For example, in Moominland Midwinter, Moomintroll meets a character called Too-Ticky, who is based on the White Knight from Through the Looking-Glass. Jansson also created her own version of Alice, called Susanna, who appears in several of her short stories.
But Jansson’s fantasy worlds were not always sunny and cheerful. She also explored themes of loneliness, fear, and death, especially in her later works. She was deeply affected by the Second World War, which she witnessed as a young woman in Helsinki. She also experienced personal tragedies, such as the death of her mother and the end of her relationship with her longtime partner, the graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä. These events shaped her outlook on life and art, and gave her a sense of empathy and compassion for her characters and readers.
The exhibition also reveals Jansson’s connections with other writers and artists, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Henry Moore. She corresponded with them, exchanged books and artworks, and visited them in their homes and studios. She was also a keen traveler, and visited places such as Morocco, Japan, and the Caribbean, which influenced her imagination and creativity.
Tove and the Fantasy Worlds is a rare opportunity to see the work and life of one of the most influential and beloved fantasy authors of the 20th century. It celebrates Jansson’s legacy and shows how she created her own unique and enchanting worlds, while also reflecting on the realities and challenges of her own time.