The Moomins and I have been on our holidays. Not on the Riviera, but to Cornwall and the Eden Project. Paper Moomintroll, Little My, Snuffkin and the Hattifatteners travelled with us from the sunflower soaked fields of southern France to the bountiful rain forests of Malaysia, before encountering their ‘ancestors’ in deepest Africa.
Tove Jansson loved to travel. It informed her work at the deepest level and it’s hard to imagine this woman, whose entire life was bound up with her writing, drawing and painting, ever taking a mere holiday. Like Snuffkin Tove was a ‘traveller’, a term she loved, ‘that beautiful old fashioned word’.
Her early travels were typically eventful. She savoured the precious last moments of peace time in Europe when she spent the summer of 1939 travelling alone to pre-apocalyptic Italy. A particularly thrilling visit to Pompeii provided the basis for one of Snuffkin’s stories in Comet in Moominland. This extract from one of her illustrated letters describes their assent of nearby Vesuvius and an atmosphere stuffed with threat.
‘The higher we climbed the wilder and more sombre everything became… in the very cauldron, into the midst of which Vesuvius flung red hot stones high in the air, and at regular intervals enormous brooms of fire. All over were smouldering cracks yellow-green with sulphur, with rumbling underfoot as it got hotter and hotter. A little newborn crater four days old, was sending out red streams of lava right to our feet and behind all this the sun was sinking amid the brown fumes. We were able to light cigarettes from the lava.’
She continued to find inspiration all around the world. A trip to Spain in 1960 made ideas ‘flutter under her hat’ prompting the move away from Moominvalley in Moominpappa at Sea. And she left the trolls behind for good when in the early 70s she set off with her partner Tooti, visiting Japan, Russia and America. New Orleans couldn’t have been further away from her rocky island home in the Gulf of Finland, but this was the backdrop against which she wrote her masterpiece on island life, The Summer Book.
Tove knew that one of the most important parts part of travel was the return home. For the original Moomins that meant retreating to their snowbound house and curling up together behind the wood burning stove.
The exquisitely designed papercraft Moomins by Keisuke Saka is published in Japan by Shubunsha. I bought my copy through a helpful fellow on ebay. Boel Westin’s biography of Tove Jansson – Life Art Words is published by Sort Of Books.