There’s one particular delight about attending Worldcon 75 this year in Helsinki – it’s a chance to go to Moominland! Tove Jansson probably comes close to the top of any list of the world’s most famous Finns, even though she belonged to the Swedish-speaking community and wrote first in Swedish rather than Finnish. And the Finn Family Moomintroll, and their friends and associated creatures, are enough of a Finnish icon to be featured on Finnair jets – and in very many other contexts representing the country.
The genesis of the Moomins is quite fascinating. Tove Jansson apparently drew “the ugliest creature imaginable” as a caricature of Immanuel Kant, after a philosophical argument with her brothers, and later smoothed it out as the iconic, hippo-like Moomin. The name Moomintroll came from a Swedish uncle, who warned her that, if she raided the larder during the night, the Moomintroll would come and breathe icily on the back of her neck. And the beautiful landscapes of Moominland were probably inspired largely by the islets and coastland around Porvoo, where she spent much of her time as a child.
Tove Jansson is also famous, of course, as an iconic lesbian author, though certainly not alone in that respect. (See, for instance, Vernon Lee.) Fans of the roman à clef approach can have fun spotting details of her partner Tuulikki Pietilä in the Moomin character of Too-ticky – indeed, there’s a whole critical mini-industry devoted to finding the real-life inspirations and analogues of the various Moomins.
No I won’t be going to the Moominworld theme park. But I’ll find it hard to resist the allure of Moomin sites in and around Helsinki. Any Brits or visitors who were lucky enough to enjoy the Southbank Centre’s Adventures in Moominland show in London over the winter will know exactly what I mean. Is modern Finland really like Moominland? Wait and see …