The feminist backstory that will make you love The Moomins even more

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Amy Swales

News of the crowdfunded Moomins TV reboot, Moominvalley, excited fans across the world, especially when it was revealed some excellent names were lending their voices to the new series, including Kate Winslet, Richard Ayoade and Rosamund Pike.

But our love for Tove Jansson’s stories extends beyond childhood nostalgia for the charming characters and whimsy; there were plenty of life lessons in the Finnish author’s tales of Moominpappa, Moominmamma, Moomintroll and Snorkmaiden.

And her niece, Sophia Jansson – now creative director of Moomin Characters Ltd – says it’s no coincidence that the Moomin family was full of fearless females.

The company has announced a collaboration with Oxfam, donating at least £4 from each sale of the author’s short story The Invisible Child to Oxfam’s women’s projects around the world.

Sophia describes her aunt, whose creation spawned TV shows, cartoons, exhibitions and films worldwide for decades after the very first book was published in 1945, as “unlimited by ideas about how a woman should behave.”

moomins feminist history oxfam womens projects the invisible child tove jansson

Artwork from Jansson's The Invisible Child

“Tove was a strong and independent woman who lived life the way she wanted to – unlimited by ideas about how a woman should behave or what her role should be – which isn't too surprising considering where she grew up,” she explains.

Finland has always been a leader in women's rights, and was the first European country to give women the vote in 1906. However, not everyone is this fortunate, and I'm sure that Tove would be very glad that her stories are going to help women all across the world escape poverty and find their voices.”

In an interview with The Guardian, Sophia says she’s not sure Tove would have used the term “feminist” but “she was one in every sense of the word”.

“She challenged a lot of the assumptions that were still held by society about how women should live at the time – for example, that they should stay at home and dedicate themselves to bringing up children. She was all about daring to make choices that are not necessarily easy.”

Tove is well-known to have based her female characters on the significant women in her life, including wise, loving, intelligent Moominmamma being based on her own mother. Additionally, the author’s secret relationship with theatre director Vivica Bandler was represented by Thingumy and Bob, who are devoted to each other, speak their own secret language and hide a precious red ruby in a suitcase.

Tove was gay at a time when homosexuality was illegal – in Finland, it was decriminalised in 1971, with various other legal issues, such as discrimination, adoption, IVF and officially recognised sponsored_longforms only getting up to speed from the late Nineties onwards. Tove passed away in 2001.


Moominmania shows no sign of abating

Meanwhile, the character of Too-ticky in the Moominland Midwinter book represents Tove’s long-term partner Tuulikki Pietilä (known as Tooti), who gives Moomintroll guidance through the hard times, teaching him to overcome his fears and survive in a new environment.

Novelist Jeanette Winterson has previously described the books as “subversive”, recalling how inspired and influenced she was by them as a child, even sticking random words on her bedroom walls to pay homage to the Dictionary of Outlandish Words in Finn Family Moomintroll.

The combination of the joyfully magical with sneaky gems of wisdom and important life lessons from addictively independent characters (who also acknowledge the importance of relying on loved ones) has inspired Moominmania for decades, so it’s no wonder that the star-studded upcoming TV show – slated for 2019 – has sparked such excitement.

The short story of The Invisible Child, originally published in the Tales from Moominvalley collection, is “about a little girl who turns invisible after being badly treated by the woman supposedly caring for her.

“She is given a place to stay at the Moominhouse and, when shown warmth, kindness and respect by the Moomin family, she gradually reappears and regains her place in the world – a right that every woman and girl should have.”

Oxfam’s director of women’s rights and gender justice, Nikki van der Gaag, said: “The values woven into Tove Jansson’s wonderful stories – justice, compassion, kindness – perfectly echo what Oxfam represents and fights for every day.

“We believe that every woman and every girl deserves the right to be visible and have their voice heard, so we’re very proud to partner with Moomin Characters to launch this inspiring Moomins’ tale.”

The Invisible Child, along with other Moomin products including a tote bag, tea towel and handkerchief, is available to buy from and

Macmillan Children’s Books will donate £1 from sales of its Pocket Moomin Colouring Book and Finnish brands Fiskars and Finlayson will contribute a percentage from sales of their Moomin products.

Images: Moomin Characters Ltd


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Amy Swales

Amy Swales is a freelance writer who likes to eat, drink and talk about her dog. She will continue to plunder her own life and the lives of her loved ones for material in the name of comedy, catharsis and getting pictures of her dog on the internet.

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