Sophia Jansson, the Chairman of the Board and Creative Director at Moomin Characters, attended the Singapore Writers Festival in November 2017. A niece of Tove Jansson, the Finnish-Swedish writer who achieved worldwide fame as the creator of the Moomins, Sophia was in town to speak about the enduring allure of the iconic Finnish cartoon.
A family of white and roundish trolls with large snouts, the Moomins survived 70 years of popular culture with meaningful storylines, relatable characters, and an affinity with nature.
“My aunt had the gift of centering her text around themes that are universal and timeless,” explains Sophia. “The actual stories and artistry of the illustration touch each and everyone of our readers with values about friendship, loneliness and closeness to nature.”
A pictorial artist who perfected high quality illustrations throughout her life, Tove Jansson captured the world gone by in the Moomin Valley and Moomin stories. “After World War II, the world changed,” says Sophia. “The Moomins depicted a world where my aunt would like to live, one that is full of tolerance and equality. It brings many people joy to see the Moomins’ visual expression alongside fiction writing.”
In Asia, the Moomins is known to have some Japanese anime influence. In a nice and affirming way, each character is given personality traits that are human and relatable. Increasingly, Asians have come to take a liking for these white, squishy and cuddly characters. The merchandise is rapidly growing across Thailand, Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Despite its expansion, the Moomins remains a classic in children’s literature. “These books have been around for so long that readers across generations know the Moomins,” observes Sophia. “It has become a heritage,” she states.
“It is hard to believe that the Moomins was born out of the creator’s own marginalization.”
While Sophia continues to keep the books in print, the team works hard to steer the Moomins away from commercial exploitation. It is kept alive through careful brand merchandising. “Instead of letting a big third party take over, we try to ensure everything is in line with the stories, context and drawings,” asserts the lady in charge.
Staying true to its roots, the Moomins’ imaginary universe comes alive through captivating story books, cute apparel, tasty foods and everyday items. It is a delicate balancing act to ensure that the Moomins don’t morph into something that’s too modern and different from its original state.
Nevertheless, it is hard to believe that the Moomins was born out of the creator’s own marginalization. “Tove was ambivalent about her sexuality,” reveals Sophia. “She lived out her life with another female artiste, who was politically outspoken about her values, in a way that society disapproved of.”
Saying matter-of-factly, Sophia adds that her aunt was a foreigner in her own society. “In many ways, she was so sharp with her pen, expressing what all of us think, but don’t know how to write on paper,” she reminisces. “She was visually productive, and could fit everything into a lifetime, for a greater good.”
Images by Singapore Writers Festival