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Jansson, Tove (1914-2001)  
 
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Best known for her series of children's books about the Moomin family of trolls, Tove Jansson also wrote fiction for adults and was an accomplished artist and illustrator.

Art was always at the center of Jansson's life. Her father, Viktor Jansson, was a sculptor, and her mother, Signe Hammarsten Jansson, was a graphic artist and illustrator. Her younger brothers also pursued careers in the arts, Per Olov becoming a photographer, and Lars a writer and comic-strip artist.

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The family lived in Helsinski, where Tove Marika Jansson was born on August 9, 1914. They were, however, ethnically Swedish and part of the Swedish-speaking minority in Finland. This, combined with growing up in a rather bohemian family and eventually recognizing her lesbianism, gave Jansson a sense and appreciation of otherness; nevertheless, the closeness of her family and her deep understanding of a sense of place grounded her both in belonging to her social unit and her larger culture, a dichotomy that would inform her writing.

The Jansson family spent their summers at a cottage on an island in the Gulf of Finland, a place that delighted and inspired her. In later years, she stated, "Had it not been for my very happy childhood, I might never have started writing . . . . I never wrote entirely for children at all--maybe it was just for myself, to find a way back to the lost world of adventures with happy endings, to the confidence, the constant curiosity, and the boundless possibilities, never questioned, . . . a way back to the endless summers in the archipelago of the Gulf of Finland."

Jansson would continue to return to the islands throughout her life. After World War II, she and her brother Lars, finding the nearer islands too peopled, built a small cottage on one of the outer ones. When this, in turn, became too populous for their taste, Jansson and her life partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, an artist and professor of graphics, moved to an even more remote island.

In 1930, at age fifteen and with her parents' encouragement, Jansson enrolled at the School of Applied Arts in Stockholm. Returning to Finland in 1933, she continued her studies at the Helsinki Art Academy and then went abroad again in 1938, studying at the École d'Adrien Holy and the École des Beaux Arts in Paris.

Jansson's mother was an illustrator for an anti-German magazine called Garm, and in 1940 Jansson also began contributing cartoons that featured Moomintroll, who would evolve and reappear as the principal character in her series of children's books, written between 1945 and 1970, and a comic strip that she drew for the London Evening News from 1952 to 1959. (Her brother Lars took over the comic strip and produced new Moomin cartoons until 1970.)

Moomins are fantastic creatures that are called trolls but that vaguely resemble a sort of bipedal hippopotamus. Central to the stories is a nuclear family consisting of Moominpappa, Moominmamma, and their son, Moomintroll, but theirs is a world in which a chosen family predominates, and a diverse one it is, including animal-like creatures such as Moomintroll's friend Sniff and others who are--or at least seem to be--human, such as the anarchic Little My, seen by some as an autobiographical figure, and Too-Ticky, a character who is based on Pietilä, and whom Jansson described in Farlig midsommar (1954; English title Moominsummer Madness) as "much addicted to bathing-houses, the seaside in every particular, in fact, and quite a philosopher in a way."

Like other classics of children's literature, the Moomin tales have an imaginative genius that allows adults to enjoy them as well.

"The Moomin world is full of odd distortions of reality sufficient to create a feeling of otherness but not so great as to make what happens there simply unreal," observes Hal G. P. Colebatch.

With threats from floods, comets, storms, and volcanoes, as well as the fun of fairs and circuses and the eventual security of a loving if unconventional family, the Moomin stories were bound to appeal to children, but with Trollvinter (1957; Moominland Midwinter), Jansson's work became more sophisticated, "making," writes Thomas Warburton, "a transition to a fantasy literature which has the power to entertain and fascinate adults beyond their enjoyment in reading aloud to children and grandchildren."

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Tove Jansson in 1956.
  
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