Where I live & work, in the archipelago of Pellinki (in Southern Finland), several authors and artists have been inspired by the local environment, and one above all, Tove Jansson (1914-2001) , the creator of the popular fairy tale figures, The Moomins (Moomintrolls). I’ve been inspired by many others as well, but I think the Moomins had the biggest influence, with a philosophy that felt comfortable. Fairy tales never seem to stop fascinate adults, although one once in a while seem to think that it is only kids stuff. The world of escapism plays a big role for many artists. All artist are inspired by somebody else, we all need somebody to look up to, but might not always confess it… This is a part of my confession, and some thoughts around the production of paraphernalia to go with some popularity of the stories… This is a subjective analysis, but maybe there are some soul mates out there as well.
Most of the fairy tale books I know of are written by adults and even for adults – there must live a little imagination within an adult mind after all… Trolls, gnomes and all kinds of mythical creatures still live on thanks to creative adults, let’s not forget the Brothers Grimm who tirelessly collected folk tales to something that we all heard of by know all our lives, Little Red riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Cinderella to mention a few. What I’ve heard it’s common in Iceland that there are some mythical creatures living under rocks and a little everywhere. I’m convinced it is healthy to think that there are these “little people” around – as long as we can keep it under control.. ;) It is said that it takes special skills to see them, and they don’t show them selves to just anybody. Maybe that’s why you haven’t spotted any? The real Moomins are difficult to see, as they are not much bigger than a matchbox… I could swear I catch some glimpses of them on a daily basis – or maybe it was an albino mouse – or maybe not..? Besides the Moomins another significant fairy tale series for me was the “Bland Tomtar och troll” series (Among gnomes and trolls) with the fantasticly enchanting illustrations by John Bauer…
Recently, to continue my journey through the fairy tales and myths, Johan Egerkrans released (in Swedish) the book “Nordiska Väsen” (Nordic Mythical creatures), inspired and dedicated to John Bauer, with clearly John Bauer inspired & peculiar illustrations. I’m in mythical fairy tale heaven… Fortunately there are many others still involved with fairy tales, my recent discovery was this book
“The Knights Of The Baltic Ocean” (unfortunately only in Finnish or Swedish website, the book has seriously adorable illustrations by Harri Tarkka and would melt the heart of anyone…. I ended up buying the book due to the adorable illustrations. The mission of the book is awareness of the pollution of the Baltic Sea and how it affected by the human habits above and under neath the surface. The Moomin stories are also about living in harmony with nature and appreciating what you have. I never met the author Tove in person, she passed away a few years before I arrived in Pellinki, but I’m well acquainted with her books about the Moomins, and I’ve heard a lot of stories about her told by the locals.
She seems as a person with a big heart, great imagination and someone I would have liked to know. When I was a child in the 1970-80’s the comic books by Tove and her brother Lars were still stored at the children’s section at the libraries. Nowadays you’ll find them adult section due to making moonshine, accidentally getting a little tipsy and experimenting with some smoking.. I still find this quite amusing, as I never found them morally suspicious as a child. Children encounter far more worse things in life than these little creatures. I used read them over and over again as they were thought as extremely witty and funny. With a lot of lessons and truths about life. Stinky was one of my favorite characters as he was extremely rebellious and did what ever he wanted to (mostly illegal, or considered generally inappropriate).
Apart from creating art in many ways Tove also participated in some in local activities as well, one was the homestead farm museum Hörbergsgården . She participated with some other volunteers in hand printing the wall paper in the “Priest’s chamber” when the cottage was put together for the use as museum in the 1970’s , and later used to read fairy tales there for children when they had their annual Childrens Day-party. “Fantastic” according to some who remember it and “Truly scary with the scary old lady in that dark room” according to somebody closer to me… It’s fascinating how we experience things in different ways… The scariest old lady I’ve never known was my grandmother, who smoked approximately a carton of cigarettes per day – at least it seemed that way to me, her apartment had heavier “smog” than any major city today…She never read any fairy tales, but spoke warmly about the Swedish king and queen and followed their life closely. The scariness of my grandmother was outweighed by the fact that she had retired from a company that sold sweets (among other things), so her home was crammed with chocolate and candy. I was easily bribed by sugar in those days.
The books about the Moomins always had a magical atmosphere in them to me. I myself found a soul mate in Little My, as she easily bit people if they annoyed her. I did bite a lot too for some years (as a child, but I do still feel the urge to bite once in a while… ;) ), and if there was a costume party, I always dressed up as a vampire or a meat eating flower. To justify my biting habit. I wouldn’thave been caught dead in a princess outfit. It wasn’t until 1998 in my late 20’s that I wore a pricess outfit for the first (and maybe last) time, as I worked at the Medieval Market in Turku. My co-workers made me do it! :D
The animated versions of the Moomins were never really my thing, nor the old school “flat paper and fur animation” neither the Japanese version that turned popular in the early 1990’s. I’m a big fan of skillfully executed animations and somehow these didn’t quite reach my standards… Suddenly the stores were invaded by stuffed Moomins in all these strange pastel colors – similar to “My Little Pony”. All of the sudden the Moomins that had felt somewhat private and down to earth mythical creatures turned in to mass produced cupcakes… I took a few steps away from the Moominworld…
A few years later I began my studies for a diploma in crafts and design in Turku. It so happened, that my co-students were also a little annoyed by the commercialized trolls. We had in our scheme a subject called “Plastic Composition”, not so much about plastics but more of developing the perception of three-dimensional things. Appropriately enough, we had an assignment to create a 3-D set piece of some kind, and all of the sudden there was an idea of “Depression In The Moominvalley”. So we started analyzing the characters, who was most suicidal, eligible for being addicted to drugs and etc… The whole set took place at a grave yard for some spookier effects, and turned out quite -bizarre. We ourselves were very content with the final results – and it seemed to stir up some strong feelings among some students that saw it… A reaction we hadn’t counted on, but we were rather amused by it, as well as our teacher who was thrilled. Unfortunately I have no photos of this piece and I’m not sure if it’s around anymore, but the memory lives on. Maybe it would stir up some feelings again – most likely. The economic depression passed and soon enough we hit another one, which we still live today.
Tove’s creations live on, and nowadays consists of a huge corporation that controls it all and sells licenses to apparently almost anybody who can pay enough. A little sad side, there are tons legally manufactured of paraphernalias with “Made In China” tags, and sadly it brings me to the same feeling as if I would go to the Bahamas and shop for a souvenir with the same tag (unfortunately this is the truth with many souvenirs). Obviously there is a market for people who don’t care where the stuff they buy is made too. I think some Moomin paraphernalia are made even made in Sweden, and as a counter-weigh there are some knitting or crocheting ladies who here and there at different markets sell hand made Moomin characters or angry bird items with no knowledge (I think? Or maybe they don’t care) of what is copyrighted material. What would you choose, a legally massproduced (most likely under suspicous circumstances) item or the hand crocheted Moomin finger puppet sold by the retired lady outside the supermarket? I used to think of the Moomin-worlds as something really special, but nowadays it’s getting ever so much closer to the Disney corporation… (the good old Disney Cartoons are true pieces of art, the more recent feel quite plastic and mass-produced) I don’t find it justified to copy copyrighted material, but when you have to choose between two controversial alternatives one might lean towards the more humane alternative. That is if there’s any common sense and a pinch of a little heart left… And all of the sudden my thought wander off to a favorite movie of mine ” It’s A Wonderful Life” with James Stewart… But back to reality, the question is: Why not give (at least some) priority to smaller entrepreneurs and artisans that actually could give a soul and extra value to the items and the whole concept? I’m sure the creator of this “empire” would find it as a good idea, if she had lived that is. And at the same time give them a chance to actually make a decent living from it… Oh yes, anybody can apply for the licence, but the price is set so high that it favors only those with the biggest bank account, and who most likely would be pretty well off without them anyway. There is a demand and niche to offer small entrepreneurs & artisans a license for a reasonable fee – I do hope somebody holding the decisive steering wheel sees this some day. I constantly bump in to the question of why there isn’t any genuine Moomin products available by artisans, meaning small scaled unique production of excellent quality. I myself would definitely buy a hand made wooden unique Moomin sculpture box, or clogs with the good ol’ Moomins printed on them. When the production of the Moomin porcelain mugs moved abroad quite recently I decided to remove them from my shopping list. The product lost it’s charm and many people here lost there jobs (I’m sure the “made in Finland” still would have kept the profit coming , and despite of outsourcing the price of the mugs went up anyway). The only Moomin-related thing I’ve bought during the last years are one enamel mug and after making sure it was made in Finland (still made in Finland as far as I know) and- postcards. The downside with the enamel mug is that it’s partly metal, so not a very convenient thing to put in your microwave… Nevertheless I have the original Moomin Valley in my mind and heart, and they can’t take that away from me by any mass produced item. But I do so much dream of truly genuine Moomin products proudly made in Finland, as many other items/brands formerly made in Finland as well. There are a few, but the main motto seems to be “designed in Finland” whilst the products themselves are made far away. I’ve lost confidence in many Finnish brands due to this, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Until then (when there will be increased production in Finland of anything), I shall treasure my piggy bank & porcelain Moomin statuettes, made in Finland by Arabia somewhere between 1989 and 1991. As for the dented mini porcelain figurine of Snorkmaiden that a girl once gave me when I was home-sick at the age of maybe 8. Little did I know that I would treasure them this much 25-36 years later…
If you’ve never heard about Tove Jansson or the Moomins and wonder what on earth I’m rambling about here, you can always take a peak at the moomin.com site. This year Toves 100th birthday is celebrated (if she still had lived), and in the Porvoo area are this has lead to several events (arranged in approval & collaboration with those owning the copyrights to the Moomins & Tove). If you’re getting curious and feel like attending one or more events, here you’ll find more info about what’s going on http://www.visitporvoo.fi/en/tove100.