18 February 2014

Letters from Tove – “It has been worth while – all of it”

In this first instalment of our series “Letters from Tove” we have a lovely letter which author and illustrator James Mayhew has kindly shared with us. You can find the transcript and James’ own thoughts further down.

The letter

tove 1

tove 2


Dated 8 January 1993

Dear James Mayhew

Your illustrations are fantastic, absolutely free and full of fun and beauty. I enjoyed having your books.

And your letter means a lot to me, it came one of those days when I felt fed up with myself and the whole commercial Moomin business (they call it boom here) – and suddenly I got wholly convinced it has been worth while – all of it.

Even if I can’t return to that valley of mine or find new ways – after all it has been a big adventure – and the things you say about these stories having given joy.

Your flowers are really a bit too beautiful, but I accept them shamelessly!


Tove J.


Here is James’ recollection of the correspondence in his own words:

In 1992 I had a book published in Finnish. Although Tove Jansson was a Swedish speaking Finn, I felt excited and honoured to have a book published in “the land of the Moomins”. I had for a long time wanted to write to her. But I had no address, and what would I write? 

Suddenly, this seemed the exact moment to do such a thing. I wrote a long, rhapsodic letter to her, describing my Moomin-filled childhood, my admiration of her art… everything! I drew a Moomin on the parcel and addressed it simply: To Tove Jansson, Helsinki, Finland.

With the letter I enclosed the Finnish edition of my book (“Madame Nightingale will sing Tonight”) and some other books. And it wasn’t written or sent to expect a reply. It was sent with gratitude and admiration. A sort of gift. And afterwards, I just forgot about it.

Then, one quiet unassuming January day, a letter arrived. The carefully crafted handwriting, should have raised my expectations. Then I saw the stamps… Moomin stamps.

Inside was a letter from the great lady herself, with kind words about my illustrations (can you imagine how much that meant to a novice artist like myself?), and what seemed to be genuine gratitude and humility regarding my words about the Moomins. She seemed touched that my world had been coloured by her Moominvalley, and that their morals and eccentricities had reflected the foibles of myself and my family. 

It would no doubt have amused her to know how I cherished the letter and how special it felt to have what seemed like a tiny part of her. I was overwhelmed that she should have replied at all, when she must have received hundreds of letters. But all writing is a generous act of sharing. She gave the whole world a part of her with all her books and pictures.

I keep the letter inside a first edition of Finn Family Moomintroll and I look at it and read it much as Moomintroll rereads Snufkin’s letter in Moominland Midwinter. It never fails to inspire me to keep going, to keep on making books and creating.

Tove was one of the great observers and recorders of human life. She would have understood me just as she understood Sniff and his avarice every bit as well as she understood Snufkin and his solitude. For in the Moomins, these strange and melancholic trolls, we see ourselves, our lives, our families and our fears. And that is what makes them the work of a genius. 

James Mayhew

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