Reckless underwater adventures and pirate stories in Tove Jansson’s own radio show

“Dear listeners, perhaps you’re wondering why we’re so very maritime. Well, we were supposed to figure out what all three of us liked the most and we chose the sea, naturally. The sea, things that have to do with it.”  This is the beginning of the radio program Tove Jansson hosted and produced together with her brothers Lars and Per Olov Jansson for Yle in the early 1960s. The program was broadcasted on Yle’s Swedish radio station and recorded in front of an audience. It was part of a series, where well-known Swedish-speaking Finns were given free rein to create their own radio program.

In the beginning of the program a mist bell rings, waves hit the beach and the seagulls scream in the background. Tove Jansson and her brothers skilfully create an environment that transports us to their most beloved element, the embrace of waves.

The theme of the radio program was obvious to the Jansson family. Their childhood summers were spent in the Pellinki archipelago in the eastern Gulf of Finland, and it’s here their love for the sea originates from. Per-Olov was a skilled diver, Lars loved sailing and Tove loved watching the sea, especially during storms. Tove’s deep love for the sea is evident in many of her Moomin books, novels and short stories as well as in her paintings and photographs. Here’s how Tove described the siblings’ relationship to the sea in the program: “You see, my brother PO likes it best under the water, my brother Lasse on the surface and myself on the shore while looking out over the sea. You know what it’s like; right among the waves you can’t see the sea for only water and you get such a dry throat from seasick pills.”

You can listen to excerpts from the radio program in the sixth episode of the documentary series Penseln, pennan och hjärtat. The entire documentary can be listened to on iTunes, A-cast ja Yle Areena. The program is in Swedish.

The childhood friend’s wild stories from the archipelago

Tove creates a humorous undertone at the beginning of the program and continues to make fun of the siblings’ knowledge of the sea, after all they spend time in the archipelago mainly as summer guests. That is why they have invited someone to the program who can talk about the sea with more authority.

“First and foremost, we want you to meet Albert Gustafsson, boatmaker and seaman. He’s among those who are building the beautiful seaworthy Pellinki boats. It’s he who lights your lighthouses when they’ve burned out and if you encounter a storm, he is the one who will come pick you up from the sea with his rescue boat Kokkoluoto.”

Albert Gustafsson was a friend of the Jansson family. His parents rented a summer cottage in Pellinki to Tove’s mother and father in the 1920s. It was there, in Pellinki, Tove drew her first Moomin figure – on Gustafsson’s old wooden wall. The childhood friend Albert Gustafsson has certainly been a role model for Tove’s short story Albert in the Sculptor’s Daughter (1968). In the short story, two young children go to sea on a self-built boat. When they meet a wounded seabird, they must make a difficult decision. Tove Jansson’s description of the sea is far from romantic in the story.

Albert Gustafsson tells wild pirate stories in which the old day’s smuggling and piracy are perceived as a form of ‘self employment. He assures us that the inhabitants of Pellinki no longer pursue piracy, at least not in any broader sense. When listening to Albert Gustafsson, you realize that his and Tove’s friendship was a meeting between two storytellers.

An exciting adventure

The divining part performed by the Jansson brothers in the radio program is a small-scale radio theatre performance with sound effects. In the humorous show, Tove’s brother Per Olov dives into a wreck and explains what he sees to his brother Lars. The poor quality of the connection creates a comical situation. The brothers, who obviously enjoy the acting, make good use of the situation.
“The quiet world, the sixth continent”, Per-Olov describes the view under the surface.
‘’I’m now sliding silently across the deck…’’ ‘’Yes, nothing can be heard,’’ replies Lars. ’’I’M NOW SLIDING SILENTLY ACROSS THE DECK”,
the brother screams from the bottom of the ocean, and the audience laughs out loud.

Tove Jansson’s tribute to the sea and the one, who remained on the beach

The program is enriched with music. Tove’s friend, Birgitta Ulfssons, plays the imaginary aunt Agda. Agda thinks that the sea is an overly dark theme – the audience who paid 150 Finnish markka’s for the ticket want to get their money’s worth. Tove’s more sensitive side emerges as she reads her tribute to the island and the person, who remained on the beach. Tove describes how the light from a lighthouse caresses the contours of the island and how the edges of the island dissolve in the dark of night, becoming a part of the surrounding sea.

The Moomin community to the rescue of the polluted sea

2020 marks the 75-year anniversary of Tove Jansson publishing her first Moomin novel. To celebrate the anniversary Moomin Characters Ltd has launched the one and a half year long #OURSEA campaign in collaboration with the John Nurminen Foundation.

At you will find more useful information on what you can do to help save the Baltic Sea – the sea that inspired Tove Jansson to create the beloved Moomin stories.

The goal of the campaign is to collect one million euros for John Nurminen Foundation’s work to save the Baltic Sea and its heritage for future generations. A donation of 10€ can remove 40 kg of green-blue algae from the Baltic Sea. To take part in the campaign you can make a direct donation via, buy a campaign product, learn more about the sea, the challenges it faces and solutions needed to help improve the situation, as well as influence your friends, family, colleagues and politicians to take action.