24 March 2014

The character Moomintroll was born out of chance when Tove Jansson, on one childhood summer day, discussed literary philosophy with her brother Per Olov Jansson by the outhouse next to their summer cottage in the archipelago. Tove quoted Immanuel Kant, who Per Olov immediately downplayed. To get back at her brother, Tove drew the ugliest creature she could imagine on the outhouse wall. That drawing is the first glimpse of the Moomins, although Tove called it a Snork.

Original Snork Moomin
The first drawing of Moomin, on an outhouse wall.

It was Tove’s uncle, with whom she stayed while studying in Stockholm in the 1930s, who came up with the name Moomintroll. Uncle Einar Hammarsten was a doctor and cautioned Tove against night eating. He tried to keep Tove away from pilfering food by scaring her with moo-oo-oomintrolls that lived in the cupboard. He said they pressed their cold noses against your leg and blew cold air down your neck. Her uncle also told her that these creatures lived behind the tile stove. Moomintroll was uncle Einar’s and Tove’s mutual joke, scary folklore creatures, that make themselves known through unpleasant sighs. In her journals, Tove used the name Moomintroll to describe things that felt dreadful or ghostlike.

Moomin Ghost
The ghost that became Moomintroll. From Tove’s diary in 1922.

Moomin was occasionally black in the first Moomin drawings in the 1930s and the troll’s appearance was different compared to the later Moomins: the snout was long and thin, and sometimes it didn’t have a tail or ears.

black-moomintroll-1934
Black Moomintroll, 1934.

Tove Jansson has said that if she needed to pick a source of inspiration for the Moomins, it would be the big nosed trolls by Swedish artist John Bauer.

Black Moomin 1930

A new phase in the history of the Moomins began when Tove started working for the magazine Garm as an illustrator. In her early illustrations for Garm, Tove repeatedly drew two different characters. One was round, had big ears and somewhat resembled Moomintroll. The other one was skinny, often angry and had small ears. The later character became a bit rounder and it also started resembling Moomintroll. Different sources state that the character first appeared in 1943 or 1944.

Tove Jansson political signature
Moomin drawing in Garm October 1944.

In 1939, the Moomintroll character finally got the name that uncle Einar had come up with years earlier, when Tove started writing her first book about the Moomins – The Moomins and the great flood. The rest is history.

The Moomins and the great flood

This post originally appeared in Finnish on the lovely blog Muumittaja.