The story of how Moomintrolls were born

Tove Jansson found inspiration for the Moomins from various sources throughout her life. One story of how Moomintrolls were initially born goes all the way back to Tove’s childhood…

On a summer day, she was discussing literary philosophy with her brother Per Olov Jansson next to the outhouse at 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, out of chance, is the first glimpse of a Moomin-like figure, although Tove called it a Snork.

Original Snork Moomin
The first Moomin-like figure Tove drew

It was Tove’s uncle, with whom she stayed while studying in Stockholm in the 1930s, who later on 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. He 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 ghost-like.

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


The Moomintroll was occasionally black in the first Moomin drawings in the 1930s, and the troll’s appearance was very different compared to the later drawings which the world now knows as the Moomins: early on, the snout was long and thin, and the troll didn’t always have a tail or ears.

Black Moomintroll, 1934.

Tove Jansson has said that if she really had to pick a source of inspiration for the Moomins in her art, it would be the big-nosed trolls by the 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 1940. In her early illustrations for Garm, Tove repeatedly drew two different characters: one was round, had big ears and somewhat resembled Moomintroll, and the other was skinny, often angry-looking with small ears.

The latter character slowly became rounder and also started resembling Moomintroll. Her first published Moomin-like character was seen in the Garm in 1943. Can you spot Moomintroll?

Garm magazine 1943
Tove Jansson’s work in the Garm in 1943

At this point, the Moomintroll character had already gotten the name that uncle Einar had come up with years earlier, and the first Moomin story, The Moomins and the Great Flood was published in 1945. The rest is history.

the story of moomintrolls