The Moomins: characters with meaningful stories from Finland

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The encouraging stories and illustrations of the Moomintrolls have gained worldwide fame over the decades. Created in the 1940s by the Finnish-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson, they are still very popular today – Moomin-themed mugs in particular have great collector’s value. Here you can find out exactly how the Moomins came about and what makes their adventures so special.

Who are the Moomins?

The Moomins, or Moomintrolls, are illustrated characters who live out exciting and inspiring stories. Their bodies are somewhat reminiscent of hippos. The Snorks have a very similar appearance, but are characterised by hair and they can change colour depending on their mood. Other characters from the Moomin world have very different shapes and appearances. However, they are united by the specifically recognisable look of Tove Jansson‘s drawings, which rounds off the overall aesthetic.

Main characters

Tove Jansson's self-portrait with the Moomins © Moomin Characters
Tove Jansson’s self-portrait with the Moomins © Moomin Characters

Moomin, also known as Moomintroll, is the main character of the more than 100 figures. He lives in the Moomin valley, together with his adventurous Moominpappa (black top hat) and Moominmamma (red, white apron), who represents the safe haven with her loving nature. Snorky, recognisable by her fringes, is Moomin’s girlfriend. She is gentle, emotional and creates romantic feelings. Moomin’s best friend, Snufkin, wears a green dress and likes to play the harmonica. Because of his wisdom, Moomin likes to see him as a role model. Stinky is a spiky, black creature who likes to play tricks on the Moomins, even if they don’t always succeed. Although he mainly thinks of himself and seems very grumpy, he occasionally comes to the rescue and Moominmamma in particular likes him a lot. Little My stands out with her red dress and bun. She is cheeky, wild and direct with her opinions. She is intelligent and sees through others very quickly. Overall, all the figures are characterised by multi-layered traits that create a unique and instructive dynamic within the stories.

Origin and development of the Moomins

The first illustrations of the Moomins were created in the 1940s. They were inspired by the author’s holidays on the island of Pellinki, near Helsinki.

The drawings first appeared as a kind of proto-comic without speech bubbles on the children’s page of the newspaper Ny Tid. The series consisted of 6 pictures each with a signature and was continued on a weekly basis. From 1954-1959, a three-part strip of pictures of the Moomins appeared weekly as a comic for the English newspaper The evening News. After some time, Tove Jansson handed over the production of these illustrations to her brother Lars due to a lack of time and interest in other projects.

Due to their popularity, the Moomins soon appeared in newspapers all over the world and were translated into over 40 languages. Nowadays, Moomins can be found everywhere in everyday life in Finland. There is hardly anything that does not have Moomin motifs, even Finnair aeroplanes have been printed with their images. From the initial comic strips, the stories have become world-famous and are now also available as audio books, animated series and films.

Diverse and educational themes

The Moomins’ stories are not only popular because of their special design, but also because of their profound plots and the values that Tove Jansson conveys to young and old. She combines humour with more serious topics. While the first stories were a little more playful, they over time developed into educational plot lines that deal with integration, community, acceptance and equality. Loneliness and constraints are also addressed. This variety of themes, which are relevant to growing up, adulthood and society, makes the Moomins even more popular with their readers and for many they are part of their formative childhood memories.

Moomins: Books and stories

The 9 books and 4 picture books of the Moomin trolls appeared in their original version in the following order. The English publication differed to some extend and a few titles were altered and not translated word for word.

  • 1945: Småtrollen och den stora översvämningen – The Moomins and the Great Flood – 2005
  • 1946: Kometjakten/ Kometen kommer/ Mumin på Kometjakt – Comet in Moominland – 1951
  • 1948: Trollkarlens hatt – Finn Family Moomintroll – 1950
  • 1950: Moominpappans bravader/ Moominpappans memoarer 1968 – The Exploits of Moominpappa – 1969
  • 1952: Hur gick det sen? Boken om Mymlan, Mumintrollet och lilla My – The Book about Moomin, Mymble and Little My, picture book – 1953
  • 1954: Farlig midsommar – Moominsummer Madness – 1955
  • 1957: Trollvinter – Moominland Midwinter – 1971
  • 1960: Vem ska trösta knyttet? – Who Will Comfort Toffle?, picture book – 1960
  • 1963: Det osynliga barnet och andra berättelser – Tales from Moominvalley – 1963
  • 1965: Pappan och havet – Moominpappa at Sea – 1974
  • 1970: Sent i November – Moominvalley in November – 1971
  • 1977: Den farliga resan – The Dangerous Journey, picture book – 1977
  • 1980: Skurken i muminhuset – An unwanted guest, picture book

Moomins: Films and series

Since the 1960s, there have been numerous adaptations of the Moomin stories in film and television all over the world. In 1959/60 two television productions of the Moomins appeared by the Augsburger Puppenkiste, each of which had 6 parts. A Swedish television play followed in 1969, for which Jansson wrote her own plot. Shortly afterwards, a Japanese animated series was broadcasted, but got restricted to Japan because it was too freely interpreted. In 1973, a Swedish TV advent calendar of the Moomins was shown, and from 1977 an Austrian-Polish animated series was produced.

This was followed by Russian puppet and animated films, a Swedish animated film, Polish animated films and the second Japanese animated film series. In 2008 and 2010, digitally remastered summaries of 1977 were released. “Moomins on the Riviera” was published in 2014, a hand-drawn cinema film based on the comic strip. The latest Moomin project is “Moominvalley“. The animated series, which is the result of a Finnish-British co-production, has been running since 2019. The fourth season is due to be released at the end of 2024.

Moominvalley 2019 Official Trailer 😍 New Moomins Series!

Moomin mugs: collector’s items with a heart

The Finnish brand Arabia has been regularly releasing Moomin mugs since the 1990s, which are characterised by their unique and detailed illustrations depicting the Moomin characters in various scenes and vibrant colours. Tove Slotte illustrated the special designs from 1989 to 2022. The mugs have a high collector’s value, which is further boosted by limited editions and seasonal special editions, as rare or discontinued models are particularly popular. Many people also have a nostalgic and emotional connection to the cups. The most expensive Moomin mug sold to date is said to have cost the equivalent of 8,000 euros.

Worldwide fame: The Moomins in Japan, Korea and Nepal

Outside Scandinavia, the Moomins are particularly popular in Japan. The Moomins became popular there in the 1990s under the Japanese name “Tanoshi Mūmin Ikka”. Books were published in the 60s and 70s and an animation series inspired by the Moomins followed, which Jansson did not approve of because it contained alcohol and violence. In the 1970s, she visited Japan for the first time and gave a lecture in Tokyo. She was a big fan of Japanese aesthetics and learnt Japanese in advance so that she could give the lecture in the local language. Today, in addition to numerous Moomin-themed cafés and shops, there is even a Moomin Valley Park in the town of Hanno in Saitama.

But you can’t avoid the Moomins in Korea either. Moomin Land Jeju recently opened on the largest island in South Korea. A Moomin exhibition was held in Seoul from 2020 to 2021 to mark the 75th anniversary.

Moomin exhibition for the 75th anniversary in Seoul, South Korea
Moomin exhibition for the 75th anniversary in Seoul, South Korea (11.2020-11.2021)

The Moomins even made it to Nepal. There, they won over viewers with their simplicity and depth, which had never been seen on TV before. In the 90s, the programme was to be refreshed and made more accessible for children. After years of preparatory work, the Moomins were broadcasted on Nepalese TV and after a newspaper article about the series, they became a hit there too. Even today, many Nepalese still have childhood memories of the Moomins and there are said to be repeated requests to know when new programmes will be broadcast.

Places worth seeing for Moomin fans

Moomin figure in front of the Moomin Museum in Tampere
Moomin figure in front of the Moomin Museum in Tampere

In addition to a large number of Moomin shops and cafés in Finland and Japan, there are various to be found in Sweden, Norway, England, Poland, Thailand and China as well.

However, the only Moomin Museum in the world is in the Finnish city of Tampere. There you can marvel at original drawings by Tove Jansson and the detailed, three-storey Moomin house. About 2 hours away, in Naantali, near Turku, you can find Moomin World, which is however only open in the summer months from mid-June to mid-August.

About the author and illustrator Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson auf ihrer Insel Klovharun © Moomin  Characters, Foto: Per Olov Jansson
Tove Jansson on her island Klovharun © Moomin Characters, Photo: Per Olov Jansson

Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki in 1914, where she died in 2001. Growing up in a family of artists, she was already creatively active at an early age. However, her father Viktor Jansson, a famous sculptor, was less than enthusiastic about her drawings and they had a rather difficult relationship. Tove dropped out of school at the age of 16 and studied illustration at the Technical School in Stockholm from 1931 to 1933. She then spent a further 3 years at the Art Association’s drawing school in Helsinki.

Her passion was art and painting. As much as she loved her Moomins, they sometimes overshadowed her other artworks and at times left her little time and space for further artistic activities.

Jansson’s private life was characterised by an unconventional love life for the time. She had a relationship with Tuulikki Pietilä, a Finnish graphic designer, artist and professor, who was later regarded as the inspiration for the character Tooticki in the Moomin world.

Tove Jansson became one of the most famous Scandinavian artists and writers. In Germany, “The Fantastic World of Tove Jansson ” was exhibited at the Günter Grass House in Lübeck from 27 March to 25 September 2022. In 2020, her eventful life was even made into a film with actress Alma Pöysti. “Tove” was an absolute hit and was nominated by Finland for the Oscar in 2021.

Further works

Smoking Girl. Self-portrait by Tove Jansson, 1940 © Moomin Characters, Tove Jansson. Photo: Jari Kuusenaho, Tampere Art Museum
Smoking girl. Self-portrait by Tove Jansson, 1940 © Moomin Characters, Tove Jansson.
Photo: Jari Kuusenaho, Tampere Art Museum

Jansson’s artistic path was not an easy one. External circumstances, various phases of art and the fame of her Moomins, with whom she was subsequently always associated, characterised her work as an artist. From the 1960s onwards, Tove Jansson also wrote novels and short stories for adults and drew self-portraits and surrealist pictures, which were exhibited at London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2017. She also created illustrations for Tolkien’s “Hobbit” and Lewis Carol’s “Alice in Wonderland“.

Moomin Characters with Sophia Jansson, Tove’s niece as director, manages the rights to her artwork at her request.


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