The first major UK exhibition dedicated to the Moomins and the life of their Finnish creator, Tove Jansson, will open to the public on Friday. Staged in London’s Royal Festival Hall, Adventures in Moominland is an immersive and interactive exhibition that takes visitors on a journey through the stories, with recreated scenes from the books, and exhibits of more than 40 original drawings and other archive materials.
The brilliant series of books has now become a worldwide brand – like some kind of Nordic Disneyworld but that glosses off the power of what were ostensibly children’s books but full of the melancholy and yearning of cold Finland nights.
I remember reading the then hard to get books as a child and was deeply touched by that melancholy and sadness and loneliness of the Hemulan or the Groke maiden – even at that age you could sense that there something darker stirring in the books and something that was far deeper than your usual childhood reading.
Of course they do work perfectly as children’s books – cuddly characters that look like mini hippos living in some magical Scandinavian bay but on another it is an existential journey of hidden depths that reflect author Tove Janson and her fascination with subjects including gender, sexuality, tolerance and freedom.
Originally political cartoons they developed into unlikely children’s books in the fifties and sixties and managed to retain some of the idealism of the author herself who reflected her own family and life and loves in the twisting and turning books including her own, then, illegal sexuality.