Finland has the Northern Lights, Santa Claus’ village and the midnight sun, and it also has the fascinating Moomins, illustrated characters from a series of books that make for the country’s top cultural icons, which has a museum, a hospital, a theme park and several café and stores.
The adorable Moomins, the little, white, round trolls with large snouts are everywhere you look in Finland, on coffee mugs, jackets, wall art, textbooks, cafes and airports. The illustrated characters from late Finnish author Tove Jansson’s series of twelve Moomin books, published from 1945 until 1977, are loved by children and adults alike. And not just by Finns, even the Brits and Japanese are pretty enthusiastic about Moomins, and we have a fan following in India as well.
The books’ characters, Moominmamma, Momminpappa, their offspring Moomintroll and their friends Snufkin, Sniff and Little My, are an integral part of the Finnish lifestyle and culture. “All of us have Moomin mugs, tiffin boxes, cushion covers and umbrellas,” says Heidi Johansson, a tour guide and a mother of two, living in Helsinki. “We never think of Moomins as a kids’ thing. It’s for all of us,” she adds.
Jansson’s Moominsare stories of the adventures of the Moomin family, sometimes, set in the background of the ups and downs of the Finnish society. Jansson’s first book ‘Moomins and the Great Floods’ was written in the last month of World War II. The subsequent books, based in the fantastical Moominland illustrates the life adventures of the ordinary troll family, be it a storm or new technology. “The Moomins teach its readers family values, importance of friendship and how to co-exist with nature,” says Ulla-Maija Rouhiainen, also a tour guide and an author based in Helsinki.
The relatable stories have never lost its appeal. It continues to be reproduced as comic strips, theatre adoptions and television series around the world and in design and architecture. In the autumn of 2018, Helsinki’s New Children’s Hospital opened as a Moomin-themed facility, as an ode to Jansson tradition of painting paediatric wards with Moomin stories. The hospital’s designers, SARC Architects and Architect Group Reino Koivula, have decorated the ground and cellar floors of the building with the sea theme. On the upper floors, the little patients and their parents can enjoy the scenes from the forests.
Another design inspiration; Japanese casualwear brand Uniqlo has a dedicated Moomin athleisure collection. In 2019, released the €20 million animated series Moomin Valley, starring Kate Winslet, of the Titanic and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind fame, and Rosamund Pike, seen in Gone Girl and Pride & Prejudice.
In Finland, the nation of 55.4 lakh people, the Moomin series has 16 million views on the local streaming platform Yle Areena.
Beyond the screen, there are many other places in the happiest country in the world to witness the Moomin magic. Let’s begin at the newly renovated Helsinki airport. At gate number 40, there is the cheerful Moomin Coffee, a Moomin-themed café that instantly puts a smile on tired fliers’ faces with its life-size Moomin sculptures, Moominmamma’s pancakes, special Moomin sandwiches for kids, dollops of colourful ice creams and an assortment of coffees. It’s the best place to start your journey into the Moomin world.
Our next stop is the Helsinki Art Museum, which has a permanent exhibition on Moomin’s creator. As Moomins are inspired by Jansson’s family, the places she lived in and her life experiences, it would be only right to study her life at the city museum. On display are Tove Jansson’s frescoes Party in the City (1947) and Party in the Country (1947) along with 13 photographs from Per Olov Jansson, author’s brother, featuring their family, and excerpts from the documentary film Haru, Island of the Solitary. The film includes shots by Jansson and her partner Tuulikki Pietilätaken during the summers they spent together on the island of Klovharu.
The exhibits are a proof of Jansson’s artistic prowess and her love for nature and the island life, reflected in the Moomin books.
Next up is the Moomin Museum in Tempare, a two-hour drive away from Helsinki. The world’s only Moomin museum is an experiential art space. It has twelve giant book covers of the Moomin books. Each book has original illustrations, paintings and 3-D tableaux or miniature theatre sets illustrating scenes from the Moomin books. There are also original sketches and art and craft material of the author on display. The highlight of the museum is the two-metre tall, 5-storey, blue Moomin house, which shows where Moominmama stores her jam bottles and where the fuse box is. However, the doll house built by Jansson, her partner and a physician friend is not the exact replica of the house in the book.
If you want to experience the Moomin House of the books, head to the gorgeous Moomin World in the Naantali archipelago next to the city of Turku, in Southwest Finland. It has a life-size Moomin’s residence, where you can see the troll family’s bed, kitchen, garden, the fire station, Snufkin's camp and Moominpappa's boat. If you like, you can also get selfies with these characters and hug them too.
Fun fact, the Moomin World is where many Japanese couples fly to get married, even when Japan has its own version of the Moomin park called Metsä in the city of Hannō. “For the Japanese, its paying a visit to the birthplace of the Moomins and getting married in the scenic Finland,” says Rouhiainen. “The story of the Moomins is the story of everyone, presented in a fascinating narrative. That’s the appeal of these trolls,” she adds.