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Academics embrace Moomin Valley

Published fredag 28 november 2014 kl 15.48
"Existentialism in Tove Jansson, that was really a beginning"
(6:41 min)
Snork Maiden
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A close-up of Professor Boel Westin's lapel during the Tove Jansson Centennial Conference at Stockholm University. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden
Professor Boel Westin
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Professor Boel Westin is leading the Tove Jansson Centennial Conference at Stockholm University, which drew some 20 researchers and translators from Japan, Canada, Bulgaria and other countries. Photo: Brett Ascarelli / Radio Sweden.

This year makes a century since the creator of the popular Moomin characters was born. Tove Jansson came from Helsinki, but Swedish was her mother tongue, and that was the language in which she wrote her imaginative books about a family of creatures who look like a bit like hippos and live in Moomin Valley.

Many kids in Sweden have grown up reading the Moomins' adventures and found truths about themselves tucked in between the pages of the author's novels and stories. But Jansson's world doesn't just spark the imagination of kids and adults, as Radio Sweden recently found out. It also inspires academics.

Lots of countries are celebrating the centennial of Tove Jansson in different ways, but it's here in a grand lecture hall at Stockholm University where about 20 academics and translators from the world over have assembled to share their research about her.

One eager researcher picks the brain of Mayumi Tomihara, a professor from Tokyo, about her research into the satirical cartoons that Tove Jansson got published before her career writing books took off in the late 1940s. As Tomihara points out, if you look closely in some of the cartoons, you can already spot at least a precursor to the loveable looking Moomins who later made the author famous. For example, in one cartoon about commuters, a creature resembling Moomintroll is there in the corner, small as a mouse, wearing boxing gloves to get through the crowd on public transit.

The title of the conference here is Multiple Aesthetics: Passion, Politics and Philosophy, and on the print out of the day's schedule, there's an illustration of Moomintroll looking either grumpy or deep in thought. The creature's pose kind of resembles Rodin's sculpture, The Thinker, at least that's what the chair of the conference, Professor Boel Westin, says.

Westin's wearing a big brooch of Snork Maiden, one of Jansson's creatures, on her lapel, and during a break, she explains how decades ago, she went looking for existentialism in Jansson's works, and after she found it, she wrote the first dissertation to be published on Jansson, in 1988.

Professor Westin has since gone on to examine other aspects of Jansson's work, as well as to write a biography of her, but she can still remember the first time she came in contact with Jansson's stories, when she was seven-years-old and got one of the Moomin books for Christmas.

The academics at the conference are discussing a range of themes that turn up in Jansson's work, from law and justice, to science and nature, and from catastrophe to age, but with work published in 40 languages, Jansson's stories are most certainly continuing to captivate people outside academia as well. Professor Boel Westin believes the stories are universal.

"We can see ourselves in the books with our dreams and our shortcomings and our joys and so on," she says.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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