Dear Jansson San

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In the 1960s, long before J. K. Rowling showed the world how literary fame might be managed, Tove Jansson, pursued by her own creations the Moomins – white hippopotamus-shaped trolls with tails but no mouths – thought there was only one solution: to buy her own island with the proceeds and escape, if not permanently, at least for several months at a time. Who needed a postman when this was the kind of letter he brought?

We look forward to your valuable reply soonest concerning Moomin motifs on toilet paper in pastel shades.

Tove Jansson, who was born in 1914 in Helsinki and studied art in Stockholm and Paris, wrote her first Moomin book during the Second World War, when Finland was at war with the Soviet Union. Children loved the Moomins, who survive even the most drastic upheavals by always being good-humoured and tolerant, and by 1954 Jansson was drawing a Moomin comic strip for adults in an English newspaper, the Evening News (circulation 12 million). Soon her cartoon had spread to 40 other countries and 120 further publications. Now, like J. K. Rowling, she wanted to write fiction for adults, but she was being asked to design Moomin paper dolls and wallpaper, and there was no end to the letters and requests from Moomin fans.

Couldn’t we meet and chat about the old days at school? I’m Margit, the one who punched you in the stomach in the playground.

To Jansson’s relief, her youngest brother, Lars – also a gifted artist and writer – took over the cartoon and, in 1958, they founded their company, later converted into the joint-stock company Moomin Characters Ltd. Moomin novels were soon followed by picture books, a song book, several children’s plays and even a ballet performed at the Finnish National Opera, for which Jansson designed the stage sets and costumes. And, of course, all this meant more and more fan mail, by the sackful. Amazingly, it was Jansson’s practice to repl

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About the contributor

Linda Leatherbarrow has an island too, not her own she hastens to add, but it might as well be; few people go there. It sits in the mouth of a bay and can be reached at low tide by following the hoof-prints of deer across the mud.

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