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  • “A Serious Game”: Mapping Moominland
  • Björn Sundmark (bio)

“Maps in books are awfully nice.”

(Letter, 19 July 1971; my translation)

The Moomin series by Tove Jansson convey a strong sense of place and space. Indeed, there is a tangible quality to the valley, with the recurring description of the house and the Moomin family at its epicenter, which anchors Jansson’s fiction to a particular place. At the same time, the fictional space the books offer readers is dynamic, versatile, and boundary breaking—inviting playful co-creation. This twofold effect is achieved by various aesthetic means. In this article, I will focus on just one of the ways in which the Moomin books situate place and produce space, namely through the use of maps. Drawing on biographical scholarship, picture-book research, cartography, and theories of fictional spatiality, the aim is to show how iconotexts, such as maps, contribute to the making of Moominland.

There is a considerable body of scholarly and critical work on Jansson’s life and oeuvre. Of this material, Boel Westin’s two monographs stand out: one, Familjen i dalen, is a study of the Moomin books, the other, Tove Jansson: ord, bild, liv, is a study of Jansson’s life and letters. Tove Jansson’s own autobiographical The Sculptor’s Daughter is, of course, also indispensable. In English, W. Glyn Jones’s Tove Jansson is still the best introduction. A more recent contribution in English to Tove Jansson and her work is Tove Jansson Rediscovered (edited by Kate McLoughlin and Malin Lidström Brock). This anthology also contains chapters on Jansson’s artwork and illustrations. Focusing on her illustrations, Lena Kåreland’s and Barbro Werkmäster’s study of Jansson’s picture books, and Sirke Happonen’s monograph Vilijonkka ikkunassa, on movement and aesthetics in Jansson’s illustrations, are arguably the most sustained and penetrating to date. However, with a few exceptions, specific commentary and analysis of Jansson’s maps is rare (Holländer 31, 51; Orlov 84; Pavlik 29). [End Page 162]

Maps anchor fantasies to the real world, and they draw much of their power from the inclusion of real-life allusions. Thus, maps are often inspired by real places, or fill in the unknown spaces between the already charted. There is a tension between the real and the imagined. In Jansson’s case, real places are invoked either by direct references in the map (“The Gulf of Finland”), or more indirectly and privately to places of inspiration. Ängsmarn, Jansson’s maternal grandfather’s summer place, for instance, shares the same basic topography as Moominvalley, although on different scales. Descending from the forested north end we enter a sheltered and elongated field of grass situated between rocky outcrops on two sides; eventually we reach a house from where we can glimpse the sea. From a child’s perspective this may well appear as a valley between high mountains, and a place inhabited by wondrous creatures. Jansson herself makes the connection in the beginning of The Sculptor’s Daughter (7–8), and many critics have pointed at the formative influence of Ängsmarn (Björk 30–31; Familjen 116–17; Westin, Tove Jansson 48–52).

It is worth pointing out that map-making seems to have run in the family. Tove Jansson’s mother, Signe Hammarsten Jansson, made magnificent maps of islands important to the Jansson family. The Klovharun map, for instance, makes rich and artistic use of cartographic symbols. Instead of the regular nautical monsters, she includes two flowery horses that appear in one of Tove Jansson’s comic strips. In her professional work Signe Hammarsten Jansson also designed stamps with map motifs. Another family member, Tove Jansson’s brother, the photographer Per Olov Jansson, worked as an aerial photographer during the 1960s. The resemblance between his airplane photos and the bird’s-eye view of, for instance, the lighthouse in Moominpapa at Sea is quite striking. Finally, Tove Jansson herself is a frequent mapmaker, as in her map of “her domains” in Paris (Westin, Tove Jansson 209). Her interest in house design and the layout of rooms (including the place of furniture, and all drawn to scale) can be seen both in...


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