Tove Jansson, Beloved Creator of the Moomins, Illustrates The Hobbit

What is a Hob­bit? A few char­ac­ters in J.R.R Tolkien’s clas­sic work of children’s fan­ta­sy won­der them­selves about the diminu­tive title char­ac­ters who don’t get out much. Tolkien describes them thor­ough­ly, a hand­ful of well-known British and Amer­i­can actors immor­tal­ized them on screen, but the last word on what a Hob­bit looks like belongs to the read­er. Or — in an edi­tion as rich­ly illus­trat­ed as the Swedish and Finnish edi­tions of the book were in 1962 and 1973 — to the Swedish/Finnish artist, Tove Jans­son, most famous for her cre­ation of inter­na­tion­al­ly beloved children’s char­ac­ters, the Moomins.

Like Bil­bo Bag­gins him­self, The Hob­bit is full of sur­pris­es — while pre­sent­ing itself as a book for kids, it con­tains adult lessons one nev­er out­grows. So, too, was Jans­son, “an acer­bic and wit­ty anti-fas­cist car­toon­ist dur­ing the Sec­ond World War,” write James Williams at Apol­lo.

“She wrote a pic­ture book for chil­dren about the immi­nent end of the world and spare, ten­der fic­tion for adults about love and fam­i­ly.” Jans­son had exact­ly the sen­si­bil­i­ty to bridge Tolkien’s worlds of imag­i­na­tive fan­cy and adult dan­ger and moral ambi­gu­i­ty. But first, she want­ed to cast off all asso­ci­a­tions with her most famous cre­ation.

As Jans­son wrote to a friend when she end­ed the Moomins, “I nev­er spare them a thought now it’s over. I’ve com­plete­ly drawn a line under all that. Just as you wouldn’t want to think back on a time you had a toothache.” The Moomins were a cre­ative mill­stone, and she strug­gled to get their style from around her neck.

“This led to an attempt to change the way in which she drew,” notes “Tove tried dif­fer­ent tech­niques and drew each fig­ure freely again and again 20–60 times until she was hap­py with the result. From the book vignette illus­tra­tions, it is impos­si­ble to notice how the indi­vid­ual fig­ures are past­ed togeth­er into ‘a patch­work’ that made up each vignette.”

Despite her best efforts to escape her pre­vi­ous char­ac­ters, how­ev­er, “the major­i­ty of the full-page illus­tra­tions fol­low the char­ac­ter­is­tic style of Tove’s illus­tra­tions for the Moomin books.” Her own reser­va­tions aside, this is all to the good as Jansson’s Moomin books and com­ic strips were built from the same mix of sen­si­bil­i­ty — child­like won­der, grown-up ethics, and a respect for the deep ecol­o­gy of myth. Both Tolkien and Jans­son wrote dur­ing, after, and in response to Hitler’s rise to pow­er and drew on “a Nordic folk tra­di­tion of trolls and forests, light and dark,” writes Williams. But Jans­son brought her own artis­tic vision to The Hob­bit. See more of her illus­tra­tions at Lithub.

via LitHub

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Sub­lime Alice in Won­der­land Illus­tra­tions of Tove Jans­son, Cre­ator of the Glob­al­ly-Beloved Moomins (1966)

Before Cre­at­ing the Moomins, Tove Jans­son Drew Satir­i­cal Art Mock­ing Hitler & Stal­in

The Only Draw­ing from Mau­rice Sendak’s Short-Lived Attempt to Illus­trate The Hob­bit

Illus­tra­tions Of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hob­bit from the Sovi­et Union (1976)

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.