I pity those few poor unenlightened souls with access to good bookshops and libraries whose childhoods weren’t illuminated by the enchanting work of Tove Jansson, who probably won more love for Finland than Sibelius ever did. The world of the Moomins is one of those imagined lands that has won a place in the map of childhood alongside C.S. Lewis’s Narnia, Middle-Earth, or Kenneth Grahame‘s Riverbank. Or Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland. And as it happens, Tove Jansson paid tribute to her fellow imaginative fabulist with her own illustrations to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, very different from the John Tenniel images always associated with the tale, and completely recasting the scenes in her own aesthetic.
The ever-wonderful Maria Popova has put together a beautiful piece on this series on her marvelous website Brain Pickings, with gleanings from the rare edition of Jansson’s Alice still in circulation. And as you can see, the images are just about as wonderful as you would expect.
Given Tove Jansson’s subsidiary claim to fame as a pioneer of LGBT lifestyles in the Scandinavia of her time, it’s interesting to speculate whether her own take on the scenes in Alice pick up on the oft-remarked sexual overtones in the story. I don’t see any sign of that myself, but some critics have hinted at the supposedly ambiguous sexuality of the Moomin series as well, so I wouldn’t be surprised if similar analysis could turn up something in these artworks. Readers and viewers are invited to make their own judgments.
What I am surprised at, though, is that no publisher has stepped forward to do a modern reprint of this wonderful edition. The latest version that Popova appears to have found is dated to 2006, and nothing since. Surely this is one more Alice that the world really needs, and another dimension to the Tove Jansson legend.