The art of travelling light

Issue 3/1988 | Archives online, Authors

Tove Jansson‘s third collection of short stories, Resa med lätt bagage (‘Travelling light’) strengthens her position as a writer for adults, with her own intensely personal style and choice of subject.

At the same time new editions of her Moomin books for children are published continually, and the books go on attracting new readers throughout the world. Tove Jansson says she receives over 2,000 letters a year, and she answers them all individually by hand.

Her fame as a children’s writer and strip cartoonist is thus something Tove Jansson has to deal with every day of her life, even though the last Moomin book, Sent I november (November in Moomin Valley) appeared as long ago as 1970. Fame is something the characters in some of her recent work also have to deal with: the writer Anna Aemelin in the novel Den ärliga bedragaren (‘The honest deceiver’, 1982), who is well known for the flowery rabbits she draws. Or the strip cartoonist in the short story Serietecknaren (‘The cartoonist’) from Dockskåpet (‘The doll’s house’, 1978), who packs in his job and goes missing.

There is, nevertheless, a significant difference between the children’s books and this more recent work: whereas, in the Moomin books, Tove Jansson attempted to create a family which could live together and who loved each other but left each other in peace and allowed each other their freedom, the main characters in the later stories are not able to live together. It is a question, rather, of a power struggle, of loneliness as a necessity and as a torment.

Kati, a strong-minded woman in Den ärliga bedragaren, ruthlessly exploits the weaker Anna Aemelin in order to serve the brother she loves. And the main character in the story Lokomotiv (Locomotive, from Dockskåpet) is a very lonely man, totally obsessed with the idea of the locomotive, who exploits the confidence of the people he meets – they provide him with the warmth and intensity he does not possess, but they must not come too close.

This man illustrates one of Tove Jansson’s favourite themes: obsession. In an interview for a Japanese issue of Books from Finland, she comments on this interest: ‘Obsession with an idea, a fixation on one thing, fascinates me. Sometimes it’s a question of excess with can become destructive, sometimes a mania which is not escapist or self-reflecting, but an honest attempt to achieve something fruitful right to the extreme limit and beyond, something that takes form, which is larger than oneself. I can’t help becoming bewitched by those who try break out of their given limits.’

Resa med lätt bagage is a collection of stories where travelling is the central theme: the characters may wander far, but essentially it is a question of travelling within oneself, with one’s mental baggage which sometimes proves heavy to carry. Can one leave old and useless things behind and start anew, travelling light?

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