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Moomins and me: Ant’s bringing hippo heroes to Archway

Children's books set to be presented at Archway With Words festival after 49-year-old became a fanatic during museum visit

22 September, 2017 — By Emily Finch

Ant O’Neill with books by Tove Jansson, the Scandinavian creator of the Moomins

A SERIES of Scandinavian children’s books will be presented in English for the first time thanks to a dedicated Archway resident whose life was transformed by a fateful visit to a museum gift shop.

Ant O’Neill started learning Finnish and Swedish three years ago after a trip to the Moomin museum in Finland where he became besotted with the peculiar-looking creatures and their creator, Tove Jansson.

Mr O’Neill, 49, has since gone on to translate the last story in the Moomin series into English which will be presented at the Archway With Words festival on Monday. The story, written by Ms Jansson but accompanied by photographs of Moomin models created by her partner, Tuulikki Pietilä, covers what happens to the family when they have an unexpected guest visit their house. She wrote the story three years after her previous book which ends with the future of the hippopotamus-shaped family in doubt, mirroring the author’s own heartbreak at her mother’s death.

“My trip to Finland changed my life. I went to Tampere and just by random that was where the Moomin museum is,” said Mr O’Neill.

“I kind of knew of the Moomins as these hippo-like things that are very popular but that was pretty much it. I went to the museum gift shop and when I picked up one of the comic books, I was struck by how different it was – the composition, the visual humour was something I had never seen before.”

He said he was prompted to learn Finnish and Swedish through language-learning websites when he came across previously untranslated comics by Ms Jansson and felt frustrated that he couldn’t understand them.

Through a long back-and-forth between the Moomin museum, Mr O’Neill has secured the original photo prints which accompanied Ms Jansson ’s story that he will project onto a wall during his reading. He will also introduce two previously untranslated comics about a caterpillar couple which were created by Ms Jansson when she was just 14 years old.

Tove Jansson was born at the start of the First World War and worked as a cartoonist satirising Stalinism and Nazism, putting her own life at risk. She was one of a small minority of Finns who spoke Swedish as a first language and both of her parents were artists – her dad a sculptor and her mother a stamp designer.

She also wrote novels and painted landscapes and portraits alongside her cartoons after training in Italy, Finland, Paris and Sweden and often felt her cartoons prevented her from being taken seriously as an artist. Her Moomins featured in a comic strip in London’s The Evening News in the 1960s and her popularity quickly spread throughout the world with the introduction of televised Moomin cartoons.

• The Archway With Words festival, which will feature talks by local authors, starts this week. To find out more go to: www.archwaywithwords.com

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