Friday 9 August 2013

Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson was born into the finlandssvenskar or suomenruotsalaiset on 9th August 1914 in Helsinki as the continent was rumbling into war.  The Swedish speaking minority in Finland now constitute about 5% of the population - a little less than the total population of Iceland - and has been steadily diminishing in the way that Protestants are in our own Republic.  I make this comparison because historically the "ruling class" was enriched with the finlandssvenskar.
She's most famous for her spare cartoons and children's stories of the Moomins. But today I'll cite her magical Sommarboken The Summer Book, which can be seen as a manual for respecting (the other-world of) children. 

It is structured as a series of interlinked vignettes about a granny and her 6 year old grand-daughter Sophia who spend summers together on an island off the coast of Finland.  The child’s mother is dead and her father is part of the background: silent, writing, fishing or asleep.  Granny and Sophia have a series of inconsequential adventures, which will become evocative memories because they are filtered through the exaggerated sensibilities of the child’s imagination.  If we could only live in the immediate as children do, the ordinary would stagger us.  They take care of and love each other but Granny doesn’t always feel very well and can be tetchy and tired and snappy.  She is also “artistic”, daft as a brush and not worried about getting muddy knees crawling through the undergrowth to reach a hidden kingdom.  Sophia is self-absorbed and demanding, gracious and kind and fanciful.  But she gets the respect that should be owing to any person regardless of size.  On the other hand, she is coming to terms with the fact that the world doesn’t turn around her alone and that Granny deserves a certain amount of respect (and extra time to get anywhere and space to herself) too.  Sophia is also let out on her own to take risks even when this makes Granny sick with apprehension.  The island, while physically tiny, is a world in itself and is, with the surrounding sea and the essential boat, a playground for the imagination.  Any education is just there: in the talk; in the attitudes; in the projects that start and peter out and get forgotten; in the daily life and chores that are not chores because they are daily life; in the world outside and the interior world. 

In Scandinavia school doesn’t start until the age of seven.  In Ireland, most children of Sophia’s age spend several hours of most days inside not doing any of those things that allowed Sophia to grow so that she can stand up straight.

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