Loneliness is one of the key themes in Moomin books. Tove Jansson was very familiar with this experience. Her father had been emotionally damaged by the civil war when Tove was very young and because of this, she spent her entire childhood longing for his affection. In her adulthood Tove experienced another war and had to wait for her brother, lover and friends who were away fighting. All while her friends and family were also mourning and emotionally distant. After the war ended, Tove entered another relationship full of longing and waiting with Atos Wirtanen. Endless waiting only seemed to end when she met Tuulikki Pietilä, who was finally there when Tove needed her most.
Constant waiting is a lonely experience. But Tove was also aware of another kind of loneliness. This kind of loneliness is the kind we seek ourselves. Tove was a very private person even when she became famous and also a dedicated artist who needed peace to work. She spent years trying to find a place where she could isolate herself to work and enjoy her own company.
Loneliness appears as duality in Moomin books. The bad kind of loneliness is represented with various Fillyjonks and sometimes Moomintroll himself, especially when he longs for Snufkin. Fillyjonks are anxious and depressed people who often suffer from sudden feelings of doom. Their unstable minds and efforts to keep up respectable life often end up isolating them in large houses on the beach because their grandmother had supposedly lived there as a child or in neatly decorated parlors with only their own thoughts for company. Fillyjonks long to escape this loneliness. They will reach out for people but they often fail. It seems it’s impossible to be both polite and proper and speak up about your depression at the same time.
Moominvalley in November is a book where loneliness is the main theme. So it is no wonder that a Fillyjonk is among the main characters. This Fillyjonk is tired of being anxious and alone, so she comes to visit Moomin family in hopes of getting caught up in their spontaneous life. When Moomin family appears to be away, she tries to be spontaneous like Moominmamma herself and make people around her feel at home. She fails miserably, because a timid and orderly Fillyjonk cannot be Moominmamma. Her efforts isolate her further until she lets go and starts to be herself but with a happier attitude towards herself. In the end she manages to put together a work party and heads back home with more enthusiasm. She was able to overcome her loneliness when she accepted her limitations and embraced them and others.
Another lonely Fillyjonk appears in Tales from Moominvalley; Fillyjonk Who Believed in Disasters. This Fillyjonk ends up overcoming her loneliness without other people like the Fillyjonk mentioned above. Instead, she encounters the disaster she was afraid of and turns her loneliness from bad kind to the good kind. This good kind of loneliness means that you can be by yourself and it’s not scary or unpleasant. Snufkin basically lives for this kind of loneliness. He not only enjoys being by himself, he yearns for it and becomes anxious if he does not get to be alone. In a way, his good loneliness is the opposite from Fillyjonk’s bad loneliness. This good kind of loneliness nurtures and gives us strength to be social again. Though eventually even Snufkin realizes that maybe he did not really need to be so much alone, when he was always surrounder by people who understood him.
There is no way to talk about loneliness and healing without talking about the very personification of loneliness; The Groke. The Groke is so cold that everything she touches turns to ice. This isolates her from other people completely. So completely, that they would rather not even mention her name. Whenever she approached their light, they will turn it off and run away. She is almost defiant in her loneliness. “I’m the only Groke. There is no one like me and I will never warm up” she declares in Moominpappa and the Sea. She is bad loneliness given form. But eventually a single act of kindness, Moomintroll coming to see her on the beach, frees the Groke. Moomintroll’s company and caring drive away her loneliness and turn out to be the key to her freedom; The Groke becomes warm. Moomin books always show us characters either freeing themselves from bad loneliness or finding out that limitless amount of good loneliness is not actually a key to happiness.
The truest example of independent and good loneliness is actually Little My. She is capable of finding just the right balance between loneliness and sociality. She is with others when she feels like it and despite being sharp and brutally honest, she is willing to support and nurture them whenever they need it. But she is also capable of running away whenever she feels like it. Little My is free of sentimentality and will not miss people and company. She can enjoy both loneliness and company to equal measure, without ever getting bored or sad.
The Groke first appears in Finn Family Moomintroll, as the horrible creature who chases Thingumy and Bob. Her name is also something akin to a curse among all other characters, as they often use it to frighten small children or express how angry they are. At the same time, Moominmamma tells us how it’s not appropriate to talk about The Groke; not about her or to her. If you talk about her, she will get bigger and come after you. It’s best to talk around the subject and ignore her. In a manner The Groke is similiar to Hattifatteners; outsiders who are both strange and threathening. These creatures live in the margins of the proper life and just thinking about them can lead you down the wrong path. Characters like these must have been exciting for Tove to create; she loved all things scary and unknown ever since she was a little girl.
The Groke’s role adjusted as the stories and style changed in the books. First Moomin books are honest children’s stories. Text is more straightforward, action is clear and threaths come from outside. Everything ends happily. Starting from Moominland Midwinter the books take a turn towards more mature story telling and become more targeted towards older audiences (but still keep the child-friendly touch!). In the first books the Groke is one of these outside threaths that must be overcome. She is a monster that comes to the valley, demanding Thingumy and Bob to return her jewel. The Groke can also be seen to represent the law, as she is trying to take away the forbidden love (jewel) from Thingumy and Bob (Tove and Viveca). The Swedish name of The Groke (Mårran) was actually a word Tove and Viveca used to describe hatred towards homosexuality.
In ”Moominland Midwinter” and especially in ”Moominpappa at sea”, The Groke has evolved into a more complex character. She can be seen as the very symbol of loneliness. She is forever cold and always follows the light. The cruelty of her yearning is that whenever she approaches a lantern or a candle she just makes it go out. Moomin event hinks that entire winter must belong to the Groke! Like Moominmamma tells us, The Groke has not truly done anything mean. She is just so cold that it’s impossible to be with her. She also hints that maybe the reason The Groke is like that is because nobody has ever cared about her.
The Groke is a difficult character to determine and even Tove Jansson herself declined to explain her. Many people who have analyzed Moomin books have still been able to see a connection between The Groke and depression. Depression was a familiar guest in the Jansson family and Tove struggled with it her entire life. It’s a topic that is always hidden and much like The Groke, it freezes the warmth. This is most evident in ”Moominpappa and the sea”. Tove wrote the book after her father had passed away. The Groke follows the Moomin family and haunts Moomintroll through the whole book, where her role can be seen to represent the sadness and depression Tove experienced when she lost her father. In the end, the only way to cure The Groke of her coldness is to embrace her. Moomintroll comes to meet her at the beach; this act or caring makes The Groke dance and sing.
After The Groke leaves, Moomintroll touched the sand and realized it’s warm. Tove said that she ”warmed the Groke” in the book.
As a cute sidenote: many readers often wished that Tove would give The Groke a friend. Tove declined because a warm Groke served no literally purpose. But in an answer to one letter she did envision a family for the Groke. She told that there is a herr-mårra (Mr Groke) and when the two Grokes meet, they will become warm. Afterwards they have small groke-children, morits (moriter). These children are warm.
In 1947, Tove Jansson began one of her most famous and most challenging art projects ever. She was ordered to paint two large frescos to the dining room of the Helsinki city hall, by Erik von Frenckell. Tove began the ambitious work with passion to celebrate the time after war in Finland. Each step she reported to her “beloved Vifslan”, Vivica Bandler.
Vivica Bandler was Tove’s first female lover. Their love was passionate and all-consuming. Tove worshipped Vivica and described that loving her had changed everything. All things felt new and all feelings were more intense. And Tove was not shy about showing this love, even if she did it in secret (note, homosexuality was illegal in Finland until 1971 and listed as a disease until 1981).
One of the boldest and bravest gestures was in one of the frescos ordered by von Frenckell (Vivica’s father, actually).
The blonde woman smoking her cigarette is Tove herself and the dark-haired woman dancing behind her is Vivica. Painting them so close and so visible was a brave move on Tove’s part and served to fuel the rumours around them. Tove laid out her love for all the world to see, but in a careful way.
Tove and Vivica even appear in Moomin books; as Thingumy and Bob from Finn Family Moomintroll (1948). Their original Swedish names, Tofslan and Vifslan, give away the connection. These two speak in a secret language only they can understand and are running away from The Groke who wants to steal their precious gem; the most beautiful thing in the world. You do not need deep analysis to see what the story represents.
Eventually Tove’s and Vivica’s love ended like all quick and passionate love stories; to it’s own impossibility. Like with about all her lovers, Tove still remained friends with Vivica. Hot summer turned to cool autumn in the book and the frescos were finished.
Here’s the reason why Finnish kids are so traumatized over The Groke from The Moomins. Apparently The Moomin tapes that were sent to Finland from Japan had the wrong color profile in them. The colors were much darker than intended. Finnish TV decided to show them nevertheless.
Tove Jansson wrote the book “Who Will Comfort Toffle?” after receiving a letter from a fan. In the letter the young boy expressed how sad, lonely and scared he is. The letter was signed “Toffle”. Tove was so moved that she wrote a book about a small, frightened creature who lives all alone until one day, when he embarks on a journey to find friends. Toffle ends up finding a letter from someone even smaller and even more scared than him, Miffle.
Toffle rescues Miffle from The Groke and they live happily ever after. Tove thought that helping someone even weaker might make Toffle feel more confident and give him courage to become happy. The story is one of Tove’s most delicate and the book is filled with beautiful, detailed pictures.