Tove Jansson was born in Helsinki, and was an illustrator, most famous for her series of comics and books on the Moomins. She also wrote books for adults, notably The Summer Book and The True Deceiver. But this post is about the surprising choice of her by Swedish publishers as the illustrator for The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien, in Swedish called, Bilbo, a Hobbit’s adventure.
J. R. R. Tolkien – Bilbo: En Hobbits Äventyr – The Hobbit, in Swedish, 1962
As an author Tove was at one of the heights of her career when she illustrated The Hobbit in 1962, but the commission gave her space away from the Moomins and a much needed chance to experiment.
It was Astrid Lindgren’s idea to commission Tove Jansson to illustrate a new translation of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit in 1959-1960. The two great Scandinavian children’s book authors had met only once or twice, but Astrid used all her rhetorical powers to win Jansson over.
Tove Jansson needed only a few days to think it over before she got dwn to work, and in 1962 Bilbo: A Hobbit’s Adventure, in Britt G Hall-qvist’s translation was ready.
Literary cristics and Tolkien fans were less enthusiastic, however. ‘The children’s book of the century’ ran to only one printing, and must be considered one of Astrid Lindgren’s greatest flops as an editor. †
Some of the illustrations were done on loose bits of paper collaged together. Other pictures were as one full ink image.
Her Moominland has its own place in the universe of fantasy, on a level with Tolkien’s Middle Earth or C. S. Lewis’s Narnia. Moomin valley, however, is not a mythical world. It is close to current reality; furthermore, it clearly depicts the character of Finland’s skerries.
Tove Jansson and Irmelin Sandman Lilius have both written “books for adults,” but the unquestionable emphasis is on the fantasy tales; both adults and children read their stories. ‡
Here is a page from Jansson’s sketchbook on the Hobbit.
Below pictured is Gollum is pictured with a crown of laurel leaves, his wide eyes and looking far more innocent that he is.
Below are two versions of dust jackets for the Hobbit in Finnish, one in 1973 that likely was issued for Tolkien’s death and one far more recent for the 80th anniversary of the Hobbit.
J. R. R. Tolkien – Lohikäärmevuori, Finnish Edition of the Hobbit, 1973
J. R. R. Tolkien – Hobitti eli sinne ja takaisin – The Hobbit or There and Back Again. 80th Anniversary Edition. 2017.
† Astrid Lindgren: The Woman Behind Pippi Longstocking
‡ George C. Schoolfield – A History of Finland’s Literature – p743