If you’re American, you may not instantly know who the Moomins are, but if your friends or family ever went on a European vacation, check if you have a souvenir plate or something hidden away somewhere with a bunch of weird anthropomorphic hippos on it. Those are the Moomins. (If you’re European and don’t remember the Moomins, that’s understandable; your brain clearly erased any memories of them after seeing The Groke.)

Ever since the Swedish-speaking Finnish author Tove Jansson created them in 1945, the Moomins became a global hit. In Japan, they have an entire village theme park dedicated to them. A big draw of the characters (who are actually meant to be trolls) is that their stories focus on the little challenges of rural life in Moominvalley with just the right amount of fantasy and melancholy, but without being sappy. The series also features a lot of cool and weird (in a good way) characters besides the Mooomins, including at least three of Tove Jansson’s lovers.

Jansson put a lot of herself into her stories, and that included basing some of her characters on people she was sleeping with. She was briefly engaged to the writer and Finnish MP Atos Wirtanen, and later used him to create Snufkin, an easygoing vagabond with a distinct pipe and green hat (frequently found on Wirtanen) who often has philosophical discussions with the Moomin patriarch. Wirtanen apparently also disliked clinging to material possessions and had a strong anti-authoritarian streak about him, which are probably some of Snufkin’s biggest character traits.

They didn’t work out because Jansson eventually realized that she was gay, which she herself referred to as going “over to the spook side.” Her first serious same-sex relationship was a secret affair with Vivica Bandler, a married theater director. This was back when homosexuality was illegal in Finland, so some have suggested that the Moomin characters of Thingumy and Bob, who speak their own secret language and like to hide from outsiders, were partially inspired by Jansson and Bandler’s relationship.

And then came Tuulikki Pietilä. She was one of the greatest graphic artists in Finnish history, but to Jansson she was the love of her life. In 1956, the Moomin author wrote to her: “I love you as if bewitched, yet at the same time with profound calm, and I’m not afraid of anything life has in store for us.” But even if you never read that, you could have guessed how Jansson felt about Pietilä from the book Moominland Midwinter.

That was the story that introduced the character of Too-Ticky, an outgoing, kind, and resourceful female character who was based on Pietilä in every possible way, from her look to her name, as Tuulikki Pietilä went by the nickname “Tooti.” In the story, the young Moomintroll wakes up from his hibernation early and for the first time in his life experiences winter. That’s when he meets Too-Ticky and she helps him navigate this new and oftentimes dangerous landscape, saving him when he felt alone and lost. Jansson and Pietilä went on to enjoy 45 years together.

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