October 2015 Club

Travelling Light by Tove Jansson

Tove Jansson was mostly known for her writing for children, and most especially for the Moomin series. However, she wrote a number of less well-known books for adults, including this anthology of short stories, currently growing in popularity and meeting new audiences as they are gradually translated from Swedish.

Within these pages, the stories are all about displaced persons, mostly travelling. The writing is understated, light and a little ethereal. None of the stories have particularly strong or memorable endings – they just exist for their own sake and Jansson allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Themes of loneliness, outsiders and interdependence on others recur.

For the sake of our club, I’ve concentrated on the story that was most memorable to me, “The Summer Child”.

The Fredriksons’s belief that they are a generous family is soon shattered when they offer to host a young boy from the city, Elis at their holiday house “out of the goodness of their hearts, and for a small fee, of course”. Their youngest child immediately notices that Elis is a little different and innocently asks in front of him, “Mum? Why’s he like that?”

Elis has a knack of making them feel guilty, from eating their leftovers to save waste to accusing them of indifference to pollution and the problems of the world. A morbid child, he follows Tom (the eldest Fredrikson) around for the whole summer. The parents begin to wonder if all city dwellers burden their children “with a conscience they’re too young to understand or manage”.

The Fredriksons can see that Tom is nearly at the end of his tether with Elis, and decide that a change of scene is needed. So the father takes the children on a boat trip out to some tiny islands to bring fresh gas canisters to the lighthouses. Accidentally, Tom and Elis get stranded on one of the islands overnight and the tension of summer resolves itself in a sustained physical fight, after which Tom remembers the words of his father “You have to take things as they come”.

Colourway inspiration

For the semi-solid colourway, I wanted a muted, slightly autumnal Swedish blue to convey the colour of the sea as the boys wake up on the island, reliant on someone to come and save them across the endless water. It’s called Morning Sea.

For the variegated, I wanted to convey the ruggedness of the island. Elis uses the term “Isle of Bliss” a little sarcastically; in reality, it’s no more than a desolate skerry inhabited by eiders. However, Tom winds up Elis with tales of human skeletons and snakes, so it seems a darker place than it really is as the boys’ imaginations take hold. I spatter-dyed blues, browns, moss green, granite grey, silver – in fact, nine different colours were used, including black to represent the crowberries. I called it Isle of Bliss.

The yarn type is the new Slinky Twist – a blend of merino and silk with a high twist.