Civic Imagination

Who will comfort Toffle? by Tove Jansson (1960)

The story tells about a little “knytt” (which is the Swedish name for the main character, which in the english translations has been changed to toffle) who lives in a large house all on his own. He is very afraid and very lonely. He is especially afraid of “Mårran”, a creature whose growling and wailing echoes in the mountains at night. Being afraid of the dark nooks and crannies of the house, and of all the bad things hidden in the shadows, he decides to leave his home in search for friends. On his travels he meets all kinds of different creatures - fillifjonks, mumriks and hemules. However, he is too shy to introduce himself to them. He eventually arrives at the ocean, where he finds a message in a bottle that reads: “I’m so afraid of Mårran’s growling and I don’t have any friends. If you’re big and strong, please find me and comfort me”. The knytt realises he’s not alone, and suddenly feeling brave and strong he sets out to find the author of the message, who happens to be a “skrutt”. On the way he meets a hemule, a fillifjonk and a homs, and suddenly he’s brave enough to say, “Hi!” However, he can’t stay, because he’s looking for the skrutt who wrote the letter. He continues and arrives at the mountains where Mårran lives. Mårran whines and growls angrily, making the knytt even angier. He exclaims, “Now I’m more angry than scared. I have to comfort the skrutt, so I have to be strong!” He then bites Mårran in the tail and scares her with a bellowing roar until she flees. It appears the skrutt has been hiding behind a stone this whole time, but now she is confident enough to come out from her hiding place. They meet each other and becomes the best of friends, and go on to live happily ever after, no longer scared of the dark or the shadows.

Who will comfort Toffle? was read to me as a child by my parents back in Sweden when I was growing up in Umeå. It is an immensely popular children's story in Sweden, written by Tove Jansson in 1960. The story about the small creature that feels as if he is all alone in the world, and that the world is too big and scary, greatly resonated with me as a child as I, like him, was scared of the dark. However, when he meets someone he can empathise with, he gains enough confidence to overcome his fears. It was one of my favourite stories, and I was especially fascinated by Tove Jasson's quirky an colourful illustrations.

I believe the knytt's adventure could be used to empower the people who are leaving their homes due to horrors they have experienced in their home countries. Also, I believe it can instill empathy in other people to understand what these refugees go through.

Overcoming fear,
Children's story,


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