Dracula fights for Finland

16 June 2015 | This 'n' that

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee. Photo: Devlin crow / CC BY-SA 3.0

Actor Christopher Lee loved Finland and knew the Kalevala

Among the obituaries of Christopher Lee, the celebrated actor who died last week at the age of 93, one fact has remained strangely overlooked: his connection with Finland.

Lee (born 1922) specialised in monsters and villains; his most famous roles included Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster, Count Dooku in Star Wars and the wizard Saruman in The Lord of the Rings.

Writing in the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper, Veli-Pekka Lehtonen reveals that Lee knew Finland well. As a very young man he had volunteered for service in the Winter War of 1939; the British soldiers’ skiing skills, however, made them less than useful and they were sent home.

Lee also had an extensive knowledge of the architecture of Helsinki, and loved the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala.

That love came full circle in his role in The Lord of the Rings. J.R.R. Tolkien, the trilogy’s author, was also a Kalevala fan – the inspiration for his work on the kingdom of Middle Earth lay in the Kalevala’s story of Kullervo. As he wrote to his friend, the poet W.H. Auden, in 1955, ‘the beginning of the legendarium… was an attempt to reorganise some of the Kalevala, especially the tale of Kullervo the hapless, into a form of my own.’

Tolkien, a professional philologist, particularly loved the Finnish language. He described finding a Finnish grammar book as being like ‘entering a completely new wine-cellar filled with bottles for an amazing wine of a kind a flavour never tasted before.’

Christopher Lee may not have known Finnish, but he had clearly sampled the same wine.