Irma-Riitta Järvinen: Kalevala Guide

10 September 2010 | Mini reviews, Reviews

Kalevala Guide
Helsinki: Finnish Literature Society, 2010. 127 p., ill.
ISBN 978-952-222-193-3
€ 24.90, paperback

This book is a brief but comprehensive English-language guide to the Finnish national epic, which was based on the archaic oral, sung folk poetry of Karelia, but collected and personally compiled by the scholar and writer Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884). The epic (first edition 1839, complemented in 1849) is set in a mythic past; technically speaking, the metre is an unrhymed, non-strophic trochaic tetrametre, characterised by alliteration. Contents, characters, places and themes are explained in the Guide, which also explores myths of origin and the significance of the epic. On his eleven trips to Archangel and North Karelia, Lönnrot met some 70 singers. The Kalevala, now translated, at least in part, into more than 60 languages, has inspired artists the world over (J.R.R. Tolkien was a fan, while Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Hiawatha imitates the metre and style of the Kalevala). The composer Jean Sibelius and the artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela are perhaps the best known Finnish Kalevala artists. And the inspiration continues: for instance, rock musicians and visual artists make use of Kalevala themes, stories and characters in their work. The book includes a list of relevant websites and a select bibliography.

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