• Clive Gilson

Forest Lands

Updated: Dec 14, 2019

This volume of tales from the north concentrates on Finland. Many of these stories have their roots in the folklore of Finnish paganism, and they have many features shared with fellow Finnic Estonian mythology and other Uralic fables. Finnish folklore also shares some similarities with neighbouring Baltic, Slavic and to a lesser extent, Norse mythologies.

Much of Finnish mythology survived within an oral tradition of mythical poem-singing and folklore well into the 19th century. One of my favourite aspects of Finnish mythology is the wonderful sense of darkness at its heart.

Folk poetry collection trips, started in the 19th century, resulted in Finland having one of the world's largest folk poetry archives, a card index of about 2.2 million recorded works. The Finnish Literature Society sponsored among others ten trips by Elias Lönnrot, who edited the poems he and others had collected.

As for Finland, the country was reputedly inhabited from the end of the last ice age ended, with the first settlers leaving behind artefacts that share characteristics with those found in Estonia, Russia, and Norway. The earliest people were hunter-gatherers, using stone tools.

The arrival of the Corded Ware culture in southern coastal Finland between 3000 and 2500 BCE may have coincided with the start of agriculture, while the Bronze Age and Iron Age were characterised by extensive contacts with other cultures in the Fennoscandian and Baltic regions.

From the late 13th century, Finland gradually became an integral part of Sweden through the Northern Crusades and the Swedish part-colonisation of coastal Finland, a legacy reflected in the prevalence of the Swedish language.

In 1809, Finland was incorporated into the Russian Empire as the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland. In 1906, Finland became the first European state to grant all adult citizens the right to vote, and the first in the world to give all adult citizens the right to run for public office.

Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, Finland declared itself independent. In 1918, the fledgling state was divided by civil war, with the Bolshevik-leaning Red Guard, supported by Soviet Russia, fighting the White Guard, supported by the German Empire. After a brief attempt to establish a kingdom, the country became a republic. In World War II, Finland lost parts of Karelia, Salla, Kuusamo and Petsamo to the Soviet Union.

Written Finnish could be said to have existed since Mikael Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish during the Protestant Reformation, but few notable works of literature were written until the nineteenth century and the beginning of a Finnish national Romantic Movement. As mentioned above, this prompted Elias Lönnrot to collect Finnish and Karelian folk poetry and arrange and publish them as the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. The era saw a rise of poets and novelists who wrote in Finnish, notably Aleksis Kivi and Eino Leino. Many writers of the national awakening wrote in Swedish, such as the national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg and Zachris Topelius, featured in this collection.

These stories come from collectors such as Andrew Lang and his Coloured Fairy Books, the elusive R. Eivind’s Finnish Legends for English Children and Zacharias Topelius and The Birch and the Star, and Other Stories. Most derive from legendary cycles of the nineteenth century, such as the Song of the Kalevala and other early collections such as the Lapplandische Märchen. As ever, my voyage of discovery through these stories was a delight.

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