K.A. Laity’s Unikirja: Dream Book

I want to take a short break from the subject of our recent trip to tell you about a special book that I’m very excited to learn is now published and available: Unikirja: Dream Book. Author Kate A. Laity has Finnish roots, owns several kanteles which she plays too and has a blog Wombat’s World.

Here’s a most intriguing description of Unikirja:

The schemes of witches and sages and giants. Doomed marriages and supernatural bargains. The magic of music, of the sauna, of family. A fish who’s a girl, a girl who’s a wolf. The creation of the world. Author K. A. Laity weaves timeless magic in UNIKIRJA. Tales from the KALEVALA and KANTELETAR, the ancient myths and folktales of Finland, receive new life and meaning in these imaginative retellings. Mixing the realistic with the fantastic, the mythic with the modern, the dream-tales of UNIKIRJA reinterpret the beauty of the original, time-honored Finnish stories for contemporary readers.

Some readers may remember my post about Kate’s amazing trip to Finland’s rock art site in Astuvansalmi. The wonderful image on the cover of Unikirja looks like it may be from there!

To assist readers unfamiliar with Finnish myths and folklore, Kate has written a bit of a background about the The Kalevala and The Kanteletar as well as a couple of tastes or excerpts: Vipunen and Palakainen.

Naturally this book is of special interest for me so I shall be ordering it right away! Congratulations, Kate!

Easter weekend


spring, rye grass, pussy willows, birch twigs, tissue paper flowers
virpovitsa whisking, children with cowbells
decorated eggs, egg hunt, dancing sun
mämmi porridge, flying witches, begging children

All of the above are a curious blend of Eastern and Western traditions assimilated into the Finnish Easter (expired link, removed).

This year we will miss the annual Easter egg hunt around our house with our granddaughters. Hauskaa Pääsiäistä, Joyeuses Pâques, Frohes Ostern, Happy Easter! Enjoy the long weekend, dear readers.

Easter 2008
Easter 2007
Easter 2006
Easter 2005

Women’s Month interviews

this morning

Writer and blogger-friend Kate A. Laity of Wombat’s World is doing an inspiring series of interviews of women:

I’ve decided to use this month — Women’s History Month, of course — to do a simple yet wonderful thing: celebrate the fabulous women I know. I hope this makes us all aware of the web of amazing women we have around us. Women don’t tend to be good about tooting their own horns, but one thing I’ve learned from history is that small efforts by individuals can change the course of the world even when they don’t intend to do so.

Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, Kate posted an interview of me – what an honour to be included amongst so many talented and strong women including Kate herself! Please do read at least some of the other interviews so far, found under the label: ‘women’.

In the interview I mentioned that I could not remember exactly how Kate and I first met, other than our Finnish roots that drew us together. This morning in preparing this post, I looked up in my archives an article about Wombat’s World and Kate’s fabulous trip to a rock art site in Finland. There was the answer… please go read it and visit the link to her photos. Her new book Unikirja, inspired by the Kalevala, Kanteletar, and other Finnish myths and legends, is coming out soon and I want it!

Kiitos paljon, Kate!

feast of Stephen


Good King Wenceslas looked out
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about
Deep and crisp and even

The words to the carol “Good King Wenceslas” were written by John Mason Neale and published in 1853, the music originates in Finland 300 years earlier. This Christmas carol is unusual as there is no reference in the lyrics to the nativity. Good King Wenceslas was the king of Bohemia in the 10th century. Good King Wenceslas was a Catholic and was martyred following his assassination by his brother Boleslaw and his supporters, his Saint’s Day is September 28th, and he is the Patron Saint of the Czech Republic. St. Stephen’s feast day was celebrated on 26th December which is why this song is sung as a Christmas carol. (From carols.org.uk)

A sunny bright, Christmas Day morning was followed by a cloudy, warmer afternoon with some thawing of our huge layers of snow. Today is Boxing Day as we call it in Canada, and Tapanipäivä in Finland, and it is snowing AGAIN! This inspired our girls (daughters and granddaughters) to sing this carol this morning before Anita and Richard departed for their long drive home.

For all of us this Christmas, Anita had made gorgeous booklets of Christmas carols, with snippets of information about them along with photos of her nieces and winter scenes from around her home near Kamloops. So it was that I learned that the music for this carol originated in Finland 300 years earlier! I could not find the composer’s name through a web search.


Happy Feast of Stephen to all of you! I hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas or other feast and continue to bask in the warmth of the holidays! We have lots of delicious leftovers to feast on for days, with turkey soup and ham and pea soup to follow in the days ahead.

Boxing Day 2007
Boxing Day 2006
Boxing Day 2005
(Photos taken in our backyard on Christmas Eve day.)

Looking back: Joulupukki


Isn’t it fascinating how the Santa Claus figure has evolved in different countries? In Finland, the jolly fellow is called ‘Joulupukki’ and his home is on Korvatunturi Mountain, in Finnish Lapland. (Some links have since died, sorry.)

Recently, I read a fascinating article concerning the possible source of the name Joulupukki, which means literally ‘Jule goat’. Eventually he evolved into the American style Santa, who, surprise! was designed by the son of Finnish emigrant, Haddon Sudblom. Enjoy the reads, and have fun getting ready for Christmas!

UPDATE Dec.23rd, 2007 – Just read this in our weekend paper: Never mind the North Pole: Santa’s in Lapland, by Polish student Grzegorz Wieclaw.

Tove Jansson biography

Way back in February of 2005, I wrote about trolls and my love of folk legends, myths and fairy tales especially anything Finnish. In that context came up the name of internationally well-known Tove Jansson and her Moomintrolls. There were some interesting conversations in the comments that I’ve enjoyed rereading just now.

Recently, Finland’s biggest newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat (in English) published an interesting article, Dedicating 25 years to Tove Jansson.

It is about Jansson’s biographer Boel Westin and how her relationship to the author began first as a child reader, then as researcher for her doctoral thesis in 1988 when she met and became friends with Jansson. Westin went on to do an extensive biography, “Ord, liv, bild” (“Word, Life, Image”) now appearing in Sweden and in Finland. The book, which is a rich and tantalising depiction of both Jansson and the cultural history of Finland, will appear next year translated into Finnish by Jaana Nikula. If you are a fan of Tove Jansson’s books, do read the article which gives us some interesting perspectives on Jansson and her biographer.

I’m really looking forward to that Finnish translation and hope that an English one will soon come out as well.

It’s been fascinating for me to have learned over time how much academic interest Tove Jansson has attracted. For example, when I met author, college instructor and blogger Kate Laity of Wombat’s World, I was surprised to find out that she has also studied Tove Jansson and just recently attended a conference on her.

Addendum May 21.07: Dem, comic strip artist extraordinaire at the Guild of Ghostwriters has shared, in the comments below, a fabulous link to the Drawn & Quarterly site’s previews of their recently published book of Jansson’s comic strips. Enjoy! Until Dem told me, I didn’t know Drawn & Quarterly is Canadian!! And they even have a blog. Thanks, Dem!

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip – Book One, of a series, has now been added to my shopping list, thanks to this reminder.

May Eve and Day


This April 30th I’m once again reminded by Helsingin Sanomat that today and tomorrow are Vappu or May Eve and May Day, “one of Finland’s most boisterous (and liquid) annual festivals”. May Day in Finland is a national holiday, a kind of Finnish “Mardi Gras meets the Rite of Spring”, with some historical political overtones and a strong youth and student flavouring. And here’s this droll offering: For those who do not know what this is all about and have not read this article at least six times already (3.5.2000).

Having written about this popular Scandinavian holiday, with its variants elsewhere, for the past three years, I’ve run out of anything new to say, a symptom peculiar to bloggers of a certain vintage, it seems. Anyway, my post of last year may interest newer readers with its links, including to some traditional Vappu treats. I’m struck by the photos of lilacs and lily of the valley from my garden last year. This year’s colder winter and spring means they are only just in bud. Not to complain, it sometimes snows on May Day in Finland!

To all my dear readers, I heartily wish a Happy May Day, Hauskaa Vappua, Happy Walpurgisnacht, Bonne Fête du Muguet! Pick a few newly greened birch branches as an offering to Spring.

Kalevala and Vietnam


I know that the Finnish national epic the Kalevala is read around the world, translated as it is into 61 languages. So I’ve been quite intrigued to read a fascinating story about two Vietnamese women and their involvement with the Kalevala and how it inspired a project to compile a Vietnamese national epic with help from a Finnish foundation. Here are some excerpts:

The home of artist Dang Thu Huong in Hanoi is an austere one-room apartment with nothing unnecessary in it. The eye rapidly focuses on paintings leaning against a wall. They depict Finnish barns and national costumes. Huong has made illustrations for the Kanteletar, the companion work to the national epic poem, the Kalevala, which has been translated into Vietnamese by Bui Viet Hoa. The next effort of the women is to compile and illustrate Vietnam’s first national epic by the end of next year. The two are getting support from the Juminkeko Foundation, which specialises in the Kalevala. It has received development cooperation funding for the project from the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Lönnrot wrote the Kalevala based on folk poetry from the oral tradition that he compiled during travels in Russian Karelia in the 19th century. Hoa translated the epic into Vietnamese in 1994. [Bui Viet Hoa ] has been referred to as “Vietnam’s Elias Lönnrot”. Lönnrot wrote the Kalevala based on folk poetry from the oral tradition that he compiled during travels in Russian Karelia in the 19th century. Hoa translated the epic into Vietnamese in 1994.

Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups with dozens of oral miniature epics. Hoa uses them as a basis for her own work, which is to unite the nation. The most challenging job is to compile a unified story out of very many different epics. Hoa solves the problem by dividing the book into two parts – the world of myths, and the world of heroes. Like the Kalevala, the Vietnamese myths describe the origin of the world. In both epics, everything begins with a bird’s egg. In Hoa’s book, there is a separate story about how water-buffalo and rice came into being.

Like Lönnrot, Hoa has travelled among the people to collect her stories. Accompanying her was the third worker in the project, Hoa’s husband, linguistic researcher Vo Xuan Que. The two have gone into Vietnamese villages and asked men and women of different ages to sing for them.

(Photo from Juminkeko archives)
Related links:
the Kalevala
Epics of the world
Juminkeko Foundation
about the word “Juminkeko”

UPDATE March 14th: Bill’s comment below has prompted me to do another search for an online English translation of the Kalevala. The Finnish Literature Society did have a full translation on their site three years ago when I’d first mentioned the Kalevala on this blog, but now offers only the original Finnish, and a synopsis in English.

Checking out Bill’s leads, I see that Wikipedia has a very good page on the Kalevala, including a short synopsis as well, and links to translations. The translations are all by John Martin Crawford and I am not impressed with this version.

However, there are many translations in print. After some research last year, I found and bought this translation by Eino Friberg. It is excellent, capturing the wonderful oral quality of the Finnish original. I recommend it highly to any interested readers.

On a side note, the Wikipedia entry excites me because of the illustrations of some of the famous paintings based on the Kalevala by my favourite Finnish artist of the late 19th-early 20th century Akseli Gallen-Kallela. But there’s another subject for a very long blog post one day!

wombat’s world

A rock painting at Astuvansalmi, Finland. Photo by Kate Laity (enhanced by me to bring out detail)

As you know, I’m intrigued by Finnish connections. A while back, through the wonders of Technorati, I checked out a link back to my blog from a post called Touching Ancient Finland.

The writer was going to Finland to see the Astuvansalmi rock paintings! I learned Wombat’s World is the “blog for medievalist K. A. Laity, author of the novel Pelzmantel: A Medieval Tale, who is “Currently working on Unikirja, a collection of short stories based on the Kalevala, Kanteletar, and other Finnish myths and legends”.

Well, that piqued my attention, so I delved a little deeper and learned that American Kate Laity has Finnish roots. I began to follow her blog for reports on her trip: Terve from Helsinki and Finland recap. Many of the sights she visited were familiar to me, but not the rock paintings in real life, so these excited me the most.

Impatient to see some of her photos, though I knew Kate Laity was busy with a new teaching post this fall, I emailed her to ask if she would be posting any of them. Kate and I have enjoyed some nice “conversations”, both being keen about our Finnish connections. Her photos of the boat trip to see the Asuvansalmi rock paintings are now up and I’ve enjoyed browsing through them several times, reaffirming my desire to make that journey myself! She kindly sent me an essay ‘on traveling in search of ancient Finland’ that is being published in New World Finn. Here are a couple of excerpts:

For the past couple years, I have been at work on a collection of stories influenced by The Kalevala, the ancient mythology of Finland. At the back of my mind, however, was a big worry. How could I write about ancient Finland, when I had never been there? […] How then to get a sense of this lost past? Naturally enough, a visit to modern Finland would be a good place to start. I was fortunate that the generous folks at the Finlandia Foundation found my journey a worthwhile exploration to fund. Their gift allowed me to go in search of the world of Finnish mythology this past August.

While I would very much enjoy my visit to the National Museum’s exhibit on ancient life in Finland, and I was thrilled to find Kivikäs’ book at the Academic Bookstore in Helsinki, the memory of the visit to the rock paintings has stayed vividly in my mind. It has sent me back to my stories with a new zeal for authenticity, and it has helped me to reshape some of the narratives to better reflect that glimpse of the ancient past. It may be a world lost to us now, but I hope my stories–buoyed by my taste of ancient Finland–can give readers a window on that distant time.

I’m so happy to have met Kate and I’m looking forward to the completion and publication of her Unikirja (a Finnish word meaning dreambook) and must find her novel Pelzmantel: A Medieval Tale.

By the way, Kate refers to Kivikäs’ book, which I also own and wrote about a while ago.

P.S. Off the subject a bit, something else I learned at Wombat’s World is about a Finnish/Chinese movie Jade Warrior. According to the gorgeous website, Jade Warrior combines kung fu with the Kalevala, ancient China and modern Finland. It was shown at the recent Toronto Film Festival (it did not get a good review) but does not appear to be at the currently running Vancouver International Film Festival, so the chance that I would ever get to see it seems small.

Toronto’s Lord of the Rings

lotrwallpaper_thumb.jpgThe much-anticipated musical theatre version of The Lord of the Rings made its formal début in a gala première in Toronto on Thursday evening, and the reactions of the audience suggested that the massive production would not be leaving town very soon.

From the Finnish point of view Toronto’s The Lord of the Rings production is particularly interesting, with its strong Karelian-tinged songs composed by the Finnish folk group Värttinä.

“Just as in Tolkien’s original work, music has a greater role in the stage adaption than it had in Peter Jackson’s highly successful film trilogy. The “Finnish connection” is not altogether a coincidence: Tolkien often referred to his own personal debt to the myths of the Finnish national epic Kalevala.” (from Helsingin Sanomat International*)

I’ve been waiting to hear more about this since first reading about the Finnish connection, and then learning that the debut would be in Toronto. Well, it has received mixed reviews in both the CBC* and the Globe and Mail*. I wonder if the expectations might be too high after the films, even the book.

Still, I wish I was closer to Toronto to go see this production. And that reminds me, I still haven’t seen all of the films and I must reread the book after 20 years or so. Ah time, time…

ADDENDUM March 28th: Here’s more from Helsingin Sanomat*: “Finger of fate pointed Lord of the Rings music towards Finland; Värttinä discovered largely by chance to compose the music for Toronto production”.

* Updated 27.08.2015 – expired links removed