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The Kalevala (Oxford World's Classics) [Paperback]

Elias Lönnrot , Keith Bosley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Oct 2008 Oxford World's Classics
The Kalevala is the great Finnish epic, which like the Iliad and the Odyssey, grew out of a rich oral tradition with prehistoric roots.
During the first millenium of our era, speakers of Uralic languages (those outside the Indo-European group) who had settled in the Baltic region of Karelia, that straddles the border of eastern Finland and north-west Russia, developed an oral poetry that was to last into the nineteenth century.
This poetry provided the basis of the Kalevala. It was assembled in the 1840s by the Finnish scholar Elias Lönnrot, who took `dictation' from the performance of a folk singer, in much the same way as our great collections from the past, from Homeric poems to medieval songs and epics, have probably been set down.
Published in 1849, it played a central role in the march towards Finnish independence and inspired some of Sibelius's greatest works. This new and exciting translation by poet Keith Bosley, prize-winning translator of the anthology Finnish Folk Poetry: Epic, is the first truly to combine liveliness with accuracy in a way which reflects the richness of the original.
ABOUT THE SERIES: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the widest range of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, helpful notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks (9 Oct 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199538867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199538867
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 7.7 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,283 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Thanks to a...clear, accurate version by Francis Magoun, "Kalevala" is accessible to interested readers everywhere...The kaleidoscopic "Kalevala" opens with the creation of the world and the birth of the ancient hero, Vainamoinen, a being of supernatural origins. The work then turns to the relations between two communities: "Kalevala" ("Land of the Kaleva"--the poetic name for Finland), led by Vainamoinen, and "Pohjola" ("Land of the North"), ruled by Louhi, and old woman who can change into an avenging dragon...This...version, expertly...translated by Francis Magoun and recently issued by Harvard University Press, is probably the best translation readily available in English today. -- Donald V. Mehus and Thomas J. Martin "Western Viking" (04/13/2001)

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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No Kalevala, no Middle-earth? 26 Feb 2005
Other reviews highlight many of the Kalevala's intrinsic qualities. This epic should be well-known among Tolkien's fans, too. In his published letters, handily indexed in the paperback edition, may be found statements that amount to this: No Kalevala, no legendarium of Middle-earth! - - or at least, Tolkien's mythology would have been markedly different. He specifically related the Kalevala's story of Kullervo and his own cycle of Turin legends. Old Vainamoinen, the singing wizard, has affinities with Gandalf and Tom Bombadil. The hag Louhi's theft of the sun and moon, which plunges Kaleva-land into darkness, suggests Tolkien's myth of Melkor's destruction of the two Lamps. A more homely example of the importance of things Finnish for Tolkien has to do with his naming one of the persons in The Father Christmas Letters: a bear is named Karhu (which is Finnish for bear, as Bosley states in one of the notes to The Kalevala). And the Finnish language was the chief inspiration for the Elvish language Quenya. Awareness of Tolkien's recognized indebtedness to medieval English and Germanic legends - Beowulf, Siegfried, etc. -- must be supplemented by a good acquaintance with the Kalevala. A superb "Kalevala" for younger readers is Babette Deutsch's Heroes of the Kalevala.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Finnish Epic 19 Nov 2007
The Kalevala is the result of Elias Lönnrot collecting and commiting to paper the oral traditions of the Finnish people to produce an epic tale.
This translation has captured the poetic delivery of the original Finnish as perfectly as these two opposing languages could.
The poetry weaves the tales of Väinämöinen, an old seer and the younger Joukahainen who wishes to challenge him. This angers Väinämöinen who chants him deep into a swamp, a meadow and a heath!! To get himself out of trouble Joukahainen offers the old seer his sister Aino as a bride. Väinämöinen thinking he has been offered a house keeper accepts. Aino is quite taken with being his bride but Väinämöinen has other ideas and heads North to woo the maiden of the North. He can marry her if he forges a Sampo, which is a magical machine that churns out salt, flour and money! He can't do that but he knows a man who can, his good friend Ilmarinen the blacksmith. He has to trick Ilmarinen into going North but he makes the Sampo. Then the marriage requires another task and so the maiden remains unmarried.

Meanwhile, another character Lemminkäinen decides to go North and try his luck winning the maiden. He is given tasks in order to win her hand, capturing the elk of Hiisi and the swan from the river of Tuonela. The latter task nearly kills him and he gives up.

Väinämöinen is now making himself a boat to head back up North but he runs out of spells so he has to go and find Vipunen, a giant who knows all the spells. He gets his spells, finishes his boat and heads North but he is seen by the sister of the blacksmith and the blacksmith rides like the wind on his horse and catches up with him.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great epics that needs more than a few words 17 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
brought up with arthur and the Iliad i cam late to finnish mythology but of this great poem i say it stands alongside nay other literature a stirring story and beautiful song
this is a fine modern translation and although the story drags a bit on cantos 27-29 for my liking
over all a fantastic tale that puts its imitator tolkien in the shade
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4.0 out of 5 stars Our national epos 10 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It has so much meaning for me, We used to watch movies about Kalevala when I was at school and I think every Finn and anyone who would like to know us should read this. How these stories were collected in the first place, the harshness of the life in impossible weather conditions, they are all reasons to read the book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.4 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
63 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Shamanic Epic of the North 15 Oct 2002
By Zekeriyah - Published on
The Kalevala is one of the greatest (and yet largely unknown) epic poems of all times. Although relatively young when compared to the works of Homer and so forth, this Finnish epic draws deep into Finland's Shamanic heritage and is indeed based off these old myths and legends. It concerns the adventures of Vainamoinen the wise Shaman, his companion Ilmarinen the smith and the bold, young Lemminkainen. Those who have studied Shamanism will already see a Shamanic aspect in the association between Vainamoien and Ilmarinen, for in many cultures smiths and Shamans are linked together. There are many more Shamanic archetypes and beliefs found throughout this book, such as a bear sacrifice which is startlingly similar to that observed amongst the Ainu and Lapps of recent times. This book, perhaps the only real direct source of Finnish mythology and religion, explores an oft neglected culture. After all, any school child can tell you of the myths of the Greeks, Romans or Germanic peoples, yet the mythology and heroes of Finland have remained largely unknown. A real pity as this epic is filled with deciet, trechery and heroism which easily could stand beside the works of Homer, Virgil or Valmiki. This translation, perhaps the best available, both for the price and in terms of being generally accessable, is certainly worth owning. Whether you are interested in mythology, history, anthropology, Finland or just like a good story, there is bound to be something in this book which appeals to you.
43 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Kalevala sings myriad Finnish tales to heart and mind. 6 Sep 1999
By Michelle Weiss - Published on
Elias Lonnrot's noble achievement, "The Kalevala," sings myriad Finnish tales to a reader's heart and mind.
The formidable epic poem weaves music, magic, and lusty suprahuman heroes traditional to Finland, and derives from Lonnrot's artistic assembly of oral poetry.
In reading this classic, one careers through a unique culture and mythology on horse-drawn sledges and hand-crafted vessels, meeting such fantastical figures as the ever-wiseman -- and ever-bachelor -- Vainamoinen and the brawny mistress of Northland, Louhi.
Comprising fifty cantos, "The Kalevala" requires unfettered time, discerning ear, and adventurous spirit to complete. Tongue-tickling alliteration and intraline rhymes help speed the journey. And anyone who has read and enjoyed Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" will appreciate Lonnrot's compilation, as Longfellow modeled his work in part on "The Kalevala."
Perhaps the farfetched feats and unlikely events intrinsic to this mythological mosaic seem irrelevant to modern materialism and daily grind, but heeding the beck of such diversion will supply one not only with practical wisdom but also with the virtue of its purpose: pleasure, poetry, and historical preservation.
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Finnish Illiad 30 Aug 2002
By Kellyannl - Published on
This sister to the Norse Sagas is the masterwork of Finnish mythology.
In it we follow the three main heroes - the elderly Vainamoinen, wise in everything except love; his brother Ilmarinen, the presumably middle-aged master smith; and Lemminkainen, the reckless young lothario who causes his wife and mother endless headaches but who we like enough anyway that we worry about him when he gets into trouble.
In some ways, it's a product of it's time. This was written in a time when women had no say in who they married; they had no recourse if their husbands were abusive; and they were virtually their mother-in-law's slaves until their younger brother-in-laws or sons got married and they weren't the low women on the totem pole anymore. Althoug Aino's story offers a message about this system, it's pretty much accepted. This is what life was really like at the time these stories were sung.
In other ways, though, it's surprisingly modern. Although the results usually aren't so serious, we've almost all been taken down a peg by an elder like Joukahainen at some point in our lives when we've needed it. I would imagine that many widowers - and widows, for that matter - can relate to Ilmarinen's sense of loss when he loses his wife.
And then there's Kullervo. He wins the all-time teen angst award hands down. It's fascinating how his cycle deals with a question psychologists have grappled with for centuries - are kids taught to be good, or are they just born good or bad? He's a danger to society, yes - but he may also never have had a chance. No matter what you feel about what he does, the scene where he wanders pitifully among his family asking if anyone would cry if he died until he gets what he needs to hear from his mother, can move you to tears. Just read the headlines about the latest school shooting. There really are kids almost this messed up out there.
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finnish heroes create world, then get into hi-jinx 24 Nov 2005
By Robert S. Newman - Published on
Back in 1998, I went to a village near Oxford, UK to visit friends and watch the World Cup on the BBC. I drank a lot of beer and also bought THE KALEVALA in one of the big, old bookstores in town. I finally got around to reading it recently. I'd been put off for seven years, thinking it would be a daunting task that I nevertheless "ought to" undertake. No, not at all, this is a most readable translation with modern fillips, yet perhaps more faithful to the original than the super-romantic, Victorian longwindedness that I admit I expected.

As part of the world's treasure hoard of mythology, this ancient Finnish epic holds its own with any. It resembles others in that it explains the birth of the world, the creation of the ur-hero Vainamoinen, and the solution of many problems---finding fire, how to sow fields, how to raise crops, what are ecologically sound practices, the origin of beer, and how a bride should behave. The human characters are intimately tied to the natural world all around them: just as in mythology everywhere, animals, birds and trees speak, magical transformations occur on many a page, and the heroes escape defeat by magic more often than by violence. The number of themes that can be analyzed psychologically or probed for cultural `inner meanings" is great. For example, the third chapter presents youth's eternal confrontation with the older generation. Joukahainen, a youth, challenges old Vainamoinen, to a singing match. He loses and has to pay up in the form of his sister. The sister drowns herself rather than marry an old man., but she becomes a fish. Vainamoinen tries to catch the fish. His mother's spirit tells him to look for another---perhaps a very early version of the phrase "there are many fish in the sea" ! The young man decides to avenge his sister and shoot Vainamoinen with an arrow, but kills Vainamoinen's horse instead. The old hero falls into the sea and is swept away, but is saved by an eagle for whom he'd done a favor once. And so it goes.

Though THE KALEVALA runs to 666 pages, the number of characters is surprisingly small. The reader has no problems keeping track of the main actors. The repetitive style owes to the fact that this ancient epic was originally sung. Many stories are grouped in units of three---three things, three times, three answers, three days. I got into the swing of it at times, thinking "I read one day, I read two, and soon I read a third." Finnish epics don't have modern plots or character development. I think you read this because you are curious, because you enjoy the creativeness of the human imagination throughout time, because you are interested in mythology and beautiful, ancient things. You may enjoy, as I did, such things as the `complaint of a boat', a musical instrument made of fish bones, a bee flying over nine seas to bring back a rare ointment to save the hero [just like Hanuman in the Ramayana], hunting a Demon's elk, an expedition to steal a 'horn of plenty', and good sayings that lie like hidden gems amongst the pages: "Strange food goes down the wrong way." or "Seldom is a serf cherished, a daughter-in-law never." Another plus is that I was able to connect with Sibelius' music, I learned, for example, what the Swan of Tuonela is. In sum, while epics may not be everybody's cup of tea, this wonderful translation and lively cycle of stories can hold your interest on long winter nights. "A hundred tried to read it, but not one made it through." Definitely untrue in this case.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finland's Epic 13 Nov 2009
By Eric S. Kim - Published on
It seems that almost every country in the world has its own epic tale that's been told for many centuries. In Greece, there's The Iliad & The Odyssey. In India, there's The Ramayana. In England, there's King Arthur. And finally, in Finland, there's The Kalevala. A majority of Earth's population have either heard of or read King Arthur, The Iliad, and The Odyssey. The Ramayana and The Kalevala have not been achieving the same fame the others have had for many years. There should never be any neglect for these classic works. The Kalevala, in particular, may not be as grand as The Odyssey, but the imaginative fantasy that comes with it is equally enthralling. The entire book is a compilation of Finnish mythology and Karelian folklore. Elias Lonnrot is the official "author," though these works are not his own.

In the Kalevala, there are mythic gods and creatures (the kind that you would find in other national epics). The central character is Vainamoinen, an old man who becomes a driving force for many of the stories that are featured here. Personally, I'm not sure if he's supposed to be either a god or a godlike being, but maybe I should look deeper into that. Many other characters like Joukahainen, Lemminkainen, Ahti, and Kullervo have adventures of their own. All of them have diverse themes, and many of the characters have different motives. I won't spoil anything, but I will say that a few of these chapters are not for the squeamish.

If you're expecting some extravagant prose in the Kalevala, you'll be surprised that the poetic writing is very straightforward, and never overly complex. There are only a few Shakespearean sentences here and there. If there ever is complicated writing that's located in this book, then the incomplete sentences in almost every stanza should be counted. There are many phrases that feel as if they should end with a period, but many of them go on to the next stanza without an actual period to stand in between them. This makes it a bit complicated when being read through, but overall, it doesn't detract from the fine fantasy that these tales convey.

As in influential part of Finnish Independence, The Kalevala is certainly something to look forward to. It moves along as an actual epic, and it gives an insight on Finnish mythology and folklore. One might be put off by its uncomplicated writing (though it may be the translator's fault), but as a whole, it should be as endearing as The Odyssey. I'm hoping that it'll gain worldwide recognition sometime in the future.

Grade: A+
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