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The Kalevala

Elias Lönnrot


The Kalevala is a Finnish epic poem, which tells of the creation of the world and how the heroes that inhabit it came to be, and the legends of their conflicts and adventures. Spread out over fifty cantos, we hear how existence was created from the egg of a duck, how the forests were created from the chips of a world-tree felled by an ancient wizard, how the mighty Sampo—a multicolored mill of plenty—was created and later stolen, how the nine dread diseases came to be, and many more such stories.

The tales contained here are formed from Finland’s oral history. The author, Elias Lönnrot, was a Finnish doctor who was fascinated with his country’s stories, so between the 1820s and 1850s he embarked on a series of expeditions to the countryside of Finland and the surrounding area to collect and transcribe the folk stories told by local people. These tales were gradually collected into several volumes, the final of which is this “new” Kalevala. Lönnrot collected many different variants of each story, then edited each down into a cohesive whole when composing the new verse. The distinctive Kalevala-meter that was a common feature of all the original oral stories was kept during the process, and Crawford used the same with this English translation.

Lönnrot’s work proved extremely influential in Finland, and the national pride it imbued has been cited as a factor in the later Finnish independence movement. The Kalevala was also a source of inspiration for later authors of the twentieth century. Tolkien reused some of the themes and characters for the basis of his fictional universe (in particular The Silmarillion), the Kalevala-meter was used in Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha, and even Donald Duck has quested—as the Kalevala heroes did—for the legendary Sampo.

This edition was translated by John Martin Crawford in the late nineteenth century, and includes his introduction discussing some of the themes, characters, and settings.

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