I was inspired by an ancient poem. The result? Snowmagic, a historical fantasy/folklore/adventure story.
I am part Finnish and to the Finns, there is but one poem, their national treasure, the Kalevala, is it. Kalevala means The Land of Heroes. It isn’t really so much a poem as a written song, or songs. The Finns had a long history of singing folksongs. Long, complicated tales sung in the dark winter months around a firelit inglenook to the villagers by their resident bard, or storysinger. These tales were passed down from singer to singer.
In the 1820’s, a Finnish doctor, botanist and linguist Elias Lonrot, collected the oral poetry he heard on his travels throughout Finland. He painstakingly transcribed the songs and edited them into a single, albeit slightly disjointed story. Some say he added poetry of his own to the work, others question that. The end result, in any case, was a work of historical and literary significance.
These ancient stories were passed down from singer to singer. There are indications that these tales could harken back to the paleolithic. Ancient bear rituals hinted at in The Kalevala are similar to those practiced by ancient peoples in Siberia, northern Japan and by Native cultures in N. America suggesting they travelled over the ice bridge into the new world. These songs might well be some of the oldest history we have. Christianity and its eradication of pagan literature and traditions came somewhat late to Finland/Lapland/Estonia and so more of the stories survived there than did in other parts of the world where the Christian zeal wiped the world clean of its historically valuable pagan roots.
The Finns are terribly proud of their epic put forward by Lonrot. This pride helped to bond the land of many languages into one national identity and may have been influential in Finland’s independence from Russia in 1917. Today, people’s names, companies, brands, streets and towns bear the names of heroes of the epic. On February 28th it is Kalevala Day in Finland, a national holiday. It is the day on which Lonrot published his collection. But he is only the collector. The real authors go unsung. Those long-memoried singers who memorized these long poems and taught them to younger singers, generation after generation are honored only obliquely.
The Kalevala inspired Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha was written in the same metre as the Finnish epic. Finnish composer Jean Sibelius drew many of his classical works from The Kalevala. Even modern rock bands in Finland still draw inspiration from their ancient epic.
And so did I. My father was Finnish and spoke so often of the stories that I studied the epic. From the first read, I knew I wanted to turn the poem into a novel. Over the years the story spoke to me, once this way and later that way. The story writhed like a snake in my mind. Like the different areas in Lonrot’s travels where the poem singers sang songs he hadn’t heard before about the familiar characters he heard stories of in other villages, I used the characters and created my own story. Instead of making the strong woman the evil witch and the brutish youth the hero, I reversed these archetypes and explored both the dark and light sides of these resilient characters. To honor my father, I used my birth name for this book. I hope you find the story well told. And I hope it inspires you to read the original poem.
p.s. I also designed the covers. Pretty, eh?
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