Monday, January 15, 2018

Women from the sea (Following folktales around the world 54. - Finland)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Férfiszülte leány
Finn népmesék
Pirkko-Liisa Rausmaa
Európa Könyvkiadó, 1969.

For the first time in the history of Following Folktales, I read a book from the "Népek Meséi" ("Tales of Nations") series. This is an 80-volume series of folktale collections published in Hungarian between the 1950s and the 1980s; it is famous among Hungarian storytellers, and has volumes of tales from various small indigenous ethnicities.
Much like the other books in the series, the Finnish collection is well edited, well selected, and contains a lot of valuable information. Selected by a Finnish folklorist to represent the various story types in the oral tradition, the book has fairy tales, animal tales, humorous tales, etc. Each story comes with end notes that contain tale type numbers, the name of the storyteller, the name of the collector, and other interesting information. The Afterword talks about the history of Finnish folktale collection, the work of Finnish scholars on the tale type index, and the building of the Finnish folktale archives that contain tens of thousands of stories. The book itself definitely does a good job picking out the most interesting ones...
(You can also find various folktale collections edited by Pirkko-Liisa Rausmaa in English)


Akseli Gallen-Kallela: Aino
One of the most beautiful and most intriguing tales of the book is The Beautiful Daughter of the Blue Sea. it is full of mythical elements, and the hero is helped by a shape-shifting white griffin (that he feeds four people to, by the way, but let's not talk about that). I also enjoyed The Prince and the Sea Spirit, in which the prince had several animal helpers that took turns competing with the son of the Sea Spirit in what they were best at. It was like a superhero team-up, but with animals.
I found the tale of The wife that looked like the sister very interesting. In it, a man wanted to marry a woman who looked just like his sister; the courageous girl set out, saved a princess just like herself from the underworld, and brought her back home (and then the brother had to figure out which one was which).
The book also contained some more recent folktales, such as that of the American journey, which was basically an updated version of an older trickster tale. In it, a Finnish man made Americans believe that he made the journey to the New World swimming...


The tale of Snotty Risto was a delightful variant for the story usually known from the Grimm collection as Bearskin. In this one, the poor man could collect great treasure by not wiping his nose or going to the bathroom for three years. Two girls fled from him, but the youngest one, desperately trying to get money to save her family, agreed to kiss him - and then threw up right after. Very realistic for a folktale. On the other hand, there was a version of the tale where a father wants to marry his own daughter that took quite an unexpected turn. When he failed to catch her, the father tore off his own testicles, and threw him around his daughter's neck. She went mute as a result, and it took her a long time to get rid of the testicles around her neck. Talk about being silenced by the patriarchy...
The emperor's daughter in the church was a variant of The Princess in the Shroud - except the exorcism of the monster princess here included beating her up repeatedly. The Triangular house on the seashore was a version of the Devil's three golden hairs, with the addition of a "woman of the sea" that devoured the evil king at the end. I especially loved the Finnish variant of the Extraordinary Helpers, in which each helper added a piece to the flying ship, and thus they built it together.
Akseli Gallen-Kallela:
The forging of the Sampo
There was a variant of Puss in Boots where the hero was a poor girl instead of a poor boy, and also a variant of the Clever Maiden with a clever boy instead of a clever girl (he did not have to be half dressed and half naked, though, go figure). And of course because we are in the Baltic, there was a version of Why the sea is salt (here called The Mill of Hell). The Magic Scythe was a story I already encountered in Iceland, while The great fighter looks for someone stronger than him reminded me of an Ossetian Nart saga.

Where to next?

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