Michael Haase's Reviews > The Kalevala

The Kalevala by Elias Lönnrot
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The Kalevala is without a doubt the most insanely hilarious and absurd epic poem or collection of epic poems I've ever read. It's really quite difficult to put to word just how ridiculous the story of The Kalevala truly is. In this book, you'll find a man peeling a rock and crafting a boat out of yarn, a man being born on top of a pile of burning charcoal with a pair of miniature smithing tools in each hand, a single bee going on a vast journey to collect special honey to be used as healing ointment for a man that was sliced in pieces and then sewn back together again, two old guys calmly chatting by the stove about the origin of metal while one of them is spewing blood everywhere from his knee, and the most amazing part of all, instead of people fighting each other with swords and spears they have epic rap battles! These are just a few things that happen in the text! Honestly, I've never encountered an epic with as many crazy surprises as this. Each chapter I was just waiting to see what sort of madness would occur next.

The characters are also more appealing and ironically more realistic than those of other epics. They have an emotional capacity and vulnerability that sets them apart from other epic heroes, especially Scandinavian heroes.

Besides the outlandish things going on in the plot, I was rather confused by the composition. The text seems disjointed when you look at the religious underlining. I saw the Christian god as well as Judas being mentioned alongside Thor, and it goes without saying that neither of those two figures and their respective mythologies fit in with The Kalevala's origin story for the universe.

The reason I'm giving The Kalevala only three stars is because despite the immensely amusing narrative, the book becomes very tedious and boring at times, as well as overly repetitive with its style. I haven't read the Finnish text, so I don't understand the original rhythm and rhyme scheme of it, but the Oxford version displays a manner of reiterating phrases and strophes with a few word variations, in a melodic fashion. This gets weary after a while, as the reader must wade through the same texts over and over again.

There is also a weird manner in which everything is done in pairs of three, like Goldilocks with the three bears. If a man is wounded he visits three houses, when a person is facing trials to win a maiden's hand he must face three trials, etc. etc. Weirdly enough, Goldilocks is even mentioned in the Oxford edition, though they probably don't say Goldilocks in the Finnish version.

Then there is the incredibly boring 100+ page passage about marital rites and obligations, which is coincidentally followed by the most entertaining part of the book imo.

Likewise, there is also a large portion about a character named Kullervo which I just didn't care for. I found him an unattractive character and the passage the most the resembling to other Germanic epics about feuds and revenge. It doesn't fit in with the rest of the story and seems sort of like a digression.

Lastly, I cannot reconcile myself with the fact that the original authors of these poems tacitly endorse kidnapping, theft, rape, and wrath-induced murder. Is the reader supposed to side with Väinämöinen and his gang after they've just stolen the livelihood of the northern folk? What was the purpose of including all those bride-kidnapping scenes?

Don't let yourself be intimidated by the size of the book. It reads fast, especially if you skip all the repeated phrases and superfluous details. It's entertaining, full of surprises, and contains a cast of goofy characters, but also has countless boring passages as well.
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Reading Progress

November 2, 2017 – Started Reading
November 2, 2017 – Shelved
November 4, 2017 – Finished Reading

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