I’m taking the title of this blog from the title of a book I’m re-reading: The Devil’s Horse: Tales from the Kalevala by Keith Bosley. Published in the 1960s and intended to be a children’s book, it’s a translation and re-telling in prose form of the Finnish epic poem called The Kalevala. This epic poem is actually a compilation of folk songs and oral tales gathered from the country people of rural Finland during the 19th century.
Since I’m not quite proficient enough in Finnish (yet!) to read the original Kalevala, I have to settle for English translations. This children’s book by Bosley was my first introduction to the world of Finnish folk tales and mythology. Bosley’s witty prose and often snarky dialogue add a touch of humor to this translation of ancient tales of heroes, evil witches, the land of the dead, and other mythological adventures.
Now, this actually does pertain to my writing habits, not just my reading habits. I’ve always been very inspired by ancient tales, mythology, and folk songs so old that no one knows when they were written or by whom. The fantasy trilogy I’m currently writing draws very strongly from The Kalevala. It’s not a re-telling of any of the stories found in The Kalevala; but in my novels, just like in The Kalevala, the reader will encounter a magic kantele or two, characters with names like Iku-Turso, and maybe even the ever-mysterious Sampo. And there’s even a fiery horse–the “devil’s horse” of the title.
The Kalevala still influences modern Finnish life, especially in the areas of art and music. In my story, some of the characters muse about this very fact. The story begins in modern-day Finland (and then fantasy adventure ensues from there). The characters (being Finnish, most of them) note the various parallels between their fantastical adventures and the cultural literary icon of The Kalevala. This is why I call my story “inspired by The Kalevala,” rather than a re-telling of it, like Bosley’s The Devil’s Horse.
Whether you’re wanting a story that’s “inspired by” or a “re-telling of,” I do recommend delving into the world of The Kalevala, if you have any interest in folk tales or mythology. A lot of Finnish music (both past and current) falls into both categories of “inspired by” and “re-telling of,” as well. A lot of my inspiration and writing motivation has come from Kalevala-influenced music; I’ll be blogging about that some in the near future.
And finally, a quick disclaimer of sorts–I am not Finnish, I have not been to Finland (yet!), and I am by no means a Kalevala scholar (there are such people as Kalevala scholars, and I have no wish to offend them by making any pretensions of being one). I’m just a big fan of mythology, epic poems, and folks songs in languages I don’t know. And I’m a writer who is greatly inspired by all of these things.
However, if someone reading this is a Kalevala scholar and can tell me exactly what a Sampo really is, that would be appreciated…
4 thoughts on “The Devil’s Horse”
So cool to read your blog, thank you for recommending the book, will do my best to find it online, I am so far to be able to purchase one ;(
Folk tales and music are always inspiring, can’t wait to read more from you.
Thanks, Steph! I hope you can find that book online. I found it at my local library, purely by chance.
Kalevala is for sure not children’s literature. And what do you mean “someone can tell me exactly what a Sampo really is”? I don’t believe you don’t understand this story.
Yes, I know that Kalevala isn’t a children’s story–that’s part of why I liked this book “The Devil’s Horse” so much, because it’s a (mostly) kid-friendly version. Since I haven’t actually read the original yet, I’m sure I’m missing quite a lot of details that have been left out in this and other translations.
My goal is to be able to read it in Finnish one of these days. Sadly, I’m not quite there yet…