Finland 100: The wolf’s bride

2013ForestNightIf you’re still looking for somewhere to go on holiday this summer, why not try Estonia’s second largest island, Hiiumaa, which looks like a lovely peaceful place where you can get really close to nature?

Read this book before you make your decision. If you’re not careful, the forest might feel more like a Transylvanian nightmare.

“On that white midsummer night, Aalo, Piidik the forester’s wedded wife, ran as a werewolf for the first time… And she felt herself changing with the world around her, and everything was brand new, as if she was seeing with her bodily eyes for the first time, just like our foremother Eve, when in Paradise on the serpent’s command she ate the fruit of the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

A new, powerful force flowed through her sinews and the muscles around her ribs; no distance was too great for her, but she wove through the marshes and leapt over fallen forest trees, and she ran with the swiftness of the West Wind behind her.

The whole wilderness of the marshes was full of scents that she had never been aware of with her human senses before, and those scents irritated her terribly painfully… because she knew precisely which scent belonged to which forest creature….”

Sudenmorsian/The Wolf’s Bride, by Finnish-Estonian writer Aino Kallas, retells an ancient Sudenmorsianfolk tale, and it races along in the telling. The above extract from chapter 6 is my  translation. Written in 1928, with heavily Christian influences, you could be forgiven for thinking that this story will end with nothing but a witch-hunt, since it is even framed as based on seventeenth-century records. But Kallas’ version is much more morally complex. When you read more closely, you can see that the Finnish feminist fantasy tradition goes back a lot further than you might think. Aalo’s human and wolf sides are shown sensitively, and though the villagers definitely play a role, her husband finally takes responsibility for his role in her fate. The story was performed in Helsinki as a play 80 years ago, and I can imagine that it would work really well on stage.

Aino Kallas was Finnish, her husband was Estonian and the great Finnish bard Eino Leino was her lover. Her novella has been translated into English, but sadly an original edition will set you back a thousand dollars. If you speak Finnish, you can get it from the library like I did: read the e-book for free as part of the Finland Centenary 101 books project. Or you can get the e-book in English translation by Alex Matson, if you can access the Hathi Trust Digital Library.

Translator, editor, writer, reader

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Posted in books, Finland 100, Folklore, gender, theatre, translation

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