The Kalevala in many forms

The Kalevala has been published in dozens of different Finnish-language editions not only within Finland but also in Archangel Karelia and in the United States.

The Finnish Literature Society, which published the first Kalevala in 1835, has published later editions as well, in which Lönnrot's introductory notes are included as a preface. Many publishers have enlivened the text through illustrations.

The most powerful influence on Kalevala illustrations has been artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela, whose works of art based on the Kalevala have been the most popular illustrations for the printed Kalevala itself. The special decorative edition of the Kalevala illustrated by Akseli-Gallen Kallela appeared in 1922.

The Kalevala in its entirety has also been illustrated by Matti Visanti (1938), Aarno Karimo (1952-1953) and Björn Landström (1985).

Numerous abridgements and prose editions of the Kalevala have appeared for children and young people.

The Kalevala began to be read in schools in 1843, when Finnish became a subject of study. Lönnrot himself edited an abridged version of the Kalevala for schools in 1862. By the 1950s, dozens of different schoolbook versions of the Kalevala had appeared. The most recent condensed version of the Kalevala, edited by Aarne Salminen, appeared in 1985.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, there have also been Kalevala stories for small children. Aili Konttinen's A Children's Golden Kalevala and Martti Haavio's Kalevala Tales appeared in the 1960s.

Children of the present generation found their own Kalevala in 1992, when writer and illustrator of children's books Mauri Kunnas published his Canine Kalevala. The illustrations in this book have been inspired by the art of Akseli Gallen-Kallela.

In his preface Kunnas tells how, after having heard the yapping of dogs for years, it occurred to him that they wanted to tell him something. "So I packed my knapsack and set out on a collecting trip among the neighborhood canine community… So similar are these stories to those of the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, that I decided to name this saga and its bold heroes and damsels in accordance with it."

Virtual Kalevala?

We are not yet at the stage where we could, simply by the power of Kalevala magic, move through the poetry lands of the Kalevala, participate in the battle for the Sampo or listen to the kantele playing of Väinämöinen, but we are perhaps moving toward this sort of experience.

In addition to the Kalevala in printed form, one can also become acquainted with the world of the Kalevala on tarot cards, through role-playing games or by CD-rom.

Kalevala in many forms. (Photo: Timo Setälä 1998. SKS.)