Quick Hit: The Songs of Power: A Finnish Tale of Magic, Retold from the Kalevala

I don’t recall how I stumbled on a series of retold myths by Aaron Shepard but given that they were a penny it was an easy decision to pull the trigger and grab the Kindle version.

And given my interest in myths, fairy tales and legends it is not surprising that I enjoyed them.

Songs of Power focuses on the Finish Kalevala:

Not so long ago, in the tiny, isolated villages of Finland, where prolonged summer days gave way to endless winter nights, people would pass the time by singing the many adventures of their favorite heroes: the mighty, magical men and women of ancient days.

They sang of old Vainamoinen, greatest of sages and magicians, who helped create the world but never could find a woman to wed him. They sang of his friend and ally Ilmarinen, first among craftsmen, the blacksmith who forged the dome of the heavens.

They sang of Louhi, the ancient lady of Northland, whose crafty wit and magical powers made her a worthy opponent for Vainamoinen himself. And they sang of Aila, Louhi’s lovely daughter, who captured the hopes of the two old friends and drew them as rivals to the shores of Northland.

And while these songs could still be heard, there came along a rural doctor, a scholar, who gathered and wove them together in a book he called the Kalevala. And so he created for Finns a national epic, and for the rest of the world, a work of wonder.

The songs endure, the heroes live. . . .

I don’t really know enough about the Kalevala to offer much judgement about how Aaron Shepard handles this classic Finnish tale. But I did find it to be an engaging and imaginative introduction to this epic story.

Shepard lays out the characters and is able to keep some sense of the poetry and magic of the story while not overwhelming younger readers.

Here is a taste of the format and style:

Vainamoinen chanted
and Joukahainen sank in the marshy ground,
up to his waist in the swallowing earth.

Cried Joukahainen,
“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will give you a hat full of silver,
a helmet full of gold.”

“Keep your wealth,” said Vainamoinen.
“My coffers overflow.”
He chanted again,
and Joukahainen sank to his chest.

“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will give you fields for plowing,
meadows for pasture.”

“Keep your land.
My farm stretches beyond sight.”
He chanted again,
and Joukahainen sank to his chin.

“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will tell you of the fairest woman,
the finest maiden.”

Vainamoinen stopped his chant.

Short and easy but enjoyable and evocative. Aimed at readers 10 and up. A great way to introduce the literature and folktales of other cultures.


Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season).

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