Monday, June 1, 2009

The Finnish Connection With K.A. Laity

I have been fortunate to have a great many interesting authors on my blogs, writing fiction and non-fiction, memoirs, and various types of literature.

Today it is my pleasure to introduce to you K.A. Laity. Kate is a multitalented author and teaches medieval literature, film, New Media and popular culture, on a college level. She has also written a fascinating collection of Finnish short stories based on medieval myths and folklore. This folklore is unique in many ways as these myths were a type of poetry with music. There are many cultures that have used songs to recount and remember their oral histories.




Please welcome Kate and feel free to ask questions. Be sure to watch the video of Kate playing the Kantele. The link is at the end of the article.


Many thanks to Sia for hosting me today!

When I try to tell people about my new short story collection, Unikrja, the first thing I have to do is explain how to say it and then what it means. "Oo-knee-kir-ya" is how you say it and it means "Dreambook." In what language, you ask? Finnish.

Yep, as in from Finland.

I try to imagine what's going through people's heads then: Scandinavia, right? Nokia? Lordi? President Halonen looking like Conan O'Brien? (My pal Ulla Suokko was in one of his fake ads!)

It's an uphill battle, so it only gets more difficult when I try to explain the mythology that inspired the stories and the play. They come from The Kalevala and The Kanteletar, the twin tomes of Finnish myth and folklore. The stories and songs that make up these collections are very old, but were gathered together in the nineteenth century as a surging sense of national pride grew. The tiny nation straddles the dividing line between the Baltic and Scandinavia, and had been dominated alternately by its two larger neighbours, Sweden and Russia.

A doctor with a fascination for folklore, Elias Lönnrot set out to collect examples of the old tunes and stories that people told to try to capture what he saw as a vanishing way of life. In The Kalevala, he arranged these stories in runos to link together story arcs. You can read an English version online, but let me acquaint you with some of the recurring characters who show up in my stories.


Väinämöinen is the eternal sage. After Ilmatar the goddess gives birth to the world, he is the first human born. He knows all manner of magic. I've always found it fascinating that much of Finnish magic comes from know the true names of things and being able to sing them. At one point, Väinämöinen faces a young challenger who thinks he can take on the old man, but he gets sung right into a swamp. The panicky Joukahainen offers his sister's hand in marriage, which starts another theme for the old magician: he never gets the girl.

Aino is the sister offered to Väinämöinen. Her parents think it's an advantageous marriage, but the beautiful young maiden finds little appeal in being joined to the ancient sage and finally drowns herself to escape. She comes back, however, as a salmon to taunt Väinämöinen, so she lives again. Väinämöinen's mother suggests he should go north to find a bride instead.

Louhi is the witch of the northern lands. There's a great split in the Kalevala between the people of the south in Kaleva and those in the north, so they're always portrayed as adversaries. Louhi, while seemingly as powerful as Väinämöinen, inevitably the stories depict her as "evil" which just sat wrong with me. As you might guess from our name, Louhi's Daughters, my friends Minna and Kasha shared the opinion that we were getting a rather one-sided view of Louhi and in our performances we tried to give a more balanced picture of this amazing woman. Our very first performance together was a retelling of the Aino story, which also proved a resonant touchstone for Unikirja.

While The Kalevala has a series of narrative threads, The Kanteletar is a looser collection of songs grouped by who sings them, i.e. men, women or children. There are also a number of ballads that would be sung by everyone. Not surprisingly, one of the songs is all about the kantele, the national musical instrument of Finland. The name of the collection is kantele plus the feminine ending, so you might think of "Kanteletar" meaning the spirit of the kantele, the source of all the songs.

***

K. A. Laity (http://www.kalaity.com/) is the author of Unikirja (Aino Press 2009), a collection of short stories based on the Kalevala, Kanteletar, and other Finnish myths and legends, for which she won the 2005 Eureka Short Story Fellowship and a 2006 Finlandia Foundation grant.She also wrote Pelzmantel: A Medieval Tale (Spileld Candy 2003) as well as other stories, plays and essays. She teaches medieval literature, film, New Media and popular culture at the College of Saint Rose. Her news blog title comes from her first student film, Un Amor Peligroso or the Wombat's World; it was also the title of a zine she used to publish.

33 comments:

~Sia McKye~ said...

Welcome Kate. Pull up a chair and get comfortable. There's plenty of coffee and some wonderful scones, muffins, and Choclolate Chip Cookies.

I'm so glad you came to visit!

Judi Fennell said...

I'm always up for new mythology! Great interview, Sia and Kate!

K. A. Laity said...

Sia, thanks so much for featuring me! I'll be checking in throughout the day at least until I get on that plane to London!

The Queen said...

I love the stories, Kate! The telling of them from the feminine perspective is really compelling!

K. A. Laity said...

Thanks, Judi!

Thanks, Queen -- I think it especially works well with the story, "Kerttu" because she's always been the "bad guy" and it never seemed right to me. This is a retelling of the ballad about the death of Bishop Henrik.

molliebryan said...

Lovely interview and I enjoyed the video, as well. I'm intrigued by the Kantele. It sounds a little like the dulcimer. The book looks fascinating.

K. A. Laity said...

Over at my blog, Alexis asked, Here's what I was wishing you'd address: Why'd you decide it was worth it to go with a title you'd have to explain to readers? What was the benefit that outweighed them getting a feel for what the book was about?Oooh -- good question, Alexis! The truth is that Unikirja was just always the title in my head. I loved the idea of a book of dreams about my ancient heritage, so it had to be in Finnish. I guess market-wise, it seemed to make sense because people who would be put off rather than intrigued by the strange name would probably be unlikely to want to read them.

For the majority of things I write (fiction anyway) the title is an integral part of the idea, even if the title gets changed. The novel I'm revising now is currently called Owl Stretching, but I bet that will change (I'm sure most publishers would insist), but my previous novel was called Pelzmantel, so maybe I just like "interesting" titles!

K. A. Laity said...

Thanks, Mollie! The kantele is in the same family as the dulcimer, so you're spot on there. It's got such a beautiful sound. When I played at the signing Saturday, people were really intrigued and many stopped to compliment me.

Kim Clune said...

I look forward to receiving my book even more after reading your interview, Kate. And I love the video of Little My. I hope I get to hear you play in person one day.

Isabel Roman said...

Sounds fascinating, Kate! I admit to knowing some Finnish history, but absolutely no mythology. I'll have to order it.

K. A. Laity said...

Thanks, Kim! You stand a pretty good chance of hearing me play one of the kanteles sometime soon, I'm sure.

Thanks, Isabel! I'm pleased to hear you know some Finnish history -- not many people do.

VA said...

As a fan of epic poetry, the basis of your tale sounds interesting. Fascinating interview Sia and Kate. Thanks for bringing this to my attention. Just finishing up rereading some Irish mythology so I'm ready for a new endeavor.

K. A. Laity said...

Thanks, VA. I studied Old Irish literature for my dissertation -- great stories! Finnish mythology is not as widely dispersed as Irish, but it has an interesting flavour all its own.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hey, Isabel, did you notice your book cover up on my slide show?

Vivian, I, too, enjoy mythology and folktales. I've read many from many different cultures, Native American, of course the Celtic, some Scandanavian, Egyption, Sumerian and I love it. It's one of those things I can just pick up and enjoy as much as reading a book from my favorite author.

Kate, the links (which gave me fits, btw) were also fascinating. I loved the Conan O'Brien fake ad, it was hilarious, Ulla is taling away and he's saying 'Yo', lol!

K. A. Laity said...

Ooh -- sorry, Sia! You should have been able to just paste the HTML into Blogger. Glad you enjoyed nonetheless. Ulla is marvelous -- wonderfully talented musician and healer.

Adina Pelle said...

This sounds like a fascinationg collection ! I'll have to get my hands on it. I love short stories especially when they have an ethnical/mythological connection.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Most of it I was able to cut and paste Kate and it worked fine. In your bio there were a few tags missing and I don't do a lot of HTML stuff, and I couldn't fix it, some I could, but I set your website with a www. format. Over all you made it easy so don't angst over it.

When do you catch your flight to London?

~Sia McKye~ said...

Adina, I knew you would like this collection. :-)

Other Lisa said...

Oooh, the Kantele is beautiful! Thanks for sharing that! Your collection sounds wonderful, and I love the idea of hearing the other side of the story (those powerful women always do get painted with a dark brush, don't they?).

Elle Amery said...

Fascinating! I love mythology and studied some in college (who didn't have to delve into Joseph Campbell in college), but can't pull out of my dulled grey matter any of the Finnish myths. Perhaps a little reading is in order. . .

~Sia McKye~ said...

Elle! How wonderful to see you! Thanks for stopping by. Did you see your book up on the right in my slide show? Isn't that cool.

You and I need to get together for a guest spot here.

Karen Walker said...

This is a wonderful interview, so full fascinating myth and legend. I love mythology and have not heard much about myths from Finland. Thank you both for this.
Karen Walker
http://www.karenfollowingthewhispers.blogspot.com

Helen Ginger said...

I have to admit I know next to nothing about Finland. This was very interesting. I like learning mythology and folklore. A lot of our popular tales are based on folklore or mythology and it's interesting to hear tales from other countries.

Helen
Straight From Hel

K. A. Laity said...

Hi all -- thanks for stopping by. If I can get people interested in and a little more knowledgeable about Finnish mythology, I will be more than happy!

Hello from the Albany airport lounge! I am heading out on the first stage of my journey, a flight down to Philadelphia. Then it's off to Heathrow.

Sia, I'm glad the links weren't too much trouble. And I will remind my pal C. Margery Kempe that she owes you a blog as well when I see her.

I'll check back here once I get on line in London. Thanks, everyone!

~Sia McKye~ said...

I want pictures Kate! You're on for a long flight, ah, but the destination...

Yes, do let Margery know she's on for the 10th of June. I'll drop her an email too to remind her and that if she can't to let me know. Don't wear her out, Kate, I like my guests fresh and rarin' to go and I know how you are, lolol! Unstopable.

Sheila Deeth said...

Cool! Thanks for the introduction. I love learning more mythology.

Enid Wilson said...

KA, great post. Do you plan to write about Finnish traditional costume one day? Besides mythology and legends, I'm always fascinated with costumes from different cultures, how people made them with the natural materials available, the importance of colours, pattern etc.

In Quest of Theta Magic

Anna Campbell said...

Sia, just swinging by to say how much I love the montage of covers that you've got as a slide show. Some seriously great books there - and I'm not just talking about mine, LOL! Thank you!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Anna. I really like it and had some wonderful help from Lea, who helped me set it to run on my blog and she is so much more techie than me.

Dana Fredsti said...

How the heck did I miss this post yesterday?! Kate, Sia, I'm sorry I wasn't hear for the actual event (I keep missing the muffins!), but I'm glad I found it and got to see the video. What a cool little instrument!

Dana Fredsti said...

And duly noted that Margery is up for the 10th!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Dana, no worries. You've been busy with deadlines, sweetie. Kate did a marvelous job and she is in Europe, lucky girl. :-)

Pat Bertram said...

Wonderful guest, wonderful post, and wonderful new look to your blog, Sia! And the slide show is fantastic.