Sunday, August 01, 2010

Old Finnish fantasy and science fiction

More on the books I read during our vacation trip:

We carried Aili Somersalo's Mestaritontun seikkailut with us to read it to kids before bedtime. It didn't go very well (Kauto especially got bored with it) and the book is still unread. I was reading it also to myself, because I've been interested in the book for quite a while: it was originally published in 1919 and is a classic piece of Finnish fantasy. Well, it's a fairy tale and not fantasy by strict genre standards, but there is still a good touch of high adventure and romance in the book. The book tells about Mestaritonttu (Master Tomte or something to that effect), who decides to take a leave from the Fairyland where he's been serving as the king's master. He wanders around, ends up in a strange place and gets mixed up in a fight between some witches and the king of the sea. There's also a maiden who's under a spell and locked up in a stone.

If there were a tradition of publishing reprints old Finnish fantasy, this should go high up in the list. It's been reprinted many times, but as it's a bit slow, young kids won't necessarily like it nowadays, and the reprint should be targeted at mature readers who are interested in the history of the genre. And one could hope the text for the reprint would be taken from the first edition of the book, published under the pseudonym Aili Tarvas. The cover shown above is by Onni Mansnerus, who did the illos for the 1940's reprint. They are very nice.

There were fantasy elements also in the short stories of the author who's best known as Larin-Kyösti. [The article behind the link is actually in English, take a look!] I had an old collection of his short stories with me and I read some of the ones that were more genre-oriented. I don't think Larin-Kyösti had any particular genre in mind, but there were elements of fantasy and fairy tale in many of the stories, and I got to thinking one could do a collection of fairy tales and fantasy stories of old Finnish writers, of those who were are not normally linked to either genre. Of Larin-Kyösti's stories, particularly "Metsän henki / The Spirit of the Forest" would work perfectly in this kind of a book. Of the other stories, "Paholaisen soitto / The Devil's Music" is a fast-paced fantasy of the Devil visiting a church.

Into Jyläskoski was a pretty obscure Finnish writer who worked casually from the 1950's to the 1970's (publishing then one non-fiction book about booze smuggling in Finland). I've seen one or two of his short stories in various old Finnish fictionmags, but he was never a full-time writer. He published two novels in his lifetime, and one of them was a science fiction novel, called Marsion radiolentäjät / The Radio Pilots of Mars. It was published in 1955 with good illustrations by Olli Ålander. It's a pretty boring YA book, but it has a storyline one could use in a writing project and set a story of a set of stories in the same universe: the Martians have come to Earth in the early 20th century and have decided to reside in the Himalaya mountains. From there they abduct people to help them with their further attacks.

In Jyläskoski's book three young kids are abducted in the beginning of the novel and as they are all radio amateurs, the Martians put them to work as radists. There's not much sense in the book (it's never really shown what actual threat the Martians pose to people on Earth) and as it's also slow-paced, it was pretty tasking to read it to the end, but I struggled.

I also had Jalmari Vaula's fairy tale Udina from the late 1940's with me, but I never got around to reading it. Last winter I read Vaula's paleofiction novel, Kuolemanlaakson kurimuksessa / The Death Valley Maze (1952) and despite its silliness I enjoyed its fast pace and no-nonsense story telling. Now I'll have to get back to reading work-related stuff, which, unfortunately, means Robert Harris and Arturo Perez-Reverte. Hopefully Isabel Allende's novels are better.

Sorry, no pictures from Into Jyläskoski's Martian novel - the Photoshop program won't open anymore in our computer! I'll try to get something worked out, and I'll write a longer piece on the book later on (in Finnish).

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