East of Eden by John Steinbeck (Guest Post by Crystal)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classic is and why we should read it.

Crystal is a new-ish blogger who loves getting lost in books. Visit her at Lost in a Good Book.


East of Eden

When I first heard that Pages Unbound was allowing bloggers to do a guest post about their favorite classic novel I was so excited to be a part of it.  Who doesn’t want to sing the praises of their favorite books for everyone to see?  Plus, being a guest blogger meant the possibility of having conversations with so many more people about your favorite book than you might otherwise.  Then a few days later I realized … that meant I would have to write about it. What in the world could I say about this book that someone else hasn’t already said, and undoubtedly said better?  I’ll do my best.

Introduction

Most people are familiar with other books by Steinbeck.  Books they read in high school like The PearlThe Grapes of Wrath or Of Mice and Men.  But if I’m being honest I didn’t like those books much.  But East of Eden. It is simply a masterpiece.  A book of truly epic scope. Here is the jacket description.

Set in the rich farmland of California’s Salinas Valley, this sprawling and often brutal novel follows the intertwined destinies of two families—the Trasks and the Hamilton’s—whose generations helplessly reenact the fall of Adam and Eve and the poisonous rivalry of Cain and Abel. Here Steinbeck created some of his most memorable characters and explored his most enduring themes: the mystery of identity; the inexplicability of love; and the murderous consequences of love’s absence.

It’s so hard to put such huge themes into a couple of sentences.  I’m going to list a couple of my favorite things about the book and not even attempt to cover the entirety of it.

Best villain ever!

Cathy Ames.  As a young girl reading this book, I found this character completely fascinating.  She’s a psychopath of the highest order.  She has the face of an angel and the heart of … well actually she has no heart.  She is amoral, evil, murderous and conniving.  It was the juxtaposition of her loveliness and her innate badness that had me spellbound.  I’d never seen another girl like her in books. She slithers in and out of this book like the snake she truly is. Did I mention the biblical symbolism in this book? Cathy is the devil in a white dress. But I won’t spend too much time on her … let’s move on.

Cain & Abel

Steinbeck took the story of Cain & Abel from the Bible and set it in modern times with this book.  In doing that he made it a very human story, one that is easy to understand, and internalize.  Oh, the things we do for love. The terrible things we do especially when we perceive the lack of love. In the bible story, Cain and his brother Abel offered gifts to God.  God accepted Abel’s gift and rejected Cain’s. Cain suffered from the rejection but instead of internalizing that pain and rejection he blamed his brother and became enraged, killing his brother.

We see this in the story play out in East of Eden.  First, with the brothers Charles and Adam and then again through Caleb and Aron.  The Trask family seems fated to continually re-live the story of Cain and Abel over and over again.  Destroying one another in the process. However, they are provided with a pair of prophets.  Samuel Hamilton and Lee, who hold out a ray of hope to them.  Which leads to my third point.

Timshel

Samuel Hamilton is a neighbor whose kind and level headed influence bring relief to the beleaguered family.  Lee is a servant of sorts who nurses the family back to health after Cathy has decimated them and then gone away.  Together, the prophets shore the family up, try to help them mend and along the way illuminate the story of Cain & Abel. A quote from Lee is important here.

“Do you remember when you read us the sixteen verses of the fourth chapter of Genesis and we argued about them?”

“I do indeed. And that’s a long time ago.”

“Ten years nearly,” said Lee. “Well, the story bit deeply into me and I went into it word for word. The more I thought about the story, the more profound it became to me. Then I compared the translations we have—and they were fairly close. There was only one place that bothered me. The King James Version says this—it is when Jehovah has asked Cain why he is angry. Jehovah says, ‘If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him. It was the ‘thou shalt’ that struck me, because it was a promise that Cain would conquer sin.”

Samuel nodded. “And his children didn’t do it entirely,” he said.

Lee sipped his coffee. “Then I got a copy of the American Standard Bible. It was very new then. And it was different in this passage. It says, ‘Do thou rule over him.’ Now this is very different. This is not a promise, it is an order. And I began to stew about it. I wondered what the original word of the original writer had been that these very different translations could be made.”

Samuel put his palms down on the table and leaned forward and the old young light came into his eyes. “Lee,” he said, “don’t tell me you studied Hebrew!”

He and his friends did study Hebrew and they determine that the true meaning of the admonition God gives Cain is that word Timshel.  They recognize that it means “thou mayest” rule over sin.  Not “thou shalt” which is a promise.  Not “do thou” which is a command. But “thou mayest”. Which gives men power over their life.  They have a choice, there is no fate that the family is bound to.  Instead, there is an opportunity to change their lives.

Conclusion

This is what speaks to me about this book.  In the face of all this evil, all these curses that go back generation upon generation we still have the gift of free will.  We can do more with our lives.  I can’t resist a book with that kind of message.

I’d like to recommend going to the link I’ve included below.  East of Eden was the first book for Oprah’s book club, and she did vast amounts of research and video and essays on the book.  It is a really great accompaniment to the book.  I hope I haven’t given too much away.  If you haven’t read it before, do yourself a favor.  It’s truly great.

http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/oprahs-book-club-east-of-eden-by-john-steinbeck

-All the stars in the sky!
5 stars

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (Guest Post by Lyse)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classic is and why we should read it.

Lyse enjoyed pretentious books in college, but her heart forever belongs to fantasy and YA. You can read her unapologetic fangirling at lyseofllyr (lyseofllyr.wordpress.com). 


Scarlet Pimpernel

Reading classics can be a scary proposition, especially if your only introduction to them has been a dull English assignment. But The Scarlet Pimpernel (Baroness Orczy, 1905) is a great way to start reading classics. I first read it when I was 14 and I’ve enjoyed it many times since.

The Plot (spoiler-free)

In the midst of the bloodbath of the French Revolution, aristocrats are being saved by the mysterious and daring Scarlet Pimpernel and his band of English noblemen. Chauvelin, a French spy, blackmails Marguerite, Lady Blakeney, into helping him discover the identity of the Scarlet Pimpernel. In an effort to save her brother’s life, she becomes hopelessly entangled in a world of treachery and danger. Meanwhile, she attempts to save her marriage and understand why her husband is so distant.

^^that’s probably a rubbish synopsis–they’re hard to write without giving away important details.

Why is it a good read?

It’s short.

If you don’t read very much or don’t like classics, SP should be less daunting than most classics. Where many classics run 400+ pages (or 1000+!), this one is only 250.

It’s exciting.

While some classics lose many pages to conversations about Russian farming, The Scarlet Pimpernel is nearly nonstop action. From inns to ballrooms to the French countryside, the guillotine threatens at every turn–this classic is the equivalent of a western or action/thriller.

It’s approachable.

Depth and nuance are beautiful things in writing, but sometimes they work to obscure the story. I know I get bored with books that are so full of philosophical conversation that I almost can’t see the plot–and I like classics! SP does include a few French phrases and some historical references that might be obscure, but they are unlikely to dampen your enjoyment of the story. (And you can get annotated versions, if you really want to know!) So if you’re new to classics and concerned that you might not get it, this is the book for you.

It’s familiar.

The story SP tells–of a masked hero rescuing people from the jaws of death–is one with which we are very, very familiar. Our superhero stories and even real-life narratives of Jewish allies in WWII all follow smack of the mysterious and noble Scarlet Pimpernel. And this familiarity is one of my favorite things about The Scarlet Pimpernel.

As classics go, SP is sort of the cheap paperback in a grocery store. It’s a romance, an action story–a novel that was short and very popular when written. Originally, SP was a very popular play; when Orczy published the novel, the British public loved it. If you’ve ever spent much time in academia, you know that professors often like to like obscure things. SP has never been obscure.

But that familiarity makes it the perfect introduction to classics. It is stylistically very different from YA fiction or fantasy or modern fiction, but not so different that it alienates.

Not all perfect

While I love The Scarlet Pimpernel (I’m guilty of reading a scene in the middle countless times), I need to acknowledge that it is certainly not a perfect book.

Orczy’s approach to women is troubling. The women in the book (who, frankly, barely pass the Bechdel test) are simpering, beautiful, girlish. Suzanne, a friend of Lady Blakeney, is repeatedly described as a child, although, as far as I can tell, she is not much younger than Marguerite and is of marriageable age. Marguerite herself is practically useless for the second half of the book, essentially serving as eyes for the reader to see the action.

On the other hand, at times Orczy seems sarcastic toward the typical role of women:

“While pretty, motherless Sally had need of four pairs of brown hands to do all the work that fell on her shapely shoulders, worthy Jellyband [her father] discussed the affairs of nations with his most privileged guests.”

In many ways, her approach to women and romance is a clear precursor to today’s romance novels full of noble, handsome heros.

Orczy introduces a stereotypically money-grubbing Jew later in the book and is patently British-centric. While that is reflective of her times and of historical attitudes of her characters, it’s still disturbing for modern readers.

Worth It

I’ll be honest–I was nervous about reading The Scarlet Pimpernel again for this review. I was afraid it wouldn’t stand up to my memories. That, having taken countless college English classes and having read many classics, I would find SP tawdry. And while I did note some points of concerns (which I outlined above), I was glad to read it again. I still enjoyed Marguerite and Percy’s marriage struggles and the endless suspense of intrigue.

For everyone, but especially those who are new to classics, The Scarlet Pimpernel is a great read.

5 Reasons to Read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Guest Post by Amy McCaw)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classics is and why we should read it.

Amy McCaw is a blogger at YA Under My Skin, who is almost as enthusiastic about classics as YA books. (@yaundermyskin)


Wildfell Hall (1)

There’s a lot of love out there for Charlotte and Emily Brontë and for good reason. I’ve read most of their books and they’re consistently brilliant. I’m not here to discuss the two best known Brontës. When I was at university, I first read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë, and it soon became one of my favourite classics. I hope by the end of this post that I can convince you to pick up a copy!

These are the reasons why I love The Tenant of Wildfell Hall:

1. The plot

A mysterious widow, Helen Graham, arrives at the rundown Wildfell Hall and attracts the attention of Gilbert Markham and the whole of their small community. This is not just another classic about a young girl who is swept away by a sulking scoundrel (although there are plenty in the book if you like that sort of thing).

2. The narrator

I loved the fact that this was from Gilbert’s point of view because you got to unravel the mystery of Mrs. Graham along with him! He’s a very endearing but flawed character quite different from the aforementioned rogues.

3. The format

The narrative unfolds as a sequence of letters and diary entries written by Gilbert and Helen, enabling the reader to piece the events together from the different character’s viewpoints.

4. Helen and Feminism

Obviously there wasn’t a lot of room to be a feminist at the time but Helen definitely tries! She encourages her young friend Ester not to marry for money and herself is determined to marry for love.

5. The setting

The Brontes lived in the beautiful Yorkshire village of Haworth (where you can still visit their Parsonage Home!) This book strongly evokes the wild and gorgeous landscape of the Yorkshire Moors.

A photo I took in Haworth August 2015

A photo I took in Haworth August 2015

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is a fabulous classic and Anne Brontë deserves to be as well-known as her sisters.

ANNE OF GREEN GABLES READ-ALONG: DISCUSSION 4 (CHPT. 30-38)

Anne of Green Gables Read-Along

Here is the fourth set of discussion questions for our Anne of Green Gables read-along.  If you would like to sign up, you are free to do so at any point throughout the read-along. The sign-up post also has the schedule for the event, including discussion questions and other activities.

Feel free to answer the questions on your own blog and leave us a link in the comments, or just answer in the comments.  You can also answer the questions even if you are not officially reading with us.

The final recap and review will be posted next Sunday.  To tweet about the read-along, you can use the hashtag #readAnneShirley.

Fun Fact

From The Annotated Anne of Green Gables edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margart Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones.

With the Normal School qualification combined with high school completion, a girl could teach at age sixteen. A boy was supposed to be eighteen, although exceptions did occur. Because Gilbrt is two years older than Anne, they are able to become teachers at the same time…Men and women in Anne’s day were on a different pay scale for the same work.  Gilbert could therefore better afford to pay board than Anne…Women thus became attractive to employers as they would take less pay. (431)

Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think of Anne’s competitive spirit studying for and then getting into Queen’s?  Were you expecting her to do so well academically?
  2. How did you feel about Matthew’s death? Do you think this was foreshadowed?
  3. Did you get the resolution between Anne and Gilbert that you were hoping for?
  4. What do you think about the plan to sell Green Gables?
  5. Overall, how did you like the book?
  6. Do you have any plans to read the rest of the stories or more books by Montgomery after this?

Briana’s Answers

  1. I think this is one of those tricky areas in books where part of me wants the character to get everything. Of course I want Anne to be first on the pass list. Of course I want her to win all the awards. But part of me also thinks this might be a little too convenient or cliche. Does every character have to be the “most” special? I think Montgomery did some nice tempering here. Anne is very good, but she’s not necessarily a genius, and she does have some serious competition.
  2. I was about ten when I first read the book, but I think I was rather taken by surprise, even with the vague hints about Matthew’s heart and the banks.  If I’d thought more about it, I probably wouldn’t have expected a beloved major character to die off in the first book of a series. However, being ten, I didn’t know anything about the publication history of the novel. Montgomery thought it would be a stand-alone and said herself she wouldn’t have killed him that early if she’d known there would be more books.
  3. I always want a little more Gilbert than there is.😉 However, I think the resolution really fits Montgomery’s style, and I love that we get to see what a kind person Gilbert is, even to people who aren’t necessarily kind to him.
  4. After Matthew died, I think I could have believed Montgomery would do anything in this novel. Say good-bye to Green Gables, everyone!  Obviously I think the idea is heart-breaking, but it’s completely understandable decision on Marilla’s end.
  5. It’s still one of my favorite books. I’m stunned each time I reread it by just how it is, and how it continue to live up to my expectations.
  6. I’ve read the rest of the series previously, so I’m not going to embark on it right now. I have been reading some of Montgomery’s other books this summer, like Kilmeny of the Orchard and Emily of New Moon.

3 Reasons to Read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (Guest Post by Bella)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classics is and why we should read it.

Bella is a rising high school senior and an avid reader and blogger. When she’s not stuck with her nose in a book or with a pencil in hand, she can be found stage managing school drama productions, shopping at J.Crew, or writing yet another to-do list. She loves when people stop by and say hello at chicandpetite.wordpress.com.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Look at my bookshelf and you’ll come across a variety of authors and genres. My Morgan Matson collection is lined up besides The Penderwicks books; Cress and Winter have a home next to Ally Carter’s many series; and my classics – those by Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and the like – fit in with memoirs by Malala Yousafzai and Maya Van Wagenen. Needless to say, I read novels of all sorts, but the ones I return to again and again are, funnily enough, the oldest {no wonder they’re classic literature}.

When I read about Briana and Krysta’s celebration of the classics, I was quick to take them up on the opportunity. Who doesn’t love to gush about the stories dear to their heart? While I could talk about the works of J.D. Salinger and Harper Lee for days, I decided to instead persuade you to read another wonderful story: Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Without further ado, here are three reasons why you should grab it during your next library trip:

The characters

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn chronicles the life of Francie Nolan, a young woman whose home is in the Williamsburg tenement neighborhood. Francie is an admirable protagonist; she faces what life throws at her with courage and a never-ending sense of hope. Additionally, her dreams for the future are never dampened by her acceptance of reality and the hardships of a poor immigrant family; in other words, Francie has an awareness of the world I’ve yet to come across again in my reading.

On a similar note, Francie’s world is defined by her family members and friends, characters just as vibrant and realistic as she. From her parents, Katie and Johnny, both of who have deep fears of their own, to her little brother Neeley, the supporting cast is another impressive element.

The plot

Critics of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – and thankfully, there are few – note that nothing seems to happen throughout the book. I dare to disagree; the plot may be simple, but it’s far from boring. The memoir-style of the book, as it was based on Smith’s childhood and adolescence, invites readers into the ups and downs of the Nolan home with ease. Smith spares no detail that adds to Francie’s growth, turning a story of everyday life into a dynamic tale that relates to all readers, young and old.

The setting

Finally, Smith writes of the Brooklyn setting as only someone who has lived there can. She brings to life the sights of Francie’s neighborhood and the sounds that fill the streets. Here’s an example of the simplistic, stunning writing: “Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains – a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone – just to be with someone you love.” Her attention to detail and ability to craft a vibrant environment in a matter of sentences is another reason why I continue to recommend A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

Thank you again to Briana and Krysta! I hope you’ll soon read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, or, if you’ve already read it, you’ll feel inclined to revisit it! Furthermore, if you ever want to chat good books, graphic design, or Boden clothing, please feel free to stop on by Ciao Bella and say hello.:)

5 Reasons to Read Medieval Literature

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. Today Briana shares five reasons you should read literature from one of her favorite time periods: the Middle Ages. (That’s roughly 1100-1500 in England.)


Medieval romances are great for fantasy fans.

If you love fantasy, medieval romances are the genre for you. Knights, dragons, damsels in distress.  It all starts here.  And there’s an enormous variety of stories to read.  Most people think of chivalric romances (things like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight), but there are also romances about historical figures and about saints.  These are equally as interesting and often very weird. If you want to read about cannibalism, check out some stories about Richard the Lionheart.

Many authors have been influenced by the Middle Ages.

As pre-modern literature, medieval texts can sometimes be overlooked by those who value the “modern.”  However, nearly every subsequent literary period has been influenced by the Middle Ages.  You can see traces of it in Shakespeare.  There was an enormous medieval revival during the Romantic period (think Ivanhoe or some of Keats’s poems).   And modern fantasy writers J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were both professional medievalists.  You can even find hints of the medieval in the books of children’s and YA authors like Merrie Haskell and Rosamund Hodge.

Medieval texts are often more accessible than you think.

Actual Middle English can be tricky to read for those without practice. (The difficulty often depends on things like which century the text is from and which part of England it’s from.  Chaucer’s language is far more readable than many other medieval authors’.)  However, translations into modern English are incredibly easy to find, and many texts are available online, completely free.  (The same is true for medieval texts originally written in other languages, like Latin or French.)

Medieval texts also address modern themes.

People often conflate the Middle Ages with the Dark Ages, and popular culture often suggests the Middle Ages were an awful, backward time when no one was educated and women were treated like trash.  The reality was very different, and much more complex.  Some women like Christine de Pizan and Marie de France were writers themselves.  There were also highly revered women mystics who published their experiences.  Even popular fiction explored gender roles, in romances like The Wedding of Sir Gawain and Dame Ragnelle and Silence.

Medieval writers also explored race, religion, and science.  If there’s a modern debate you can think of, medieval writers were probably already in the debate themselves.  (No promises you’ll always love their conclusions, but that’s part of the fun.)

There’s something for everyone.

As readers, we often have a tendency to assume homogeneity in literary time periods.  We assume the nineteenth century was essentially filled with people writing like Wordsworth or Keats. We assume everyone in the sixteenth century was writing like Shakespeare. (Who can even name a text from the sixteenth century that isn’t drama anyway? What prose do we associate with the century?)  The same is true of the Middle Ages.  Many people’s one brush with the period is with Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales (or just a few of the tales).  However, the variety of texts you can read is wide.

Chivalric romances are some of my favorites and, as I said, a great place to start for those who enjoy fantasy.  However, there’s so much more.  Saints’ lives.  Mystic works. Fabliaux (funny, potentially crude tales). Dream visions.  Travel narratives. Stories about the Middle East. War tales. And, of course, all sorts of historical chronicles, philosophy, and other nonfiction. If you like a genre, it’s possible you’ll find a version of it in the Middle Ages. Or you’ll discover something new.

Briana

Of the Richness of The Kalevala- and Why Everyone Should Read It (Guest Post by Lianne)

Classic Literature Event

This July Pages Unbound is celebrating classic literature with a collection of guest posts. We asked other readers to tell us what one of their favorite classics is and why we should read it.

Lianne is an avid reader–from fantasy to classic literature and translated works to historical fiction–and extensively blogs about them on her website, eclectictales.com. Her favourite authors include J.R.R. Tolkien, Jane Austen, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Ivan Turgenev, and Brandon Sanderson. When she isn’t reading, she’s working on her writing projects. Other interests include history (having studied it for a very long time), period dramas, travelling, photography, and (European) football. You can also find her on Twitter:@eclectictales


Kalevala-min

Northern Europe has a rich and fascinating body of classic storytelling: of fierce warriors, slaying monsters, and sailing off to wage war against their enemies. Beowulf of course is a very well-known title, but sagas such as The Elder Edda and The Saga of the Volsungs are also collections that feature familiar tales of glory, battle, and magic. But today I want to talk a little bit about a Northern epic that does not get quite as much attention as its “big” siblings: Finland’s The Kalevala.

Just a bit of background on The Kalevala: it was compiled and written down by Elias Lönnrot in the 19th century based off oral poetry recited in the Karelia region (north-eastern region of Finland bordering on Russia). Whilst the Oxford edition* of The Kalevala is merely divided into chapters, the text as a whole can be regarded as divided into cycles. Each cycle features a major story arc, either focusing on a character such as the wise and magical being Väinämöinen or the hero Lemminkainen or focusing on an event such as the attack on the Sampo people. The oral nature of the literature is ever present through its repetitive and sing-song turn of phrase:

Who will inquire into this—
Will inquire, will judge?
Steady old Väinämöinen
The everlasting wise man
He will inquire into this—
Will inquire, will judge!
(50: 450-455, “The Newborn King”)

It may seem redundant at times, but it highlights a feeling, a scenario, a characteristic, quite succinctly. Regardless of this, The Kalevala is an easy read to slip into; the stanzas are not dense, and as I will mention shortly, is rich in imagery. Its impact on Finnish culture is great, and has influenced non-Finnish artists as well, such as J.R.R. Tolkien and his work The Silmarillion (as an aside, he gave a fantastic lecture about The Kalevala when he was teaching at Oxford, which can be found in the recent release of his rendition of The Story of Kullervo, one of the story arcs in The Kalevala).

Whilst not as well-known or widely-read as some of the other Scandinavian epics, The Kalevala is worth checking out for a number of reasons. Firstly it brings the country of Finland to life through its tales. Despite never having travelled to the Scandinavian countries, I could envision the landscape through its lyrics, its vastness and variety, the mountains and the waters, its summers and winters. There is a lot of nature imagery throughout the epic, from Väinämöinen’s birth to his travels across the Lapland, encountering reluctant brides, hotheaded young men, and crafty old women. For example:

Now the islands were arranged
and the crags formed in the sea
the sky’s pillars set upright
the lands and mainlands called up
patterns cut upon the rocks
lines drawn on the cliffs; but still
Vainamoinen was not born
nor fledged the eternal bard.
(1: 250-322, “In the Beginning”)

Finnish way of life is also clearly highlighted in the text, from their modes of transportation to home life and the role of men and women in the family.

The Kalevala, however, is also in keeping with other Scandinavian epics in that it is populated by spirits and demons and larger-than-life events weaving in to the very human drama. Magical items are forged and lost, places that are out of this reality—such as the Deathlands—are visited. And towards the end of the volume great battles are fought for the future of what would be Finland. The journeys that the characters take over the course of its many cycles give the overall work that epic scope, the sense of grandness beyond its overview of Finnish life and culture.

Speaking of which, another key feature—and a highlight, really—of The Kalevala is its characters. Whilst other Scandinavian epics feature characters who are larger than life, bold and brave with heroic deeds and stout words, the characters here are more relatable, very human in the way they undergo experiences of loneliness, wounded pride, cowardice, disobedience and sometimes poor life choices (Joukahainen, I’m looking at you: when your parents tell you “No way, that’s a bad idea, you’re staying home.” That doesn’t mean go ahead and do the stupid thing anyway -_-;).  Even characters as powerful as Väinämöinen have their own flaws and failings which not only humanises them but also provides a dose of comedy in the story.

Related to these nuanced characters is a defined sense that actions have consequences. Sometimes in epics great deeds of valour overshadow the very real consequences of their actions or the by-blows of victory, but in The Kalevala that is not the case. Sometimes heroic deeds result in failure, sometimes even death (no spoilers here as to who it was!). But there are other acts that happen throughout the epic that have varying degrees of dire consequences, such as Joukahainen’s challenge with Väinämöinen resulting in dragging the former’s entire family into his mess, particularly his sister. But there is also great tragedy in the tome, such as Kullervo’s story in his quest for revenge and the effects of such a quest on himself and the people around him.

All in all, The Kalevala is a classic worth checking out. Rich and fantastic in story and imagery, it’s easy to see how J.R.R. Tolkien was greatly influenced by it.

*If you choose to check out the book, I highly recommend the Oxford edition translated by Keith Bosley, over the eBook edition translated by John Martin Crawford that you can find of Feedbooks. Bosley’s rendition of the poem just reads much smoother, if that makes any sense.