The first edition of the Kalevala came out in 1835. Elias Lönnrot compiled it from folk poetry recorded into notebooks during his collection trips among poetry singers in 1828–1834. At the time of publication of the Kalevala, Finland was an autonomous grand duchy of Russia, and before that, until 1809, Finland was part of the Swedish Kingdom. Especially for Finnish intellectuals, the Kalevala became a symbol of the Finnish past, Finnishness, the Finnish language and Finnish culture, a foundation on which they started to build the fragile Finnish identity. It also aroused much interest abroad, and brought a small, unknown people to the awareness of other Europeans.
The effect of the Kalevala on Finnish culture, arts and sciences has been significant. It has left its mark on the fine arts, literature, theatre, dance and music. It lives on in popular culture, films, comics, games and commercials. During different historical periods, the Kalevala has been given a number of various, sometimes strong, interpretations. However, there is no one way to interpret the Kalevala.
A Guide to Kalevala‘s world
The following selection of articles from the Kalevala Guide by Dr. Irma-Riitta Järvinen (Helsinki: SKS 2017 ) provides an introduction to the Kalevala, and after that, five more detailed insights into its plot, main characters, themes and worldview, Elias Lönnrot’s work, and finally, the runo singers whose heritage is the beating heart of what became the national epic of Finland.