Many of the characters in Fire in the North Sky are gods and heroes, deeply rooted in Finnish mythology. Their names are frequently found in Finland as company brand and street names, linking into their characteristics and Finnish cultural identity. In Fire in the North Sky, we see the characters embarking on epic journeys, performing magical feats, and engaging in very human stories of love, loss and longing.
A colourful cast of characters are evoked through the songs and stories. The epic’s central hero is Väinämöinen (pronounced Vai-na-moi-nen), who plays the kantele (Finland’s national instrument) and brings the precious gift of music to the world. He is a very old, wise man, born as such at the point when the world is formed. He travels far and wide and although he is old and wise, Väinämöinen often fails to get what he wants, particularly in matters of the heart and the tasks he has been set to win himself a wife.
In Finnish mythology, Väinämöinen is the son of the goddess Ilmatar, creator of the earth and the skies. Väinämöinen appears at the very beginning of Kalevala in the creation story and is central throughout the epic. He appears several times in different episodes in the show.
Some say that Väinämöinen inspired Tolkien’s Gandalf and that the elfish language is based on ancient Finnish.
You can read about how Tolkien was influenced by Kalevala on the National Geographic website and Project Muse.
Ilmarinen (pronounced Il-mar-in-en) is the mighty blacksmith, he has the ability to forge anything he chooses, and he forges the Sampo – a mysterious object that brings infinite wealth and prosperity to its owner.
The Forging of the Sampo from the #Kalevala by Akseli Gallen-Kallela powerful #storytelling from #Finnish #mythology pic.twitter.com/95hmpoTAHO
— Storytelling Guild (@storyguild) April 29, 2015
Ilmarinen’s wife and greatest love tragically dies. Whilst in mourning he forges himself a replica bride, exactly like his wife but made from gold and silver – however, he remains disappointed by the beautiful creation of his wife’s image, as she remains cold and lifeless and it only reconfirms how much he loved and what he has lost. This is one of the episodes in Fire in the North Sky, evoked by beautiful and haunting kantele music with vivid description of Ilmarinen working tirelessly at the forge.
And Lemminkäinen is the handsome and foolish youth, the Don Juan of Finland, forever setting out northwards on his skis to woo women. Lemminkäinen is a great hero of Kalevala and is the subject of the well-loved “Lemminkäinen Suite” by Jean Sibelius.
Aino is a beautiful young woman. She is described as fragile as a flower; and yet Aino has great inner strength and refuses to be tied down by any man, even when wooed by the great hero, Väinämöinen. In the story of Aino and Väinämöinen, it is most definitely Aino who has the upper hand!
Antero Vipunen (pronounced Ant-er-o Veep-oon-en) – an ancient and ill-tempered giant buried deep underground, he possibly even forms part of the earth. Väinämöinen goes to Antero Vipunen to ask him to provide the spell that he needs to build a ship. Antero Vipunen swallows Väinämöinen whole, providing one of the most gruesome yet entertaining episodes of Fire in the North Sky.