Tramontane – Emil Petaja (1967)
This fourth science-fantasy novel based on the Finnish legendary epic, KALEVALA, seemed like a good idea because there are actually four important heroes in these wonderful legends, and this novel completes the cycle concerning itself with the prophecy of the Great Return when the Vanhat seed shall return to Oava, the planet of their origin.
Kullervo is the “bad one” of the legends. Ugly, sullen, despised, he was actually born out of evil. He kicked his cradle to pieces and refused to drown when the wise women flung him into the river. As a vindictive cow-herd slave he changed cows into bears and this killed all of Ilmarinen’s household. Like Manfred and Oedipus, he was predestined for tragedy and doom. However, he is surely one of the most fascinating characters in all mythology. Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer, chose his tragic life for the theme of this magnificent symphonic tone poem, Kullervo, one of his finest works, involving choruses, soloists, and a sweeping Wagnerian nobility.
My Kullervo Kasi, a prototype of his ancestor, is the spawn of a leakage from a dark dimension of matter-energy that is incompatible with the life-forces in this one. Therefore, Kullervo Kasi is the natural choice of the Starwitch Louhi to find the tag-end o remnants f the Vanhat existing somewhere on despoiled Terra and destroy them . .
Blurb from the H-36 1967 Ace Double Paperback edition
In the fourth segment of Petaja’s reimagining of The Kalevala. The Starwitch Louhi rescues Kullervo Kasi from certain death on a volcanic world and. realising that he is the reincarnation of the Kullervo of legend, recruits him her quest to destroy the Vanhat.
Kullervo, not human enough to engender longstanding trust from humans, travels by Mothership from planet to planet, each time being moved on.
Louhi imbues him with powers which allow him to control the alchemical elements of Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but only to kill enemies on his journey to Earth to destroy the Vanhat before the prophecy can be fulfilled of their return to their own world. He encounters various grotesques, such as a corpulent cannibal pirate queen and some religious fundamentalists who are quickly dispatched to oblivion.
Although better written and more interesting than ‘The Stolen Sun’, Petaja’s relocation of The Kalevala to the far future with its uneasy mix of magic and technology doesn’t really work. The Science Fantasy subgenre, which saw its origins in Edgar Rice Burroughs, HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith achieved quite a level of sophistication in the Nineteen Sixties from authors such as Moorcock and M John Harrison. There has to be some form of internal logic that allows magic and technology to exist together and to convince the reader that this is plausible.
It is not present here, and we end up with something which is neither one thing nor the other and not a very satisfying blend of both.
‘Tramontane’ by the way, means ‘the stranger from over the mountain’, just in case you were wondering.