From Folklore to Fantasy: The Living Dead, Metamorphoses, and Other Strange Things.
The connection between folklore and literature has been traced by many researchers. For example, in his book Welsh Celtic Myth in Modern Fantasy, C. W. Sullivan III mentions older writings, some of them from the 19th century, concerning Celtic influence on literature. More recent uses of folk tale materials in fantasy literature and film have been studied by many scholars, including Brian Attebery (Stories), Christina Bacchilega (Fairy Tales; Postmodern), Dimitra Fimi, Merja Leppalahti (The Use), Adam Roberts, and Jack Zipes (Happily; Introduction). Most of these scholars have focused on fairy tales or the Celtic myths.
In this article, I examine the use of Finnish, Baltic, and Eastern European folk traditions as source material for fantasy. I describe the multi-layered relationship between fantasy and folk tradition through a model derived from an examination of a wider range of materials. I deal with the use of folk tradition in fantasy within the examples on three levels: the micro-, macro-, and mega-levels. (2) On the micro-level, I examine the presentation of supernatural elements easily identified as being derived from local Finnish folk tradition, (3) in a Finnish young-adult novel, Ritva Toivola's Anni unennakija ("Anni the Seer of Dreams," 2011). While the micro-level is clearly an individual presentation of folk tradition, whose source can be readily shown, on the macro-level the demonstration of sources is not so straightforward, but one can identify the area where the folk beliefs are from. As an example of the macro-level, I consider a Finnish classic, Aino Kallas's Sudenmorsian ("The Wolf's Bride") from 1928, along with Tuula Rotko's Susi ja surupukuinen nainen ("The Wolf and the Woman Dressed in Mourning"), appearing some seventy years later, in 1998, whose viewpoints belong to the same continuum. On a mega-level, a regional folk motif may spread as popular culture throughout the world not only through literature, film, comics, and games, but also through advertising and music videos. The third example I deal with, the vampire, is of this sort: it has developed into global fantasy material and spread far from its origins in folk beliefs.
The scholarly traditions of literature and folklore have sometimes been seen as almost antagonistic, at least by folklorists. Whereas in folklore research the anonymity of tradition and the value of what has been learnt from others have been emphasized, literary research investigates primarily the products of a known author. However, research linking folklore and literature has a long tradition. In American research before the mid-1950s around forty articles had been published on the topic in academic journals (Dorson 1). Many researchers interested in folk tradition have come from outside folkloristics, usually from literary research or linguistic research related to literature. Hence the linking of folklore and literature within the same investigation was quite natural (Gustafsson 48).
When folk tales turn into popular entertainment, the interpretation of their content changes. Instead of the earlier belief in them as true, there emerges the idea that, true or not, they represent past times. The determination of "truth" is obviously less relevant to fantasy. A supernatural tale and fantasy have other, internal differences, too. In folk tradition, usually only one supernatural being appears in a tale, whereas in fantasy there may be many different beings. A supernatural tale is local; for example, the name used for the being often reveals where the tale is situated (Timonen 77-79). There is also a clear difference in the form of the narratives: fantasy has twists and is multiform, whereas a supernatural tale is short and relates just one event, and only in as much detail as is necessary.
A fantasy novel often appears as a patchwork quilt when it is examined more closely. One can find the structure of fairy tales and creatures from folk legends, but also all kinds of motifs from popular culture and former literature, fantasy or otherwise.
Intertextuality is a characteristic closely associated with fantasy, but fantasy does not always signal its intertextuality clearly. The relationship of references is complex and a single reference may point in many different directions at once. In fantasy, one may also find characteristics of neomythology. This concept derives from Slavic literary tradition, where it is used, for example, by Russian scholar A. G. Mints (Pesonen, Dialog 44-51). Neo mythology, or "new mythology," is not a matter merely of the use of myths in literature, but of a multi-layered mythological structure which contains, apart from myths, materials from earlier literature and cultural traditions. Typically, no single source can be identified for such references: they appear to point in many different directions at the same time. (Pesonen, Dialogi; Uusmytologismi.)
Both folklore studies and literary research use the concept of the motif. Motifs are defined in many different ways, and scholars in different traditions describe literary motifs on different levels of abstraction. Stith Thompson (415-16) defined the motif as the smallest unit of narrative that could be preserved within a tradition. To be preserved, a motif needs to be unusual or otherwise worthy of attention. Thompson divides motifs into three groups. In the first group, a motif may be an agent of narration such as a god, an unusual animal, or one of a number of other beings including witches, giants, or fairies. To this group also belong motifs of various human agents, such as the youngest child or the evil stepmother. The second motif group contains various nonhuman agents in the background of the action, such as magical objects, unusual customs, or strange beliefs. The third group consists of various individual events. Thompson's motifs are therefore rather uneven in scope. Some motifs could be called episodes, whereas the content of others consists merely of a recognizable figure (Jason 22). Furthermore, the division is not so straightforward, since some figures are always associated with particular activities; for example, the motif of the stepmother is closely connected with the evil fate of the stepchild (Daemmrich 187). Thus, motif is not an unambiguous and problem-free term, but it is usable, and so is Maria Nikolajeva's term fantaseme. Fantasemes are fantasy motifs or wonderful events, beings, and objects impossible in the real world. Nikolajeva defines fantasy literature specifically in terms of the existence of fantasemes. In the present article, I use the term fantaseme for motifs relating to the field of fantasy and motif when speaking about folklore.
The fantasy process
Although fantasy literature gathers material from many sources and in fact anything is possible within fantasy, some materials are more likely to appear in fantasy than others. This storehouse of fantasy materials is composed of various matters that are widely shared and approved by both writers and readers. I will attempt to describe the fantasy process by means of a diagram.
In the box in the center of the chart ("Shared fantasy pool") are those fantasy materials which are already well known, approved, and much used in fantasy. In this store is to be found fantasy motifs/fantasemes as well as fantasy novel structure models. We can find a Proppian structure of narrative with its functions, and the schematic fantasy plot model described by Brian Attebery (Strategies 10), which is known from many fantasy books. According to the model, a problem is set in a medieval world along with a prophecy of its solution. Protagonists include the naive, ordinary hero, his comic companion, an old, wild counsellor, and an almost all-powerful villain. The tale progresses towards the fulfillment of the prophecy and secondary episodes are completed through various meetings with mythical beings and non-human races. Other plot models lurk within the store, for example one in which a teenage girl moves to a new place and meets a dangerous boy at the new school. The fact that the boy is not even human is no hindrance to the inevitable romance (Leppalahti, Lajienvalista 2012). Sometimes the whole plot can come from folk tradition. For example, Welsh Celtic materials are popular in fantasy (Sullivan, Welsh). In Diana Wynne Jones's Fire and Hemlock (1984) and Ellen Kushner's Thomas the Rhymer (1990), the plot comes from Scottish ballad and related legend about a man and the fairy queen.
In addition to the models of event and plot design, the pool of shared fantasy contains many topoi or chronotopes (for example, relating to the fantasy Middle Ages) and individual fantasy motifs, like those of the magic object or being, such as the vampire (which actually is a collection of many different vampire motifs). The fantasy author (or other fantasy-product maker) gathers materials from the shared store of fantasy for a novel (or movie, game, etc.). Many fantasy writers use their knowledge of anthropology, comparative mythology, classical literature, history, and folklore when writing their books (Attbery, Stories 207). Elements known beforehand to the author and public create continuity and permanence, while being made to fit in or link up seamlessly with the narrative or characters. Well-known shared material makes the story feel believable and easily adoptable: there is no need to explain everything separately, since many matters are "known" anyway. This is apt for fantasy literature, whose existence as a genre reflects what has been written earlier. Fantasy literature is in constant dialogue with other (earlier) fantasy literature, but also with readers and the current world situation. Fantasy is often a sort of "post-modern montage" (Zipes, Introduction xxxi). Recognizable materials can be mixed up and conjoined all the time.
In addition to features derived from folk tradition, fantasy abounds in other familiar materials. Sometimes a place is connected with myths and otherness, so it is easy to use it as fantasy. For example, Lapland is still easily thought of as a region typified by a magical nature, strange inhabitants, and witchcraft. Olaus Magnus's pictures of Lapland from the sixteenth century can be seen as the sources of these central Lapland myths. For example, in the Finnish movie Valkoinen peura ("The White Reindeer") from 1952, the scene is mythical Lapland, and themes of the werewolf and vampire are associated with the witch woman, who is destructive despite her will (Saarinen 165).
J. R. R. Tolkien described the fantasy writer as a "subcreator" who creates a new world, a fantasy world. The writer invites the reader's mind to step inside the fantasy, which has to be so enticing that the reader, when inside it, believes in it. When reading fantasy literature the reader is, as it were, inside the fantasy world, under the power of a spell. She or he lives what she or he reads and experiences "secondary belief." The fantasy fails if disbelief awakens and the reader returns from the fantasy to his own world (Tolkien 132). Hence fantasy is comparable to a game which has to be played "for real," and pursued earnestly, otherwise the spell is broken (Huizinga 20-21). Becoming immersed in a fantasy, a reader comes to believe in the existence of unicorns or dragons--in the fantasy world.
A good fantasy book or other product cannot, however, be based merely on generally shared images; something else is needed alongside. A good writer finds surprises along the way, unexpected events, great and small. She or he has both to fill the expectations of the readers and break them. The writer molds materials drawn from different sources and unites them into a whole, from which is born a new fantasy product. For example, Christopher Paolini's Eragon fantasy series, though very popular among young readers, has been criticized by fantasy fans particularly for not having anything new to it. Although the whole work is engaging and fast-moving, there are no surprises: everything has been read and seen before.
The reception of a fantasy product does not have very much to do with popularity, sales, or reviews in this model. The approval or rejection by readers is not a judgment of the whole work but of individual motifs and motif clusters, particularly those which are central and interesting, and which have not been directly plucked from the shared fantasy basket. Approval--which generally happens only gradually--finally moves a feature into the box of shared fantasy, while rejection returns the motif to the group of all the rest which may possibly at some later date be used or not. In spite of the popularity of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, we haven't met other sparkling vampires. This means the fandom (including Finnish fantasy fandom, see Hirsjarvi) is an important part of fantasy, not only by buying books and consuming fantasy but also by offering definitions of fantasy. It is paradoxical that when some motif gets enough support to change into part of the shared fantasy, it becomes something so normal and unsurprising that it begins in itself to be almost useless.
Micro-level: Local motifs in the fantasy romance
An investigation of the micro-level in a sample fantasy text reveals something with a distinctly folk-tradition-derived feature, for example a supernatural being or some other folk motif. It may also be a matter of a complete supernatural or modern-day tale, which may even form the main or subsidiary plot of a fantasy narrative.
Not all fantasemes are shared internationally; clearly indigenous folk-tradition material can be found in fantasy from the same region. For example, Eija Timonen has created stories for children based on supernatural tales in the archives of the Finnish Literature Society, which have appeared both as books and television programmes. She has, however, sought to preserve the folk character of the tales, telling old stories without forming them into fantasy narratives. Timonen has described this process in her thesis, "Tradition as a Tool of the Scriptwriter" (Perinne kasikirjoittajan tyokaluna).
Folk materials are also found in indigenous fantasy literature; goblins and trolls (4) or falling under the forest spell (5) are no strangers to fantasy set in Finland or comparable places. A great many distinctly folk motifs are found too in fanfiction, which could be an interesting subject for folkloristic research. However, I here examine a mainstream children's fantasy, Ritva Toivola's Anni unennakija ("Anni the Seer of Dreams" 2011). In this young adult romance, set in a Finland of the past, supernatural tales form the work's fantasy element and act as fantasemes. This novel is a good example of the micro level. When reading the novel, you can notice whole folktales and other Finnish folklore material. Although some of the motifs are familiar outside Finland, too, some of the tales themselves are very local.
Ritva Toivola (1942-2016) has published over thirty children's and young adult fairy tale and fantasy novels, three collections of fantasy novellas, and dozens of picture books, and she has received many literary prizes in Finland. Anni unennakija is an independent continuation of the novel Tuomas Karhumieli (2009). Toivola uses supernatural elements in some of her other works, but in Anni unennakija (as in Tuomas Karhumieli) supernatural tales and narrative motifs permeate the whole plot of the novel. The central characters of both novels are the innkeeper's daughter Anni and the stable lad working there, Tuomas.
A complete supernatural tale and story motifs
In Toivola's text, when Tuomas, the young servant at the inn, leaves early in the morning to take goods to the village, the maid Katriina asks him to go to ask the verger whether the handkerchief she had lost in church had been found. It is very early in the morning and dark, but there are lights in the church, so the verger has obviously been setting out places there. Tuomas dreams of his own watch, but it is expensive. As he goes towards the church, he remembers the story of Eveliina, who also had no watch. Eveliina lived nearby a long time ago. One Christmas night, she had seen a light in the church and thought she was late for the Christmas morning service. She rushed to the church, which was already full of people. She found a seat next to a familiar woman, but then she remembered that the woman had died the year before, and looking around her, she saw many other people whom she knew to be dead. Eveliina edged away from the pew, ran to the door, and jumped straight over the threshold. The priest and parishioners tried to grab her, but she managed to get out and ran all the way home. In the morning, as the actual Christmas service began, Eveliina's scarf was found at the church door, ripped to shreds, which she later produced as evidence of what happened.
The story of the Christmas service of the departed is a widespread international supernatural tale, whose roots in Finland go back to Catholic times. In Europe, the service of the dead may be linked to other festivals, but in Fenno-Scandinavia, it is usually at Christmas. Many motifs are linked to the story type, which, however, do not usually all appear in one narrative. The mention of the lack of a watch on the part of the person who chances upon the church, as well as the notion of remaining among the departed, the item of clothing ripped to shreds, and the leap over the threshold are common (Koski 280-88).
In the novel, the supernatural tale is adapted to fit the framework of other, more plausible events. Tuomas knows where Eveliina's cottage was, now reduced to ruins, since the event took place long ago. The tale is related as truth, but Tuomas calms himself by thinking that it was probably a matter of a nightmare, and anyway it was not Christmas now, but March. The story is not actually linked to the main storyline of the book, but it brings to life for the reader Tuomas's frame of mind as he walks in the morning dimness to the church, surrounded by the gloomy graveyard.
Another supernatural story from the archive that is incorporated into the novel tells about a water-man. In the village, or more precisely in a nearby lake, lived the strange being Rapyla-Nieminen. His mother was the daughter of the crofter of Nieminen, and his father was rumoured to be Nakki (a water devil). Rapyla-Nieminen "resembled a fish rather in his face. And his webbed (rapyla) hands and still bigger webbed feet forced their attention upon you" (Anni unennakija 124). Rapyla-Nieminen lived in a house he had built over the water; he was a good swimmer and could stay underwater for a long time. He had friends among the villagers, but not everyone liked him. In the end, some men burned his cottage. Nieminen went to say farewell to Anni and Tuomas, saying he was leaving the village for the sea, which he had always wanted to see.
In Savo, and to an extent elsewhere, tales were told in the early twentieth century about Rapyla-Niiranen, who had webbed fingers and toes. He could dive down deep many kilometres and stay in the water for many days without coming to land at all. In winter, he swam long journeys from one opening in the ice to another. He was associated with stories of attempts to raise church bells sunk during the Great Northern War (Simonsuuri 55-64, 72). In folk tales, attempts to raise church bells always fail, but in Anni unennakija, Rapyla-Nieminen helps get a church bell from the water.
In the figure of Rapyla-Nieminen may be seen the use of folk tradition for distancing and exoticizing, in that a misfit in the human world is moved to the world of the supernatural. Nieminen goes to the inn to buy bread and sometimes to visit, like any other neighbour. At the inn he is considered a friend. Because in his appearance and behaviour he is clearly different, he has been subject to much antipathy in the village, which in the end leads to his cottage and goods being destroyed. A reader who in real life feels distrust towards some group may feel sympathy when a fantasy character suffers misfortune as a result of being different.
Anni unennakija contains many other supernatural tale motifs. For instance, in the house dwells a guardian spirit in the shape of a cat, bracken blooms on midsummer night and the will-o-the-wisp shows a site of treasure; to get the treasure calls for riding a one-night-old foal over one-night-old ice. Gnomes resent the building of a railway through their realm and cause terrors. The protagonist, Anni, falls victim to forest enchantment and sees the forest's guardian spirit. From the front, this looks like a familiar human figure, but from behind it is like a rotten trunk.
Supernatural motifs are associated with the past of the story, and bring local color and the authenticity of the familiar--and of local belief--to it. They also afford the narrative depth and excitement; some of the things related are clearly true, whereas others are perhaps just fairy tales. The search for the witch's treasure in particular involves motifs that are central to the narrative thread.
Macro-level: The wolf's bride and other wolf tales
As for the macro-level, a good example is Aino Kallas's Sudenmorsian ("The Wolf's Bride"). It is a story about a woman who turns into a wolf. The folklore behind the story of Sudenmorsian is semi-local. The folk beliefs in the story are from an area that includes Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic countries, though there have been beliefs about werewolves in other parts of Europe, too, such as stories about becoming a wolf by being bitten and about how the werewolf turns into a beast at the time of full moon while at other times she or he is a human. In Sudenmorsian and in Northern beliefs, changing into a wolf is a magical act that does not require biting. Aalo, the protagonist of Sudenmorsian, is a wolf at night, a woman at daytime.
Kallas was one of the daughters of Julius Krohn, who was the developer of the "Finnish method" in folkloristics. Later she married Estonian folklorist Oskar Kallas and lived with him in Estonia and, for twelve years, in London, where he was the Estonian envoy in Britain.
Kallas's Sudenmorsian is a hundred-page novel that first appeared in 1928. The work is set in Estonia, in Hiiumaa of the 1650s. The protagonist is a young woman named Aalo, to whom the forester Priidik is attracted. They marry and have a child. But one Midsummer night, Aalo finds the flower of bracken and hears the call of the Forest Spirit. After that, she turns into a wolf. At first Aalo lives by day as a woman and runs away to the forest at night as a wolf, but when Priidik uncovers the secret, he drives his wife away from the home altogether. When Aalo later returns home in human form to give birth to her second child, the villagers burn her in the sauna as she gives birth. At the very end, Aalo is definitively killed when an anguished Priidik shoots--with a silver bullet--a wolf, in which he believes and fears his wife's soul is still dwelling.
Before the writing of Sudenmorsian, Kallas thoroughly familiarized herself with folk traditions of werewolves and other background materials. She got a great deal of information from her brother, Kaarle Krohn, who was Professor of Folklore in Helsinki. She was also in touch with researchers in the folk traditions of other countries, especially Estonian and other Baltic Countries. She had at her disposal a rich array of literature dealing with werewolves, part of which she had come to know already and part she acquired for this work (Laitinen 230-32). She gained additional information from old Estonian folk descriptions and accounts of witchcraft trials. An exceptional number of occurrences are found in these of the witch changing into a wolf (Metsvahi 175).
Folk tradition plays an important role in Sudenmorsian. Aalo changes the first time into a wolf at midsummer (a magic time), when she also sees the bracken blooming (bracken has no flowers). The change into a wolf takes place by means of bracken or a wolf-belt. One giveaway sign of a werewolf is eyebrows grown together. When a wolf is shot at night, Aalo limps after it in the form of a person. When Priidik throws the wolf over iron and calls Aalo by her own name, she takes on human shape. A wolf seen in the village is thought to be Aalo, because it has a pale blotch on its breast in the same place Aalo usually wore a silver brooch. Those who see the wolf know that a werewolf can turn back into a human if it is given bread by a person, so they offer it bread on the point of a knife. Priidik knows that only a silver bullet can kill a werewolf, and he prepares a bullet for Aalo. All these beliefs can be found in folk archives. Aalo also goes home to suckle her child at night. This motif is known from versions of tale type ATU 409, "The Girl in the Form of a Wolf," in which a woman, turned into a reindeer or wolf, visits her child to suckle it at night. Kallas has woven many details from Estonian and Finnish folk tradition into her text; these are part of the normal world in which the actors of the narrative live. Folk beliefs, including those relating to werewolves, are presented in Sudenmorsian as everyday, factual matters.
In Sudenmorsian, changing into a wolf is joyful and liberating. The work has traditionally been read through the author's persona as a semiautobiographical tale of forbidden love reflecting her relationship with the poet Eino Leino (Sala 139-54; Koskimies). In more recent research, the work has been seen more widely as a depiction of a woman's pursuit of and longing for freedom, and the figure of Aalo has been interpreted from the perspective of a "new woman" or female artist of the 1920s (Rojola 132-50; Melkas). Sudenmorsian has been a very popular work and new editions still appear, most recently in 2015. It has been translated into English as The Wolf's Bride: A Tale from Estonia in 1930 (translated by Alex Matson) and republished in Three Novels in 1975. In addition to English, Sudenmorsian has been translated into Estonian, French, Spanish, Swedish, German, Italian, Norwegian, and Hungarian.
From joyful bride to bitter widow
Tuula Rotko's novel Susi ja surupukuinen nainen ("The Wolf and the Woman Clothed in Mourning," 1998) is comparable both in content and in structure with Sudenmorsian. The similarity is so strong that one is justified in speaking in Gerard Genette's terms of a hypertextual relationship. Genette calls a text under examination a hypertext, while a hypotext is an existing text to which the hypertext points in one way or another. This is a matter of a large-scale referentiality, which defines the whole new work throughout (Genette 5). In this case, Kallas's Sudenmorsian functions as the hypotext of Rotko's novel. In Rotko's novel, there are connections with urban folklore, too. I would place these fantasemes as micro-level elements. (6)
Susi ja surupukuinen nainen has as its protagonist an artist named Raakel, who lives with her musician husband near an archipelago village. The couple's life feels harmonious, although they have not had children, despite their wishes. Raakel in particular is troubled by the childlessness; she has been diagnosed as infertile. Raakel's husband, however, has a relationship with a young musician who becomes pregnant. Hearing of her husband's unfaithfulness, Raakel turns into a wolf, acts bloodthirstily, and dies as a wolf.
These two books are similar in many respects. Sudenmorsian was written in the form of a chronicle. No clearer information is given about the work's inner narrator, but he was clearly a more-than-ordinarily learned man. He records events carefully, thus guaranteeing their reliability for the reader (Melkas 97-99). In Rotko's novel too, at the start and close of the tale, it is an external documenter who speaks, addressing the reader. In both novels, the narrator does, however, depict the feelings and thoughts of the characters in a way that should not be possible for an outsider. The narrative solution in Sudenmorsian is also distinctive in that the narrator both describes Aalo's passionate wolf-joy and judges it, warning against such sin (Laitinen 254-55).
The woman who turns into a wolf in the title of Kallas's work is a bride (or rather a young wife and mother of one child already), whereas Rotko's black-dressed woman indicates a widow. The "woman clothed in mourning" of the novel's title also points particularly to an urban tale that spread in autumn 1970, and gained much attention. A woman dressed in mourning is given a lift from a lonely place, and after a short time, she disappears strangely from the car. Another urban tale is also connected with the hitchhiker clothed in mourning. Here the mourning woman given a lift is revealed to be a man when hairy hands poke out from the sleeves of the dress. The shocked driver ushers the hitchhiker from the car on some pretext and accelerates off. A bag remains in the car, in which a weapon is found at the police station as proof of evil intent (Nyman 64-70). Raakel, always dressed in black, seems a normal woman, but inside she is a wolf, a predator ready to strike.
In Sudenmorsian, the "gentle, timid and virtuous" Aalo becomes, as her physical form changes, something cruel, shameless, and ravenous. She does not, however, attack people indiscriminately like her modern wolf sisters, but in the shape of a wolf bloodthirstily avenges the wrongs she has experienced as a person. In many traditional tales, a young woman meets a predator or monster, interpreted psychoanalytically as representing the fear of an inexperienced virgin towards male sexuality. When a girl conquers her fear, the predator perishes or changes into a person, often the prince of her dreams (Apo 187; Warner 298-318). In the works under examination, the man is not a fearsome predator, but merely an agent of betrayal for the woman. In Sudenmorsian, Kallas does not explicitly state that Aalo's life with the forester Priidik is unsatisfying, but the reader can conclude this, since the wolf's life enchants Aalo so much more. In Susi ja surupuinen nainen, the man injures his spouse through betrayal. The enormity of the betrayal is emphasized in the childless Raakel's coming to hear how her husband has made his lover pregnant. Raakel's shapeshifting takes place "within herself" in a situation in which she can see no other way of escape. Being a wolf is not, however, joyful for her as it is for Aalo in Sudenmorsian, but rather hopeless, the last attempt to gain control of her life. Changing into a wolf is, however, in both works a fateful event for the woman, after which there is no return to what went before. The wolf is a monster which breaks all human laws. For the community to return to normal, the monster must be slain (Cohen 16).
Mega-level: From local tradition to the global
The vampire is a good example of a local folk belief growing into a global phenomenon. Interest in vampires has spread from fantasy fans to the broader field of popular culture, becoming a fantaseme on the mega-level. The charming Edward or sexy Eric of vampire fiction, however, has little in common with the original vampire folk traditions. (7)
The vampire is not a creature of Finnish folklore, but it has its origins in folk beliefs of nearby areas. Although folk tales about vampire-like creatures can be found all over the world, the vampires of popular culture derive specifically from beliefs found in east and southeast Europe. These deal with the local departed who have not been able to rest in their graves but have risen to torment those around them. The activities of the vampires of folk tradition focus on their own villages, and specifically their own homes and immediate neighbors.
Images of the vampire and related themes began to move into fiction in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Romantic poetry wallowed in destructive love reaching beyond the grave, and at least hinted at the subject of vampires. The Gothic horror novel favored supernatural themes such as hauntings and magic, and was usually set in old castles, graveyards, and ruins, making it well suited to the subject of vampires.
The socially respectable "salon" vampire appears for the first time in romance literature in John William Polidori's short novel The Vampyre (1816), in which the polite society of London, bored with everything, is enchanted by a glimpse of the deathly Lord Ruthven. Although death does not greatly interfere with Lord Ruthven's activity, the second classic of early vampire entertainment, Joseph Sheridan le Fanu's Carmilla (1872) presents the vampire specifically as the living dead. The third undisputed classic of vampire fiction is Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897), in which the writer brings together descriptions of the vampire from earlier vampire fiction and concepts of the vampire from folk tradition, but also brings in new materials. The vampire Count created by Stoker has become a vampire archetype, whose features are repeated time and again in later vampire fiction, and to which later vampires are compared. References to Dracula as a book and to Count Dracula as the arch-vampire appear frequently in literature, comics, films, and games.
Stoker's vampire was, however, still a monster, an "other" who could certainly enchant but strove merely for his own satisfaction. The situation changed when Anne Rice created a vampire figure who told his own story to an interviewer in her Interview with the Vampire, which appeared in 1976. The vampire became the protagonist, a romantic hero, at the same time extending its habitation from Europe to America.
Nowadays, the appearance of a vampire in a narrative may even mark it out as romantic. In light fiction, the vampire takes on a sexual aura right from the start. The vampire of literature is often interpreted as a symbol of forbidden desire, such as homosexuality or nymphomania (Dyer 47-72; Hapuli 113-31). However, vampire entertainment that concentrates on heterosexual romance only really made a hit in the middle of the first decade of the new millennium. True, moves in this direction could be detected earlier on, but it was particularly Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (2005) that ensconced vampires in the heart of every teenage girl (and slightly older women, too). Dead until Dark, the first of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse series, had appeared in 2001, but it remained largely within the circles of a small fan base; the book series, and especially the television series based on it, True Blood, only achieved world fame after the wave of vampire enthusiasm caused by Twilight. The same wave gave rise to many other new vampire romances. In books, films, and television series, we encounter beautiful, secretive vampires who try to fathom the meaning of their existence and are keen to start romantic relationships with humans. In the wake of vampire romance, a whole new class of entertainment literature has arisen, paranormal romance. (8) A romantic relationship is central to the storyline, in which at least one partner is something other than human; in addition to vampires, these feature werewolves, centaurs, fallen angels, and other even more exotic beings taking part in romantic moments.
The vampire of the new millennium
At the moment, the figure of the vampire belongs among the most widely distributed fantasy images of popular culture. Vampires can be encountered almost anywhere: in literature of many sorts, directed at different age ranges; in comics; on television; in films; in games; in advertisements; and in music videos. The vampire may symbolize the promise of eternal life (generally, of course, entailing eternal youth) or of unlimited freedom of action. The fundamental questions of human existence may also be considered through the figure of the vampire, when the figure deals with the internal struggle between good and evil, humanity and monstrosity.
Although vampires have many established features, no simple or all-encompassing picture of the vampire can be given, as vampires are not the same everywhere and at all times in their outward appearance or characteristics. Also, the vampire figure that resides in the imagination of individual people is not one and the same being to them all. Usually the vampire needs human blood, but not always. Many vampires are pale and cannot move during the daytime. Usually vampires have sharp canines but no reflection. Some vampires slay their victims; others fall in love with them. Within the shared imagery of vampires there are, however, common features by which they are recognized as vampires. These features show them to belong, in Wittgenstein fashion, to the same family, or at least to the same lineage, although individual characteristics vary.
Many familiar facts about vampires of popular culture derive from Stoker's Dracula. Because of this work, we know, for example, that vampires do not have reflections. The mirror and death had, in fact, formed a problematic conjunction earlier on; for example, it was the custom sometimes to cover mirrors when there was a dead person in the house. The notion of the vampire's non-reflection is repeated with variation in modern vampire texts. Although some modern vampires do have a reflection, the fact is usually expressly noted. The same notion is extended when, for example, the heroine of Twilight, Bella, wonders if her vampire boyfriend Edward appears in photographs.
Count Dracula had sharp canines, which nowadays is a defining mark of the vampires. The vampire's sharp canines appear in an anonymous work from the 1840s, Varney the Vampire. (9) Traditional material sometimes (rarely) mentions teeth which have grown in the grave, and Carmilla hints at sharp teeth. But after Dracula, it is difficult to even imagine a vampire without sharp canines--even if many modern-day vampires' canines are kept hidden and only show themselves when needed.
One "fact" derived from Dracula that has become part of general vampire knowledge is that Transylvania is the defining dwelling place of vampires. Transylvania is seen as the cradle of vampiredom and vampire-themed excursions are arranged there (see Hovi). Anne Rice's books have achieved a similar reputation for New Orleans as the home ground of American vampires. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight has in recent years brought vampire tourists to the small town of Forks, Washington, as well.
Vampires are very popular in Finland, too. There are lots of vampire fans, many of them writing fan fiction, leading one to expect a boom of Finnish vampire novels. Instead of vampires, however, writers have become interested in werewolves, and now there are many werewolf novels (e.g., Jenny Kangasvuo's Sudenveri and Elina Rouhiainen's Susiraja series) but very few vampire texts. (10)
Conclusion: folk tradition and fantasy
I have studied the connection between folklore and fantasy literature with some examples from Finland, the Baltic Countries, and Eastern Europe. Traditional materials may be found in fantasy in many different roles. Features originating in tradition may function in fantasy as narrative descriptions, when they lend historical and cultural depth and credibility to the imagined world of fantasy and its events, becoming part of the reality of the imagined world (e.g., Sullivan, Folklore 279-96; Wienker-Piepho 32-55; de Caro and Jordan 9). As in folk tradition material, popular culture is once again in some way collectively approved, so, for example, proverbs and sayings following a folklore pattern create the impression of a real, living world in fantasy books. Folk motifs recast as popular entertainment feel genuine, but also fresh. The most important role of folk tradition in fantasy is, however, to function as fantasy element, or fantaseme.
The "folk" of fantasy
At the inception of research into folklore, the "folk" signified a group, usually rural and perceived as backward, from whom folk traditions were gathered. Nowadays, the object of folkloristic research may be the traditions of any human group, nor are groups ("tribes") any longer distinguished in terms of dwelling place or birth, but on the basis of shared interests and focus (Maffesoli). At the macro-level, consumers of folk-tradition fantasy comprise fantasy fans whose points of interest may include many different fantasy-connected hobbies, such as role gaming, in addition to reading and films. Folk networks form around fantasy hobbies, where fantasy content (e.g., an interest in vampires or horror games) on the one hand, and friendships (formed on the internet) on the other, act as uniting sparks (Leppalahti, Mielikuvituksen; Roolipelaaminen).
Production and consumption in fantasy hobbies overlap. Fan production is usually a sort of exchange, carried out for the sake of one's own interest without economic objectives for others interested in the same thing. Nowadays, the internet plays an important part in the sharing of fan productions and in maintaining the fantasy community spirit. Many of those interested in fantasy themselves write fantasy novels and publish them in fan magazines. Hobby magazines and communities often arrange writing competitions, which have a good many participants contributing at a high level. Many who succeed in novel competitions go on to professionally publish their first fantasy romance before long. Coming from the other direction, many games, books, films, comics, and other by-products are produced commercially. Commercial producers have on their staff people who began as hobbyists but whose pastime has developed into a profession (Hirsjarvi).
Many fantasy products are produced for wide scale commercial consumption, in which case they may be regarded as part of mass culture. Whereas previously it might be possible to make a film from an interesting book, nowadays the starting point may well be a film, from which is spun off a book, a game, or both (e.g., Star Wars); or a game from which a film is made (e.g., Tomb Raider or Final Fantasy). There is often no essential significance in the platform on which the material appeared in the first place. Producers and publishers are quite clear about the multiple forms fantasy takes, and they might direct the attention of a game's fans to its potential playability even while the film is being made (Sjo 61). Fans are also a major consumer-group for fantasy products (books, films, games). Products are made for fans, and their tastes determine what succeeds and what does not. Only a few select products have any success outside the fan base. Conversely, fans are also an important producer-group for fantasy, unofficially and individually as well as publicly and commercially. However, the cultural value of a book, computer game, or film does not stop with the playing of a game or the viewing of a film. This is only the beginning, since the product (or part of it) which the fans adopt turns into material for further refinement, as in the case of the Star Wreck film, fan fiction, role-playing and other games, self-produced animations, internetmemes, blogs, fan magazines, event organization, and all sorts of individual writing and drawing.
Three levels of folklore fantasemes
In the above analysis, I deal with the use of folk tradition in fantasy on three levels: the micro-, macro-, and mega-levels. On the micro-level, there is something very clearly identifiable as local folk tradition. In my example, Ritva Toivola's Anni unennakija, there are some Finnish folk tales and folk beliefs integrated in the plot.
On the macro-level, note the use of creatures or beliefs from folk tradition of a certain region. These folk beliefs are mixed inside the story. My example here is Aino Kallas's Sudenmorsian, with folk beliefs from Estonia, Finland, Sweden, and the Baltic. As an example of strong intertextual connections, I have presented Tuula Rotko's novel Susi ja surupukuinen nainen. Rotko's novel contains some references to urban legends, as well.
On the mega-level, the origins of the fantaseme come from folk tales or folk beliefs. It can incorporate features from other sources, too, especially from fantasy literature and popular culture. My example is the vampire, which comes from eastern and southeastern Europe but which through Dracula and other popular fiction is now a well-known global creature.
The borders between these levels are not always completely obvious and unambiguous. For example, in Aino Kallas's Sudenmorsian the creature of werewolf is at the macro level, but actually most werewolves of modern fantasy stories are mega-level creatures. The micro-, macro-, or mega-level fantaseme found does not determine the whole novel; sometimes you can find every level of fantasemes in the same novel.
Motifs from folk tradition may change into components of shared fantasy, as has been discussed. Many supernatural beings that appear in fantasy have their roots in folk tales and folk beliefs originating in different parts of the world. Although the roots of some shared fantasy motifs, such as the vampire, are undeniably of folk origin, not all their characteristics are derived from oral traditions of the supernatural. Fantasy involves the use of many sources, and the gathering and mingling of interesting materials from all over; in other words, constant variation. Folk tales and folk beliefs are part of fantasy, but in new shape. As a matter of fact, I believe the fantasemes are part of the folklore continuum. Folk tradition lives on and varies in modern day. The model of the fantasy process and the examples presented here do not attempt to offer final answers but rather to raise new questions. Much remains to be investigated in the relations between folk tradition and fantasy, and an exciting field awaits the bold researcher.
(1.) Propp's model has indeed been adapted not just to fantasy but to many different products of popular culture. Series of events described by Propp's functions have been identified particularly among the romantic readership of entertainment literature (Niemi 55-60). At times the functions are somewhat modernized: for example, the wedding that for Propp concludes a story may nowadays be expressed as the hero having sex with the princess he has saved (Berger, Popular 21-22). Repetitive functional series have also been widely found in films and television series, as well as in the field of popular literature (Cawelti, Adventure; Berger, Making 54). Sometimes they clearly relate to Propp's functions, but other sorts of function inspired by Propp's notions have been found, which characteristically belong to well-known genre types. Established functional patterns are depicted for example in westerns (Cawelti, Six-gun; Wright) and James Bond films (Eco).
(2.) The division of folk tradition into micro-, macro-, and mega-levels has been employed in many contexts, e.g., Honko.
(3.) Native folk tradition here indicates what is found in the archives of the Finnish Literature Society.
(4.) The best-known example may be Johanna Sinisalo's Ennen paivanlaskua ei voi (2000). (Translations: Not Before Sundown [Br.]; Troll--A Love Story [Am.])
(5.) An example is Sari Peltoniemi's Kuulen kutsun metsanpeittoon ("The Enchantment of the Forest is Calling Me," 2011).
(6.) Here these urban legends are fantasemes of the micro level (I think), but many urban legends are global and known worldwide.
(7.) Edward Cullen is the eternally young seventeen-year-old hero of Twilight, while Eric, of Viking background, belongs to the vampires of the Sookie Stackhouse series.
(8.) Both readers and publishers nowadays use the term paranormal romance.
(9.) The writer is believed to be either James Malcolm Rymer or Thomas Peckett Prest.
(10.) There is one collection of new Finnish vampire novellas, Verenhimo ("Bloodlust," 2011), and a new vampire novel of Terhi Tarkiainen: Pure mua ("Bite Me," 2018).
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Translated by Clive Tolley
Caption: Figure 1. The Fantasy Process
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|Publication:||Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2019|
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