Saturday, 5 December 2015

Review: The Wolf's Bride by Aino Kallas

Aino Kallas' The Wolf's Bride is an early werewolf novella, written in 1928 (during the author's London years). Luckily, while the title is one that you could imagine seeing on the cover of one of those horrible werewolf romance novels these days, The Wolf's Bride draws heavily from the old Estonian werewolf myths and - for a large part - delivers those myths to the readers in the form of a story.

The story was first published in English in 1930 and is nowadays available in collections Three Novels (1975) and The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy (2006). CORRECTION: The latter of these publications actually includes only an excerpt of the story, beginning from chapter 4 and cuts the last 4 chapters off, basically choosing a relatively happy ending instead of the tragic end of the longer variant. I read the original language, 12 chapter version for this review.

The story is set in around the year 1650 in Hiiumaa, an island on the west side of Estonia. The tale begins with a hunter called Priidik who observes from hiding (yes, pretty creepy) a group of village women washing sheep and then themselves, falling in love with a young maiden, Aalo. He ignores the signs that the Devil has already put a claim on the girl (her red hair and the strangely shaped mole under her left breast) and marries her. After they have had a child, Aalo and other village women view a wolf hunt and suddenly she hears one of the wolves call to her. From that moment on, she is one of Devil's own and soon runs with the Daimons of the Forest.

The author has researched the legends and lifestyles of Estonia very well and the story includes references to several beliefs on how to recognise witches (they don't drown, because water rejects them) and how to turn a werewolf back into his/her human form (e.g. offering it bread, throwing iron over its head). She also gives many common folk's period names to months of the year, such as "Wolf Month" for December. The story is written in archaic language that makes it somewhat difficult to approach to a modern reader (words that are no longer in use or are used incorrectly from a modern point of view), but once you get in, the story flows nicely along.

The main failing of Finnish stories from this period is that they are rarely very surprising (comparable to the pre-pulp fiction era of the English speaking world). The plots are straight-forward and the endings easy to predict. This is also the case with The Wolf Bride, but it did not bother me very much: the story is short - about 50 pages - and detailed enough to keep the reader interested. The focus is also very strongly on Priidik and Aalo's relationship and especially the (Daimon-induced) desire of Aalo to be free of her restraints, while still feeling love for Priidik and their child. There was a little repetitiveness about Aala's departure from the protection of the God and Christ, but not too much. However, this strong Christian message, especially the pathos at the end - warning good Christians to keep an eye out for witches and witchcraft - is a minor problem with the story.

Overall, the story is well worth a read to anyone wishing to familiarise themselves with earlier werewolf stories.