Fan Question: Are the Erilaiset Real Beings from Finnish Folklore?

Cindy L from Toronto left a message (thanks, Cindy!) about the various vaki that comprise the Erilaiset in the book–the magical races and creatures that Vainamoinen and his friends introduce to Ulla, and that Egan is so interested in. She asked if these creatures in The Mark of the Bear Clan were inspired by original Finnish legends.

The short answer is yes. In the Kalevala and more importantly, in Finnish oral and written folkore traditions, there are many creatures or “races” that are more or less analogous to the magical beings that native English-speakers are used to from English and Germanic traditions–elfs, dwarves, and the like. I used both the Finnish names and their likely “Germanic” analogs when writing the book. The analogs aren’t perfect. For example, the Finnish Menninkaiset–short, sturdy little folk–might be translated as gnomes, brownies, or even dwarves. I chose gnome, but of course, I switch between Finnish and English and use the names interchangeably. There is also another interesting race of magical creatures called the Maanalaiset (the ‘earth people’), that could also be analogous to gnomes, etc. However, they aren’t quite so wholesome, and they don’t come into our story until the third book. I mention this because it’s a good illustration of how there’s a random element at play when translating Finnish names/categories into English. Sometimes it’s easy, ie, “witch” in English = “noita” in Finnish. Sometimes, it’s not so self-evident.


So all that is a long-winded, writer’s way of saying, yes, you are right! The magical races in the book are indeed based on magical creatures in Finnish folklore, without exception.

Thanks so much for asking, Cindy, and I’m so glad you liked the story. The next book, The Heir of Lemminkainen, will be out later this year!