The trickster and the mythological tourist

A reversal of tradition in Kreutzwald’s epic


In Estonian mythology landscape is an image of a primordial time, when the earth was created. This mythical time can be compared to some of the oldest and remotest oral traditions, like Dreamtime among Aboriginal Australians or the First Order among African Bushmen. There were two principal figures: one was the first, or more perfect creator, and the other a trickster, who added necessary imperfections and continued the process of creation. The first creator is often called Grandfather (Vanaisa), while the trickster is called Old Pagan (Vanapagan). Together they form a creator pair that functions in a supplementary manner: while Grandfather creates the earth all flat, Old Pagan also creates hills and valleys, etc. In the recorded fragments creation time is often referred to as a period when the stones where soft, because Old Pagan was still roaming on earth and left his footprints, fingerprints etc. on the stones. Consequently the landscape turns into a cosmological reservoir, a vast space of mythical inscriptions, or as Christopher Tilley has put it: „The landscape is thus represented in myth and represents the myth. It is a mnemonic for past generations and a means of establishing continuity with the past. Time becomes collapsed into space.” This kind of space, that Tilley calls pre-capitalist or non-Western space, is radically different from our modern, capitalist or Western space.
The character of the mythical landscape is seminal and the narratives are quite indifferent to geographical singularity. As Gustav Schüdlöffel pointed out in 1836, „was hier als an einem Orte geschehen erzählt wird, mag auch anderswo von andern Orten gelten”. The reason for this seminality is simple: in the oral tradition each locale embodies a cosmological totality, acquiring metonymic qualities. In 1839 Friedrich Faehlmann reversed this principle of the oral tradition, introducing a concept of Tartumaa as „der classische Boden der Ehsten”, where the alleged epic narrative cycle has presumably established univocal relations between the local singularities and epic events, presented in a linear order. This innovation was taken for granted by Friedrich Kreutzwald, who imagined the Estonian landscape as a geographical stage for his epic hero Kalevipoeg. However, the real oral tradition did not fit in with this preconception and Kreutzwald was frustrated. Nonetheless he passed through this phase of depression and produced a new, mystified landscape, represented in his epic „Kalevipoeg”. This brought forth a fundamental reversal of tradition, replacing the trickster with a new literary figure that can be called a „mythological tourist”.


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