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It takes either an incredible amount of skill or a general and intense lack of awareness to forge an entire boat out of copper while trying to craft something completely different. Maybe it takes a bit of both. Regardless, I think it takes a Finn to write a story about it.

Nowhere else in the realm of mythology is there anything quite like the Finnish Kalevala. With a collection of stories ranging from weird to completely ridiculous, the songs and stories contained within Finland’s National Epic are entrancing. The Kalevala is filled with sorcerous minstrels, magic-infused blacksmiths, vengeance, and, of course, love. The characters are strong in a way that many other sources of mythology can’t hold a candle to, with schemes and passions that come alive on the page. Where one might read a rather dry and stolid retelling of Greek and Roman heroes by modern scholars, Elias Lönnrot brings Finnish heroes to life. If you enjoy mythology or if you’ve never cracked open a book of myths but enjoy fantasy fiction, I highly recommend giving The Kalevala a look. While it is arranged as an epic poem, it is very easy to follow and beautiful to read.

But enough of my gushing.

The comic today comes from one of the stories of Ilmarinen (the Eternal Hammerer), a principal character in the Kalevala and a blacksmith. There are a few tales regarding him and others (we’ve seen Väinämöinen deal with Harry Potter) and many of the stories of Ilmarinen (in Lonnrot’s translations) deal with how unlucky in love poor Ilmarinen is. We learn, not long after Ilmarinen is mentioned, that he is a blacksmith and a damn good one at that. Being immortal and gifted with artifice, he is capable of crafting anything at all within the fires of his forge. It is this which starts his troubles in the particular story I’ve referenced. In the tale, Väinämöinen, the old magician, is wandering the countryside in search of a wife (this is apparently a sensible thing to do in that age) when he runs afoul of a hag from the Northlands. Väinämöinen is captured but offers the witch the Sampo, an incredible artifact, for his freedom. The witch consents and asks him to craft it for her, but it is not within Väinämöinen’s capabilities to forge it. Despite being a powerful sorceror, only Ilmarinen has the ability to create such a powerful object. He tells her that he will acquire Ilmarinen’s help if she might give her beautiful daughter’s hand in marriage to Ilmarinen. She agrees and releases Vainamoinen who travels home to visit Ilmarinen.

After a brief and failed attempt to trick Ilmarinen into forging the sampo by subtly hinting at the daughter’s beauty, Vainamoinen convinces the smith to climb a nearby tree. Ilmarinen reaches the top and is flung far into the North by winds summoned by Vainamoinen’s magic. In the North, Ilmarinen meets the witch’s daughter and, struck by her incredible beauty, agrees to forge the artifact in question and this is where our story begins.

Ilmarinen’s first attempt at forging the Sampo results in a gold and silver crossbow that is described as being ill-tempered. It claims a life each day or two on a good day. Ilmarinen is disgusted with this object and throws it back into the fire and begins forging anew. His second attempt results in a giant copper boat that is described as “ill-mannered”. It sails needlessly to war and tries to incite fights. Once again, he is displeased and gets rid of it.

But how does one forge a boat accidentally? There are bigger questions at hand, I think. What are the effects of accidentally forging a boat on one’s surroundings? You know there have to be casualties.

Friday will bring part two in this series of three comics about the forging of the Sampo and Tuesday will wrap it up!

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