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The Battle of Song
A Northern Tale of Magic

Retold by Aaron Shepard
From the Kalevala

Gift of Story #8

Excerpted and adapted for storytelling by the author, from his mini-novel The Songs of Power: A Northern Tale of Magic, Skyhook Press, Olympia, Washington, 2007


For more resources, visit Aaron Shepard’s Storytelling Page at
www.aaronshep.com/storytelling

Copyright © 1996, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2007 Aaron Shepard. You are welcome to tell this story in live performance or broadcast, but please mention the author and the children’s book, if any.

PREVIEW: A young man faces an ancient one in a contest of magic.

GENRE: Epics, fantasy
CULTURE: Finnish
THEME: Boasting, generation gap
AUDIENCE AGES: 10 and up
LENGTH: 6 minutes

NOTES: “The Battle of Song” is one of the most famous scenes from the Kalevala, the great national epic of Finland, compiled from folk sources in the late 1800s by Elias Lönnrot. Vainamoinen is pronounced “VI-na-MER-nen,” rhyming with “vine a mermen.” Joukahainen is pronounced “YO-ka-HI-nen,” rhyming with “yoke a high men.” Aila is pronounced “I-la,” sounding like “isle a.” Louhi is pronounced “LO-hee.” Kalevala is pronounced “KAH-lev-AH-la.” Elias Lönnrot is pronounced “EL-ee-us LERN-root.”

Hear the Names | Aaron’s Extras
All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.


I find my power in a chant.
I win my magic from a song.
But can I find a woman’s warmth?
And can I win a maiden’s love?

This sad song sang Vainamoinen,
old magician, ancient sage,
as his sleigh ran over the marsh,
sped along the lake.
The wind blew his beard,
the summer sun warmed him.

Around the bend
another sleigh raced,
full speed down the trail
the young man pressed.
No time to stop,
no time to turn aside.

The horses swerved,
the sleighs collided.
Shaft wedged against shaft,
harnesses entangled.
The drivers nearly tumbled out.

Astonished, they eyed each other,
waited for words.
The horses dripped sweat,
pawed the ground.

“Young man!” said Vainamoinen.
“Who are you who drives so recklessly?”

“I am Joukahainen,” said the youth.
“Old man, who are you who got in my way?”

“I am Vainamoinen,” said the sage.
“Now move your sleigh and let me by,
for youth must ever give way to age.”

Said Joukahainen,
“That was in a time long past.
Age must now make way for youth,
for the young know more than the old!”

“Is this true?” scoffed Vainamoinen.
“Say what you know, then.
Share this great knowledge!”

Said Joukahainen,
“Yes, I know a thing or two.
I know the fire is on the hearth,
and the smoke hole near the ceiling.
A plow in the south is pulled by horse,
and in the north by reindeer.
The pike feeds on salmon
and lays its eggs when frost arrives.”

“An infant knows as much!” said Vainamoinen.
“What else can you offer?”

Said Joukahainen,
“Iron comes from ore,
copper from the rock.
Water is born from the mountains,
fire from the heavens.
The titmouse was the first of birds,
the willow the first of trees.”

“A toddler has such wisdom!
Can you furnish nothing better?”

Said Joukahainen,
“Back in the beginning,
the seas were dug out,
and the mountains piled high.
The pillars of the sky were erected,
and the rainbow raised.
The sun and moon were set on their paths,
and the stars scattered in the sky.”

“Know yourself a fool,” said Vainamoinen.
“For I dug out the seas,
and I piled high the mountains.
I stood among the seven heroes
who erected the pillars of the sky
and raised the rainbow.
And when that was done,
we set the sun and moon on their paths
and scattered the stars in the heavens.”

Then declared Joukahainen,
“If my knowledge does not impress you,
my sword may do better.
Old man, draw your blade!”

“My sword stays where it is,” said Vainamoinen.
“I would not dirty it on you.”

Cried Joukahainen,
“You won’t fight?
Then I’ll use great magic on you!
I’ll chant you to a pig,
change you to a swine.
After that, I’ll strike you dead,
throw you on a dunghill!”

Then Vainamoinen grew angry.
He began to chant.
The earth shook,
the sky rumbled.
Water splashed from the lake,
the stones cracked.

Vainamoinen chanted
and the sword of Joukahainen
became lightning bolts across the sky.
His crossbow turned to a rainbow over the lake,
his arrows to hawks overhead.

Vainamoinen chanted
and the sleigh of Joukahainen
became a log in the water.
His horse turned to a boulder on the shore,
his whip to a reed on the bank.

Vainamoinen chanted
and the coat of Joukahainen
became a cloud in the sky.
His hat turned to a water lily on the lake,
his belt to a snake among the reeds.

Vainamoinen chanted
and Joukahainen sank in the marshy ground,
up to his waist in the swallowing earth.

Cried Joukahainen,
“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will give you a hat full of silver,
a helmet full of gold.”

“Keep your wealth,” said Vainamoinen.
“My coffers overflow.”
He chanted again,
and Joukahainen sank to his chest.

“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will give you fields for plowing,
meadows for pasture.”

“Keep your land.
My farm stretches beyond sight.”
He chanted again,
and Joukahainen sank to his chin.

“Reverse your words,
undo your spells!
I will tell you of the fairest woman,
the finest maiden.”

Vainamoinen stopped his chant.

Said Joukahainen,
“She is lovely Aila,
maiden of Northland,
daughter of age-old Louhi.
She’s called a blossom sweet to smell,
a fruit ripe to pluck.
Her fame spreads far,
the suitors gather.
But no proposal has she smiled on,
no suitor given the nod.”

Then Vainamoinen chanted again.
He reversed his words,
undid his spells.
Joukahainen rose from the marshy ground,
up from the swallowing earth.

The cloud became again his coat.
The water lily turned back to a hat,
the snake to a belt.

The log became again his sleigh.
The boulder turned back to a horse,
the reed to a whip.

The lightning became again his sword.
The rainbow turned back to a crossbow,
the hawks to arrows.

The young man wept in shame.
The old man raced for home.


Tips for Telling

You pretty much have to memorize this one to get the full impact of the language—though it can be powerful even if you don’t.

About the Story
All special features are at www.aaronshep.com/extras.

Book cover: The Songs of Power
Read the book!

The Songs of Power
A Northern Tale of Magic
Retold from the Kalevala

By Aaron Shepard