In the runup to Worldcon 75 in Helsinki, one obvious choice for an eager reader to get up to speed on Finnish literature is the Kalevala. The Finnish national epic is, by some lights, one of the great pieces of literary editing and repurposing, stitched together by Elias Lönnrot in the full flower of Romantic nationalism to create a single uniform Homeric poem from folk poetry and traditional ballads. Is it authentic? Or as much a fabrication as Ossian? That’s largely beside the point, because the Kalevala has endured as literature, and become integral to the fabric of modern Finnish national consciousness.
It’s also had its own bizarre influence on English literature. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha was composed with the same trochaic tetrameter as the Kalevala – inspired by Longfellow’s sojourn in Sweden in the 1830s. That metre makes most faithful metrical translations of the Kalevala surprisingly congenial to the English language, now that Longfellow has done the groundwork.
Still, trochees are not the natural metrical feet of English verse. So if you’re an enthusiast for text-to-speech e-reading, like me, then a trochaic epic poem should be a good acid test for the software, and for the whole proposition. Right now, I’m using Bookari Premium as my preferred EPUB e-reader, with full text-to-speech functionality. The program is reading John Martin Crawford’s 1888 translation of the poem, available for free on Project Gutenberg, back to me. And although the reading is sometimes monotonous, and very occasionally mispronounces words, it manages both the metre and the Finnish names of gods and heroes just fine.
Of course, text-to-speech will probably not get up to the same standard as an audiobook read by an actor for many years to come. But it’s already good enough, especially when you compare the size of an audiobook file to the size of an EPUB ebook. And for public domain titles, it gives you the audiobook experience for free. What more could you want?