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Russian Legends about Forest Spirits in the Context of Northern European Mythology
by Torsten Martin Gustaf Lofstedt
This book is actually a doctoral dissertation. I originally ran across it in my university days when one of our university libraries had a copy. I don't remember what I was researching at the time, but it probably had to do with Germanic/Scandinavian mythology/folkore. Anyway, I grabbed this one even though I didn't expect it to have anything of use for the topic I was on but because the title was so fascinating. It took me years to find another copy of this dissertation at UMI Dissertation Services* and decided to go ahead and get a copy. And a copy is exactly what I got. It's a printing done after someone had run the pages through a copier!
Anyhoo, it's a fascinating study about forest spirit legends - including animal guardians, place guardians, deceivers, devils, and various otherworldly beings. As mentioned, the study is primarily on legends, which the author takes care to define. In short (very short), a legend is a tale told as if it were true and expected to be believed. A simple example would be something like this: "My uncle once spent the night in the forest while hunting, and when he made his campfire he heard a voice telling him he had to move. He ignored it at first, but it was insistent so he eventually moved a bit away and made a new campfire. Just then, a procession of bears went through the place he was camping!"
Although the study is primarily legends, it does mention many times about similar motifs in folklore and mythology. Also, even though it's limited to Russian (and primarily Karelian) legends, the author almost always compares with similar legends found in other parts of Russia, Finland, Sweden, Norway, and the Baltic States. When a legend is particularly common, he even mentions variants found throughout the world, even among First Nation (Native American) and African peoples.
Overall, it's a wonderful study. The only problem is that since it's a doctoral dissertation, the author tends to spend a lot of time defining terms. This is very important in academia, but rather dull for people simply interested in the legends and their various motifs. Also, the language is a bit dry, but that's also to be expected in this type of writing.
So, it's very cool and highly recommended if you're interested in these types of legends and don't mind digging through a work meant for a highly academic audience.
*http://www.il.proquest.com/ but good luck finding it there. The site completely blows.
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