The Threefold World

By: Ellen Kushner

Star Rating:



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Elias Lönnrot is a young scholar with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. He loves reading the Latin poetry of Virgil or the Greek classics like The Iliad and The Odyssey. However, he doesn't give much thought to his own Finnish culture. In fact, he rather scorns it. His school friends try to sway his opinion by telling him about stories of their ancestors who sang spells that could change the world. Elias thinks this is nonsense until he meets an old peddler on the road one day who changes his mind in a dramatic way.


The Threefold World is about a young man named Elias, who has an insatiable hunger for learning. He loves to read the Greek and Latin classics, but he harbors some disdain for his own Finnish background, feeling like it doesn't have much to offer either him or the world at large. He has heard of ancestors who could sing spells so powerful they could change the world around them, but he doesn't believe these stories are real, until he meets an old peddler along the road who teaches him otherwise.

The Threefold World is a rather odd, little story that I'm finding very difficult to explain or classify. It has an almost surreal quality to it, while also being rather poetic. In a strange sort of way, it feels rather like an old classic myth or legend written many eons ago. If that's what the author was going for, then I'd say she succeeded. However, I've never been a big reader of classics, poetry, or surreal fiction, so I can't say that it drew me in the way I might have hoped. Although there was nothing inappropriate for younger readers, having it written this way, also seems like it might place it outside the reach of most of the youngsters at which Under My Hat: Tales from the Cauldron, the antholody in which it's found, seems to be aimed. I think this short story would definitely appeal to regular readers of the genres I mentioned, but for me it was just OK.


Ellen Kushner