A Mortal Visits the Other World – the Relativity of Time in Estonian Fairy Tales

Mairi Kaasik

Abstract


This article analyses Estonian fairy tales with regard to perceiving supernatural lapses of time, focusing on the tale type cluster A Mortal Visits the Other World, which includes tale types ATU 470, 470A, 471, and 471A. In these tales the mortal finding himself in the world of the dead, heaven or fairyland experiences the accelerated passage of time. Returning to the mundane temporal reality and learning the truth the hero generally dies. The difference in time perception has been caused by the hero’s movement in space and between spaces. Three vertical spheres can be detected: 1) the upper world (heaven, paradise); 2) the human world; 3) the netherworld (the world of the dead, hell). Usually, the events of a particular tale take place only in the human world, and either in the upper or the netherworld. The relativity of the passing of time on earth and in the other world makes the tales ‘behave’ in a peculiar manner as regards genre, bringing to prominence features of representation of time typical of legends or religious tales. Although the tales contain several features that make them close to legends (a concrete place and personal names, the topic of death, dystopic endings, characters belonging to the reality of legends, etc.), based on Estonian material they can be regarded as part of fairy tales.


Keywords


a mortal in the netherworld; relativity of time; Estonian fairy tales; the tale type cluster; genre borders

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ISSN (print) 1736-6518. ISSN (online) 2228-0987. JEF is a joint publication of the University of Tartu, the Estonian National Museum and the Estonian Literary Museum.