“Revontuli,” Marit said. “Fox’s Fire.”
“Revontuli. It means ‘Fox’s Fire’ in Finnish. It’s what my family calls these lights. We’re Finnish Sami. There is an ancient legend that tells of how the fox was playing tricks on the bear. The bear eventually grew angry, and lit his tail on fire, and as he runs across the sky, he leaves his sparks everywhere for us to see … There is another story about fox making porridge for his children, and the smoke coming out of the chimney changes into a thousand different colors. But I always liked the bear story myself.”
“Revontuli. I like that,” said Hans.
– From Revontuli, by Andrew Eddy
There are many words for the Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. In Sami language, they are most often called “guovssahas” which means “the light that can be heard”, a name that is based on guovso the word for “dawn” or “dusk”. Revontuli comes from the Finnish Revon/Repo (fox) and Tuli (fire).
In the novel Revontuli, Marit’s family are Finnish Sami and use the Finnish word. They came from Finland in the early 1800s to build the Old Church of Karasjok. Revontuli contains references to many Sami legends, including the story of the Old Troll who lives under the mountain behind Tromsø. Ancient Sami legends are a rich part of the oral history of the Sami people, and are celebrated in song (through joiks) and stories told by the fireside on long winter nights.
While the story of a fox lighting up the sky may strike some people as being strange, it’s actually fairly typical of mythology among native peoples. In Sami religion, nature plays a crucial role, and the animals around us have spirits that can tease or wreak havoc. The very setting can come alive, as rivers, mountains and the Sun and Moon all have their own individual spirit.
Have you ever seen the Northern Lights? Share your own personal experiences in the comments section below. The description of the aurora in Revontuli is inspired partly from childhood sightings in Canada, and partly from the rich photography of the Finnmark. I have not yet seen Revontuli in Norway or Finland!
Revontuli, my debut novel, is now available for sale from good booksellers and from Amazon in Europe and North America.