Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Latvian fantasy is based mostly on Folklore and Myth. It was important in defining Latvia's nationhood during both independence and occupation.

An important early modern Heroic Fantasy is the epic poem Lacplesis ["Bearfighter"] (1888) by Andrejs Pumpurs (1841-1902), which weaves in figures from folklore and incidents from Baltic history. Lacplesis is an ancient Latvian legendary Hero, whose enormous strength, held in his ears, is inherited from a she-bear. He fights evil powers who seek help from his greatest enemy, the Dark Knight, a symbolic representation of medieval German crusaders. Janis Rainis (real name Janis Plieksans; 1865-1929) created a drama based on Pumpurs's poem: Uguns un nakts ["Fire and Night"] (1908) includes Devils, Witches and a Dragon. The protagonists are symbols representing the nation through the last millennium, their views and attitudes changing with each succeeding act, depicting the spiritual and intellectual development of hero and nation. The ideology of Rainis's play, a classic of European symbolist drama, differs considerably from that of Pumpurs's original, having been written during the attempted russianization of Latvia by Imperial Russia. Pumpurs's Dark Knight becomes Rainis's Black Knight, who "comes from the Tatars who trample every land under the hooves of their horses". Lacplesis is now the chosen hero to stand against all evil forces, whether from West or East. Rainis's other play of fantasy note is the tragedy Speleju, dancoju ["I Played and I Danced"], a symbolic Dark Fantasy.

Rainis's wife, the poet, playwright, feminist and freedom-fighter Aspazija (real name Elza Plieksane; 1868-1943), used Lithuanian and Latvian mythology in her drama Zalksa ligava ["The Serpent's Bride"] (1928; trans Astrida B Stahnke in Aspazija: Her Life and Her Drama 1984 US), based on a tale about a water Serpent who marries a human woman. Aspazija's most successful play was Sidraba skidrauts ["The Silver Veil"] (1905). The heroine possesses a silver veil from the Gods, through which she can see past and future and learn people's secrets. Supporting justice, she faces conflict with a tyrant, a conflict aggravated by her Love for a prince. Aspazija's verse plays Vestal ["The Priestess"] (1894) and Ragana ["The Witch"] (1895) are also fantasies.

Karlis Skalbe (1879-1945) and Janis Veselis (1896-1962) founded modern Latvian prose fantasy. Skalbe wrote over 60 short stories, most using classic Fairytale form but with a modern ethical content. Veselis based his fantasies on the ancient Baltic Pantheon. His 29-story cycle covers the period from the creation to modern Latvian civilization, and mixes gods and people as in ancient Greek mythology. In the 20th century stories the gods influence history. The early stories were published in the magazine Daugava until 1936, later stories being written after the 1940 occupation. Veselis emigrated to Germany, then the USA. The Chicago-based Latvian magazine Zintis published some of his stories in English 1962-1965, and some appeared also in Latvian Literature (trans anth 1964 Canada) ed Aleksis Rubulis.

As Latvian fantasy was associated with the nationalist movement in earlier years, it was not encouraged during the Soviet occupation. [IB]

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.