Eija Timonen | Doctor or Arts, Professor of Media Studies

Doctoral dissertation
"Folklore as a Source for a Manuscript Writer: The Transformation of Folklore into Different Media" (2004)

Doctor of Arts Eija Timonen's dissertation focuses on the question of how folklore, and particularly folk tales, can become a part of modern children’s culture. The study deals with how traditional tales are reshaped to suit a modern children's audience and adapted for different media – books, audiovisual presentation and interactive media. What factors influence the modification of an artistic work into different media?

The artistic component included in the dissertation is comprised of material written by Eija Timonen for different media. These include a printed item, "Lilliputians and Giants" (Tammi 2003); a ten-part series of illustrated fairy tales entitled "Hand in Paw"; a ten-part series of playlets with the title "Magic Wheel" as well as a CD-ROM entitled "Secret Creatures Trolls" (Wsoy 1998).

Using a model she has developed, the researcher traces the evolution of the folk tale from its early appearance in traditional societies through to its reception in different media environments in today's children's culture. The model used in the study outlines the various factors which contribute to reshaping folklore into a product for modern children's culture.

The dissertation is moreover a case study in that Timonen aims to generate a model based on the processes and turns of events occurring in her creative work with the help of more general, constructive explanatory models. The study is also action research in the sense that in it Timonen researches the recent history of the productisation of tradition and has at the same time actively participated in it.

Timonen's own artistic work shows how she has made use of tradition to create fiction. She furthermore illustrates with her own artistic material the possibilities that different media have created for making use of tradition as well as the types of changes which the particular media she researches effected in the story itself and in roles of the creator and the recipient of the new work.

Timonen looks particularly at the way in which tradition can be adapted to a children's culture produced for and through different media, how cultural meanings shift when in different media and how the creator can retain the sense of the original stories when the environment of narration changes from a smoke cabin to virtual space.

Timonen identifies numerous instances in her own stories in which she crosses the boundaries of traditional folklore. This is accomplished with inflections in style, in the representation of the feelings of characters, the medium used to tell the story, changing an oral story into literature or multimedia products as well as making the child the centre of the target group and often the protagonist of the story.

Timonen finds both similarities and disparities between today's world view and the world view characterised by belief legends. The two world views are similar in that they share the same eternal themes of love, loss, hope, survival and the conditions of life, family relationships, friendship, safety and a person's place in the world. They differ, on the other hand, in their conception of the human relationship to nature, for instance concerning hunting, the fear of supernatural forces, absolute poverty, the scourge of disease, closeness to the forest and nature in general.

Timonen's study also analyses the children's show Pikku Kakkonen and its place in audiovisual children's culture in Finland. The study argues that clear developments can be seen in the show's educational and narrational elements over time. Pikku Kakkonen has maintained its position as the most popular children's television show since 1977. Narrative in children's programmes in the 1970s was long-winded, animation was slow and major significance was attached to speech. The programmes would educate and guide children in affairs of the adult world, for example, by taking a stance on environmental issues. The stories would end with everyone dancing in a circle. Interpretations of fairy tales in the new millennium can be dramatic, feature terrible monsters and great heroes, but still need to have a happy ending.

The study maintains that audiovisual narration provides an excellent medium for presenting the thematics of folklore, as audiovisual narration and the oral narration of small communities intersect on many points, including, for example, aspects relating to turns of expression and the importance of the medium of communication for society.

The epilogue of the dissertation points out that digitalisation appears to be leading to a fusion of media, which enables the mixing of genres. Text, animation, audio and video can essentially all feature in a single production in any order or combination, which can even be extended to include the interactive dimension of games in virtual space.

The fusion of media poses great challenges for those making use of and distributing stories. What should the response to this fusion be on the level of cultural strategy and on the level of authors and individual publishers and producers? Timonen also puts forward the question of whose stories will be circulated in the brave new digitalised world. Circulation raises, moreover, the question of authorship. The question is significant in many ways in that in the end it determines the socio-economic position and the role of the creators in the production process. To whom do the rights, responsibilities and uses of the product emerging at different stages of circulation belong?

Eija Timonen

defended her doctoral dissertation at the Faculty of Art and Design on 14.6.2004.

Publication details:
Timonen, Eija: "Folklore as a Source for a Manuscript Writer: The Transformation of Folklore into Different Media – a Case Study on the Application of Finnish Folklore for Children and Young People". Rovaniemi 2004. 224 pages. Acta Universitatis Lapponiensis 73. ISBN 951-634-927-7