The Black Gentleman.

Author:Zolkover, Adam
Position:Book review

The Black Gentleman. By Ulo Valk. FF Communications No. 276. (Helsinki: Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, 2001. Pp. 217, introduction, bibliography.)

A revision of his 1994 dissertation, first published in Estonian in 1998, Ulo Valk's The Black Gentleman presents readers with an impressively thorough and comprehensive study of the role of the Devil in Estonian folklore. Valk explores diabolical manifestations in various forms throughout legend, superstition, and folktale, as well as situating his data in a larger context by providing comparisons both across Christian Europe and locally in Estonian folk religion. On the former account, he draws parallels between the Estonian material and information from theological writings on the Devil in medieval and early modern Western Europe, as well as in the folklore of Estonia's neighbors, like Germany, which lay closer to what is commonly thought of as the center of Christendom. On the latter, he tells us from the beginning of the monograph that his purpose is to redress a relative scholarly neglect of the Devil in Estonian folklore, which he attributes to a misunderstanding of the material as not adequately pre-Christian. Prior scholars fail to understand, he writes, that the Devil has at least as much longevity as any other figure in Estonian tradition; he is similar to any one of a whole menagerie of native daemons and spirits, simply with a name-change and a facelift to reflect a new Christian priority. "The ideas of different eras have merged in the figure of the Devil," Valk writes. "The pre-Christian traits are intertwined with Orthodox and Roman Catholic ideas as well as Lutheran influences which finally became predominant" (11).

To support his argument and redress this perceived scholarly dearth, Valk presents his readers with a seven-part examination of the Devil, devoting the first four to his manifestations, and the final three--more briefly--to different narrative contexts in which he appears. Thus, he begins with extended discussions of the anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, fantastic, and inanimate incarnations of the devil, and continues with discussions of the devil's appearances as a coachman and in delusions. In each section, he furnishes ample exemplary evidence for the prominence of the devil in Estonian folklore, as well as significant statistical evidence toward that same end.

In the section on anthropomorphic manifestations, for instance, Valk provides examples of the Evil One--a term...

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