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Estonian animation: Toell the Great (Suur Tõll)

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Estonian animation: Toell the Great (Suur Tõll)

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drawing, old man


I recently stumbled across a very interesting film while browsing the emult community (this entry). The film itself is based on Estonian myth, and the main character is Toell the Great, the giant leader of the island of Saaremaa. Regardless of what you think of it, this is undoubtedly a film that you won't forget, and not just because of its unusual imagery and majestic soundtrack. It reveals a side of Estonian animation that I had not seen before. It is also probably one of the scariest animated films to air widely on television - a lot of Soviet children saw it, judging from the comments on emult. If you are squeamish, you really should think twice before watching it.

A few years after its 1980 release, it was adapted into a children's book. Because there is a small bit of untranslated Estonian dialogue in the film, and because some things will be quite difficult to understand unless you're already familiar with the story, I've translated the book into English. I highly recommend reading it before you watch the film, since I think you'll get a lot more out of the film that way. Otherwise, you probably won't have a clue as to what is going on.

Higher-quality scans of the Estonian version are posted over here (the Russian version can be seen over here).






Toell the Great
by Rein Raamat
based on Estonian folklore
art by Jüri Arrak



Long ago on Saaremaa lived Toell the Great - a bogatyr and ruler of the island. He was bigger than other people, and stronger too.
Saaremaa was a harsh land, and the people who lived there were tough and strong. Work was no enemy to them; they plowed land and caught fish from the sea.
Toell had an evil and dangerous foe: the Old Vile One. He never missed an opportunity to harm Toell.
Once, during a time of peace, Toell was plowing his field. The Old Vile One was hiding in a nearby forest and watching his progress. When Toell finished plowing and went home, the Old Vile One threw numerous rocks all over the freshly-plowed field. He was so proud of his evil deed, he even giggled a bit.



Suddenly, a large enemy army attacked the island. The men dropped their work and went to engage the enemy. Their defence was valorous, but the enemy's army was large, and many islanders were killed in the battle. Their last hope rested on Toell, and the wounded fighters hurried to meet him.
They soon got close to Toell's house. It was immediately apparent that it was the house of a giant; giant wheels from a wheelbarrow and harrow lay near the house. The men walked through the teeth of the harrow and came to an enormous stone building. Toell was bulding his house from stone, and his wife Piret was helping him bring the stones. The house was already so high that its roof reached the clouds.



The tired men stopped by the house and began to call: "Toell, Toell, come and help us! The enemy has attacked our land!"
Toell heard them and climbed down.
Before going to war, Toell decided to have a satisfying meal. He asked Piret to start a fire under the kettle, and set off right across the sea to the island of Ruhnu, to bring back some cabbage for the soup.
The sea only reached Toell's knees. Suddenly, the waves threw a fishing boat, which had overturned because of the storm, upon his legs. Sinking fishermen were desperately fighting the boisterous waves.
Toell drained the water from the boat, placed the fishermen in it and carried them to shore. Then Toell took a large cabbade under his arm, came back home across the sea and put the cabbage in the pot. Piret cooked the cabbage soup, and Toell ate his fill and fed the warriors.



After the dinner, Toell rose up from the table, took two of his enormous wheelbarrow wheels instead of weapons and hurried to the war through the forest. Piret stayed home and gazed after Toell for a long time. On the road, Toell sat 20 warriors upon each of his wheels and walked toward the noise and yells of the battle.
The warriors on the field decided not to wait for Toell and attacked the enemy. But though our warriors fought valiantly, the enemy surrounded them and pitilessly sliced through them with their swords. As soon as Toell reached the battlefield, he let the warriors down from his wheels, and they ran to help their own people. But they could not prevail against the strong enemy.
Seeing that the enemy was powerful and cruel, Toell stalled no more. He began spiritedly swinging the wheels around himself. Each of his blows swept away numerous foes. He destroyed a great many of them. Soon, the enemy army was broken.



While Toell the Great was fighting the enemy, the Old Vile One crept close to his house. He chose the most opportune time for destroying Toell's house.
The Old Vile One began hitting the stones out of the walls, and with such strength that the house shook and the walls vibrated. Piret stood by the house. She berated the Old Vile One. He, meanwhile, continued to destroy the house. With a horrible clamour, stones fell and walls collapsed. As she protected herself from the rocks, Piret raised her hands and cursed the Old Vile One. When the house collapsed, Piret fell unconscious near the terrible ruins. Happy with himself, the Old Vile One giggled and hurried away.
Toell came back from the war and saw the ruined house and lifeless body of Piret. Toell decided to exact revenge upon the Old Vile One. While on the road, he grabbed the top of a big ashberry, ripped out the tree with its roots, and removed the branches with his palm.
Toell searched all the forests of Saaremaa, and checked all the suspicious hummocks. The Old Vile One had disappeared. Long did Toell search for him, but finally he reached the seashore and stopped at the edge of a peninsula. The evening sea lapped the shore quietly, and the tired Toell dropped onto the sand.



The Old Vile One carefully peeked out from a pine tree and saw Toell lying on the edge. Thinking that Toell was asleep, the Old Vile One began quickly digging a channel between the peninsula and the shore. He wanted to separate the peninsula from the island, and Toell with it. The Old Vile One dug out the channel, and began pushing the peninsula away. But it did not move. Then the Old Vile One lay on his back, braced his arms against the peninsula, and his feet again the island, and pushed. With a thunderous crack, the connection broke and the peninsula and Toell drifted away from the shore.
Suddenly, the Old Vile One felt a great pain; this was Toell, who had smashed his belly with his club. The Old Vile One wailed in pain and fear, sprang up and ran away. Toell ran after him with his club. They ran through the forest: the earth shook, trees fell, and clouds were torn to pieces. The Old Vile One hid in the fog, and Toell was forced to look for him. Suddenly, they met face to face, and the Old Vile One, scared half to death, sprang back and ran away from Toell.
Finally, they ran all the way to the seashore. The sea roiled and thundered. The Old Vile One stopped by the shore and saw that the enraged Toell was gaining on him. In fright, the Old Vile One stepped backward and fell into the sea. The sea grabbed him with its eager hands and dragged him to its very bottom.



Toell made sure that the Old Vile One had met his just end, and turned back to his house.
Coming home, he placed large boulders around Piret's body and covered her grave with a huge flat stone. In great sadness Toell stood by Piret's grave, and in great sadness stood other people who had come there.
Suddenly, great columns of smoke came from a distant forest. The enemy had once again attacked the island. Enemy ships docked on the shore, and the foes began robbing and killing the populace.
Their last hope rested on Toell, and the populace called on him for help. Toell heard the call, but it was customary for him to wash after a funeral. He poured water over himself, and the water droplets, akin to tears, rained down Toell's face.
Then he hurried to help his people, taking his enormous wheelbarrow with him. He broke through into the very thick of the enemy and began to fight. With each blow, he destroyed much of the enemy's strength. And our warriors also became braver, and fought harder.






The enemy warlord, who was of great size, cut down our warriors with his long sword. Toell tirelessly swung his wheelbarrow and felled many foes.
Suddenly, the back wheels of the wheelbarrow broke off. With terrible strength they flew through the clouds and right onto the enemy ships, turning them into mere splinters.
Toell held the wheelbarrow by its thill and continued to swing it with all his might.



Suddenly, the front wheels of the wheelbarrow also broke off and fell into the sea. The enemy warlord was fighting close to Toell. With each swing of his sword he killed several of our warriors at once.
Only the thill was now left to Toell, and he continued mercilessly hitting the enemy. Where it swung, whole enemy rows fell to the ground. But then the thill also slipped from Toell's grasp.
Toell knelt to pick it up, and the enemy warlord raised his sword and cut off Toell's head.
The battle came to a standstill, and a dead silence rolled over the field. Only Toell was still moving his arms, searching for his head.



One of his hands found the great enemy warlord. Toell grabbed him and crushed him. The foes turned to flight, and ran away in deathly fear. Our warriors followed on their heels, full of rage, and chased them into the sea.
Toell took his head from the ground and walked away from the field of battle. But his steps became uncertain. Finally, with his strength gone, Toell collapsed and his head rolled aside.



Toell's body died and became a burial mound, covered in green grass. His head was still alive, and he yelled: "If the enemy should make war on us again, come and wake me. I'll rise up then and help my people!"
Then Toell's head also died, and a green hill appeared in its place.





And now... you can watch the film in high quality or in low quality:


Watch part 2 over here (for some reason I can't make both of the videos show up here).


Crossposted with my own blog.
  • Also, if you want to, I can translate the dialogue/chanting in the film for subtitles.

    And thanks for linking, I've never seen it myself. Perhaps only a fragment on television...
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