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Mika Waltari

Mika Toimi Waltari
Born September 19, 1908, Helsinki. Died August 26, 1979,  Helsinki.

Master of Arts, 1929 (Theoretical Philosophy, Aesthetics and Modern Literature), University of Helsinki

Author, screenplay writer, translator
Book reviewer, 1932-42, Maaseudun tulevaisuus newspaper
Editorial secretary, 1936-38, Suomen Kuvalehti weekly
State Information Office, 1939-44
Member, Academy of Finland, 1957-78

Honorary Doctor, University of Turku, 1970
Honorary member, Finnish writers’ union, 1960
Pro Finlandia literary award, 1952
State Award for Literature, 1933, 1934, 1936, 1949 and 1953
Honorary award, Aleksis Kivi Fund, 1947

Mika Waltari’s bibliography

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Written by Tomas Sjöblom and Lauri Lönnström
Translated by John Calton

On stage and screen

Although he is best known for his literary output, Mika Waltari was also an extremely prolific playwright and screenwriter. Panu Rajala states that Waltari’s dramatic works would have been enough for any playwright’s life’s work. Waltari had a complex love-hate relationship with the theatre.

His actual theatrical debut came in February 1931 with a play in dialogue form called Jättiläiset ovat kuolleet (‘The giants are dead’) performed in the National Theatre. It was criticised for its lack of stage action.

After this stinging critical reception audiences had to wait until 1936 for Waltari’s next play, this time in the Tampere theatre. This time the play performed was satirical: Kuriton sukupolvi (‘A wanton generation’) was much better received than its predecessor. According to Markku Envall, the more deserving of Waltari’s plays are Akhenaton, auringosta syntynyt (‘Akhenaton, sun king’, 1936) and Paracelsus Baselissa (‘Paracelsus in Basel’, 1942). They were both examples of his historical plays, but he did also write comedies.

All in all Waltari wrote 26 plays. He was criticised on the grounds that such a rate of production could only mean he was penning entertaining potboilers. Being sensitive to these taunts, Waltari wrote the most lightweight of his plays under a pseudonym.

Waltari also wrote screenplays. The most viewed film is Kulkuri valssi (‘The tramp’s waltz’, 1941), which was also the most popular Finnish film before Edvin Laine’s 1955 Tuntematon sotilas. Waltari’s writing has been a source of great inspiration for film-makers. International cinema-goers got to know Sinuhe, egyptiläinen through the 1954 Hollywood blockbuster The Egyptian.

Mika Waltari by his bookcase. Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.​
Mika Waltari by his bookcase. Photo: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.​

Sources (in Finnish):

  • Panu Rajala, Unio Mystica. Mika Waltarin elämä ja teokset (’Unio mystica. Mika Waltari’s life and works’), Helsinki 2008.
  • Markku Envall, Mika Waltari, Lasipalatsi media centre. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  • Markku Envall, ’Waltari, Mika’. National Biography of Finland online. Accessed March 4, 2015.
  • Mika Waltari, Suomen Näytelmäkirjailijat ja Käsikirjoittajat - Finlands Dramatiker och Manusförfattare ry:n (Finland’s playwrights and screenwriters) online. Accessed March 3, 2015
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