Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eva-lis Wuorio

Eva-Lis Wuorio (b. Viipuri, Karelia, Finland, 12 November 1917*;  d. Ruovesi, a small town near Tampere, Finland, 1988)

**Updated 23 January 2021**

Eva-Lis Wuorio (the name is pronounced “A-va-lees Worry-oh”) emigrated from Finland to Canada in 1930 when she was thirteen.  According to naturalization records, her full name was Eva-Lis Maria Wuorio, and that of her mother, Gertrude Eva Emilia Wuorio (maiden name Pennanen von Timberg). They settled in Toronto, where her mother worked as a housekeeper. Her father’s name was Bruno Leonard Henrik Wuorio. Eva-Lis attended schools in Finland, Sweden, Canada and Switzerland. 
Wuorio in Ibiza, early 1960s

Viipuri (now Vyborg, in Russia) is an ancient walled city by the Gulf of Finland near the border between Finland and Russia. It has changed hands a number of times in history; most recently it was taken over by the Soviet Union during World War II. From her childhood in Viipuri Wuorio retained a love of being near the sea, and this influenced her later travels and her choice of residence on various islands, the settings of some of her books.

Wuorio became a reporter and columnist for the Toronto Evening Telegram, and the Toronto Globe and Mail, and later an assistant editor at Maclean’s Magazine. As a reporter she travelled around Europe and  northern Africa. Between 1955 and 1987, she published eighteen novels (some with fantasy elements) and one short story collection. Her first book was Return of the Viking (1955), illustrated by William Winter, the story of three children who time-travel and learn about Canada’s historical past, meeting Leif Ericson in this adventure.  It was followed by The Canadian Twins (1956), illustrated by Biro. The setting of The Island of Fish in the Trees (1962) was the result of Wuorio living in Ibiza, one of the Balearic islands in the Mediterranean Sea near Spain. The book, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone, was named the Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year by the New York Times. In Tal and the Magic Barruget (1965), illustrated by Bettina Bauer Ehrlich, a young Welsh boy spends a summer in Ibiza and seek a kind of genie, a barruget, to help with the housework. October Treasure (1966) is set in the Channel Island of Jersey, where the author was living at the time. Wuorio spent several months on the island of Skyros in the Aegean Sea, which is reflected in Kali and the Golden Mirror (1967), also illustrated by Ardizzone.  
Most of Wuorio’s novels were written for children or young adults, though, after reading so many mysteries while travelling, she decided to write a mystery herself. Her mysteries include The Woman with the Portuguese Basket (1963), Z for Zaborra (1965, later published as The Terror Factor), and Midsummer Loki (1967, later published as Explosion).  Wuorio’s To Fight in Silence (1973) was based her own newspaper stories of the 1940s (which her mother kept in a scrapbook), when she interviewed hundreds of Norwegians who were training in Canada for the war, and dozens of Danish officials who were trying to explain their country’s predicament to the outside world.  The book is set in Nazi-occupied Denmark, where a young Norwegian and his Danish cousins attempt to evacuate the Danish Jews before the Germans can send them to concentration camps. 

Wuorio’s penultimate book is of particular interest to readers of fantasy:  Escape If You Can: 13 Tales of the Preternatural (New York: Viking Press, 1977). This short story collection, marketed for children, has a deftness to the writing and a cosmopolitan feel overall. There is little questioning of the supernatural, or shock at the experience of it:  it merely is. Some of the stories are told from a child’s perspective, while others are more adult.  All are somewhat unconventional, and even when using familiar tropes (like werewolfery) Wuorio creates a story that is moody and introspective, with a distinct sense of place and setting. The results are uniquely her own, and may perhaps be more appreciated by adults tired of the commonplace who are looking for something different. 

*Some sources give her birthyear of 1918, but early Canadian Border Crossing records, and Tampere City Library information, give 1917.

NB: For confirmation of Wuorio’s vital statistics, I’m grateful to Jukka Halme and the Tampere City Library. I'm also grateful to Phil Stephensen-Payne and Ken Johnson.


  1. Thanks, I've just ordered a copy of Escape if you can...

  2. I'm currently reading "Midsummer Lokki", which I found by accident at a library book sale. It is really interesting and I'm thrilled to have discovered this interesting writer. I hope to find and read more by this author.

  3. Her coverage of the Evelyn Dick trials is by far my favourite.