A Russian Fairy Tale Story
Once upon a time there was a smith. "Well now," says
he, "I've never set eyes on any harm. They say there's evil
(_likho_) in the world. I'll go and seek me out evil." So he
went and had a goodish drink, and then started in search of
evil. On the way he met a tailor.
"Good day," says the Tailor.
"Where are you going?" asks the Tailor.
"Well, brother, everybody says there is evil on earth. But
I've never seen any, so I'm going to look for it."
"Let's go together. I'm a thriving man, too, and have seen
no evil; let's go and have a hunt for some."
Well, they walked and walked till they reached a dark, dense
forest. In it they found a small path, and along it they went--along
the narrow path. They walked and walked along the path,
and at last they saw a large cottage standing before them. It
was night; there was nowhere else to go to. "Look here,"
they say, "let's go into that cottage." In they went. There
was nobody there. All looked bare and squalid. They sat
down, and remained sitting there some time. Presently in
came a tall woman, lank, crooked, with only one eye.
"Ah!" says she, "I've visitors. Good day to you."
"Good day, grandmother. We've come to pass the night
under your roof."
"Very good: I shall have something to sup on."
Thereupon they were greatly terrified. As for her, she went
and fetched a great heap of firewood. She brought in the heap
of firewood, flung it into the stove, and set it alight. Then she
went up to the two men, took one of them--the Tailor--cut his
throat, trussed him, and put him in the oven.
Meantime the Smith sat there, thinking, "What's to be done?
how's one to save one's life?" When she had finished her
supper, the Smith looked at the oven and said:
"Granny, I'm a smith."
"What can you forge?"
"Make me an eye."
"Good," says he; "but have you got any cord? I must
tie you up, or you won't keep still. I shall have to hammer
your eye in."
She went and fetched two cords, one rather thin, the other
thicker. Well, he bound her with the one which was thinnest.
"Now then, granny," says he, "just turn over." She turned
over, and broke the cord.
"That won't do, granny," says he; "that cord doesn't suit."
He took the thick cord, and tied her up with it famously.
"Now then, turn away, granny!" says he. She turned and
twisted, but didn't break the cord. Then he took an awl, heated
it red-hot, and applied it to her eye--her sound one. At
the same moment he caught up a hatchet, and hammered away
vigorously with the back of it at the awl. She struggled like
anything, and broke the cord; then she went and sat down at
"Ah, villain!" she cried. "You sha'n't get away from me
He saw that he was in an evil plight again. There he sat,
thinking, "What's to be done?"
By-and-by the sheep came home from afield, and she drove
them into her cottage for the night. Well, the Smith spent the
night there, too. In the morning she got up to let the sheep
out. He took his sheep-skin pelisse and turned it inside out
so that the wool was outside, passed his arms through its
sleeves, and pulled it well over him, and crept up to her as
he had been a sheep. She let the flock go out one at a time,
catching hold of each by the wool on its back, and shoving it
out. Well, he came creeping up like the rest. She caught
hold of the wool on his back and shoved him out. But as
soon as she had shoved him out, he stood up and cried:
"Farewell, Likho! I have suffered much evil (_likha_) at your
hands. Now you can do nothing to me."
"Wait a bit!" she replied; "you shall endure still more.
You haven't escaped yet!"
The Smith went back through the forest along the narrow
path. Presently he saw a golden-handled hatchet sticking in a
tree, and he felt a strong desire to seize it. Well, he did seize
that hatchet, and his hand stuck fast to it. What was to be
done? There was no freeing it anyhow. He gave a look behind
him. There was Likho coming after him, and crying:
"There you are, villain! you've not got off yet!"
The Smith pulled out a small knife which he had in his
pocket, and began hacking away at his hand--cut it clean off
and ran away. When he reached his village, he immediately
began to show his arm as a proof that he had seen Likho at last.
"Look," says he, "that's the state of things. Here am I,"
says he, "without my hand. And as for my comrade, she's
eaten him up entirely."
In a Little-Russian variant of this story, quoted by Afanasief,
(III. p. 137) a man, who often hears evil or misfortune (_likho_)
spoken of, sets out in search of it. One day he sees an iron castle
beside a wood, surrounded by a palisade of human bones tipped with
skulls. He knocks at the door, and a voice cries "What do you want?"
"I want evil," he replies. "That's what I'm looking for." "Evil is
here," cries the voice. So in he goes, and finds a huge, blind giant
lying within, stretched on a couch of human bones. "This was Likho
(Evil)," says the story, "and around him were seated Zluidni (Woes)
and Zhurba (Care)." Finding that Likho intends to eat him, the
misfortune-seeker takes to flight. Likho hears the iron doors creak,
and cries to them to stop the fugitive. "But he had already passed out
of doors. Only he lost his right hand, on which the door slammed:
whereupon he exclaimed 'Here's misfortune, sure enough!'"
The opening of the story of Likho is somewhat similar to that of one
of the tales of Indian origin translated by Stanislas Julien from the
Chinese. Once upon a time, we are told, a king grew weary of good
fortune, so he sent messengers in search of misfortune. It a certain
god sold to them, in the shape of a sow which devoured a peck of
needles a day. The king's agents took to worrying his subjects for
needles, and brought such trouble upon the whole kingdom, that his
ministers entreated him to have the beast put to death. He consented,
and it was led forth to die. But neither knife nor axe could penetrate
its hide, so they tried to consume it with fire. After a time it
became red-hot, and then it leaped out from amid the flames, and
dashed about setting fire to all manner of things. The conflagration
spread and was followed by famine, so that the whole land was involved
The Polyphemus story has been so thoroughly investigated by Wilhelm
Grimm, that there is no occasion to dwell upon it here. But the
following statement is worthy of notice. The inhabitants of the
Ukraine are said still to retain some recollection of the one-eyed
nation of Arimaspians of whom Herodotus speaks (Bk. IV. c. 27).
According to them the One-Eyes dwell somewhere far off, beyond
the seas. The Tartars, during their inroads, used to burn towns and
villages, kill old folks and infants, and carry off young people. The
plumpest of these they used to sell to cannibals who had but one eye
apiece, situated in the forehead. And the cannibals would drive away
their purchases, like sheep, to their own land, and there fatten them
up, kill them, and eat them. A similar tradition, says Afanasief
(VIII. 260) exists also among the Ural Cossacks.
While on the subject of eyes, it may be remarked that the story of
"One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes," rendered so familiar to juvenile
English readers by translations from the German, appears among
the Russian tales in a very archaic and heathenish form. Here is the
outline of a version of it found in the Archangel Government.
There once was a Princess Marya, whose stepmother had two daughters,
one of whom was three-eyed. Now her stepmother hated Marya, and used
to send her out, with nothing to eat but a dry crust, to tend a cow
all day. But "the princess went into the open field, bowed down before
the cow's right foot, and got plenty to eat and to drink, and fine
clothes to put on; all day long she followed the cow about dressed
like a great lady--when the day came to a close, she again bowed down
to the cow's right foot, took off her fine clothes, went home and laid
on the table the crust of bread she had brought back with her."
Wondering at this, her stepmother sent her two-eyed stepsister to
watch her. But Marya uttered the words "Sleep, sleep, one-eye! sleep,
sleep, other eye!" till the watcher fell asleep. Then the three-eyed
sister was sent, and Marya by the same spell sent two of her eyes to
sleep, but forgot the third. So all was found out, and the stepmother
had the cow killed. But Marya persuaded her father, who acted as the
butcher, to give her a part of the cow's entrails, which she buried
near the threshold; and from it there sprang a bush covered with
berries, and haunted by birds which sang "songs royal and rustic."
After a time a Prince Ivan heard of Marya, so he came riding up, and
offered to marry whichever of the three princesses could fill with
berries from the bush a bowl which he brought with him. The
stepmother's daughters tried to do so, but the birds almost pecked
their eyes out, and would not let them gather the berries. Then
Marya's turn came, and when she approached the bush the birds picked
the berries for her, and filled the bowl in a trice. So she married
the prince, and lived happily with him for a time.
But after she had borne him a son, she went to pay a visit to her
father, and her stepmother availed herself of the opportunity to turn
her into a goose, and to set her own two-eyed daughter in her place.
So Prince Ivan returned home with a false bride. But a certain old man
took out the infant prince afield, and there his mother appeared,
flung aside her feather-covering, and suckled the babe, exclaiming the
while with tears--
"To-day I suckle thee, to-morrow I shall suckle thee, but on the third
day I shall fly away beyond the dark forests, beyond the high
This occurred on two successive days, but on the second occasion
Prince Ivan was a witness of what took place, and he seized her
feather-dress and burnt it, and then laid hold of her. She first
turned into a frog, then assumed various reptile forms, and finally
became a spindle. This he broke in two, and flung one half in front
and the other behind him, and the spell was broken along with it. So
he regained his wife and went home with her. But as for the false
wife, he took a gun and shot her.
We will now return to the stories in which Harm or Misery figures as
a living agent. To Likho is always attributed a character of
unmitigated malevolence, and a similar disposition is ascribed by the
songs of the people to another being in whom the idea of misfortune is
personified. This is _Gore_, or Woe, who is frequently represented in
popular poetry--sometimes under the name of _Beda_ or Misery--as
chasing and ultimately destroying the unhappy victims of destiny. In
vain do the fugitives attempt to escape. If they enter the dark
forest, Woe follows them there; if they rush to the pot-house, there
they find Woe sitting; when they seek refuge in the grave, Woe stands
over it with a shovel and rejoices. In the following story,
however, the gloomy figure of Woe has been painted in a less than
usually sombre tone.