A Russian Fairy Tale Story
Once upon a time there lived a king and queen. They had three
sons, two of them with their wits about them, but the third a
simpleton. Now the King had a deer-park in which were quantities
of wild animals of different kinds. Into that park there
used to come a huge beast--Norka was its name--and do fearful
mischief, devouring some of the animals every night. The King
did all he could, but he was unable to destroy it. So at last he
called his sons together and said: "Whoever will destroy the
Norka, to him will I give the half of my kingdom."
Well, the eldest son undertook the task. As soon as it was
night, he took his weapons and set out. But before he reached
the park, he went into a _traktir_ (or tavern), and there he spent
the whole night in revelry. When he came to his senses it was
too late; the day had already dawned. He felt himself disgraced
in the eyes of his father, but there was no help for it. The next
day the second son went, and did just the same. Their father
scolded them both soundly, and there was an end of it.
Well, on the third day the youngest son undertook the task.
They all laughed him to scorn, because he was so stupid, feeling
sure he wouldn't do anything. But he took his arms, and went
straight into the park, and sat down on the grass in such a position
that, the moment he went asleep, his weapons would prick
him, and he would awake.
Presently the midnight hour sounded. The earth began to
shake, and the Norka came rushing up, and burst right through
the fence into the park, so huge was it. The Prince pulled himself
together, leapt to his feet, crossed himself, and went straight
at the beast. It fled back, and the Prince ran after it. But he
soon saw that he couldn't catch it on foot, so he hastened to the
stable, laid his hands on the best horse there, and set off in
pursuit. Presently he came up with the beast, and they began a
fight. They fought and fought; the Prince gave the beast three
wounds. At last they were both utterly exhausted, so they lay
down to take a short rest. But the moment the Prince closed his
eyes, up jumped the Beast and took to flight. The Prince's horse
awoke him; up he jumped in a moment, and set off again in
pursuit, caught up the Beast, and again began fighting with it.
Again the Prince gave the Beast three wounds, and then he and
the Beast lay down again to rest. Thereupon away fled the
Beast as before. The Prince caught it up, and again gave it
three wounds. But all of a sudden, just as the Prince began
chasing it for the fourth time, the Beast fled to a great white
stone, tilted it up, and escaped into the other world, crying out
to the Prince: "Then only will you overcome me, when you
The Prince went home, told his father all that had happened,
and asked him to have a leather rope plaited, long enough to
reach to the other world. His father ordered this to be done.
When the rope was made, the Prince called for his brothers, and
he and they, having taken servants with them, and everything that
was needed for a whole year, set out for the place where the
Beast had disappeared under the stone. When they got there,
they built a palace on the spot, and lived in it for some time.
But when everything was ready, the youngest brother said to
the others: "Now, brothers, who is going to lift this stone?"
Neither of them could so much as stir it, but as soon as he
touched it, away it flew to a distance, though it was ever so big--big
as a hill. And when he had flung the stone aside, he spoke
a second time to his brothers, saying:
"Who is going into the other world, to overcome the Norka?"
Neither of them offered to do so. Then he laughed at them
for being such cowards, and said:
"Well, brothers, farewell! Lower me into the other world,
and don't go away from here, but as soon as the cord is jerked,
pull it up."
His brothers lowered him accordingly, and when he had
reached the other world, underneath the earth, he went on his
way. He walked and walked. Presently he espied a horse with
rich trappings, and it said to him:
"Hail, Prince Ivan! Long have I awaited thee!"
He mounted the horse and rode on--rode and rode, until he
saw standing before him, a palace made of copper. He entered
the courtyard, tied up his horse, and went indoors. In one of
the rooms a dinner was laid out. He sat down and dined, and
then went into a bedroom. There he found a bed, on which he
lay down to rest. Presently there came in a lady, more beautiful
than can be imagined anywhere but in a skazka, who said:
"Thou who art in my house, name thyself! If thou art an
old man, thou shall be my father; if a middle-aged man, my
brother; but if a young man, thou shalt be my husband dear.
And if thou art a woman, and an old one, thou shalt be my grandmother;
if middle-aged, my mother; and if a girl, thou shalt be
my own sister."
Thereupon he came forth. And when she saw him, she was
delighted with him, and said:
"Wherefore, O Prince Ivan--my husband dear shalt thou be!--wherefore
hast thou come hither?"
Then he told her all that had happened, and she said:
"That beast which thou wishest to overcome is my brother.
He is staying just now with my second sister, who lives not far
from here in a silver palace. I bound up three of the wounds
which thou didst give him."
Well, after this they drank, and enjoyed themselves, and held
sweet converse together, and then the prince took leave of her,
and went on to the second sister, the one who lived in the silver
palace, and with her also he stayed awhile. She told him that
her brother Norka was then at her youngest sister's. So he
went on to the youngest sister, who lived in a golden palace.
She told him that her brother was at that time asleep on the
blue sea, and she gave him a sword of steel and a draught of the
Water of Strength, and she told him to cut off her brother's
head at a single stroke. And when he had heard these things,
he went his way.
And when the Prince came to the blue sea, he looked--there
slept Norka on a stone in the middle of the sea; and when it
snored, the water was agitated for seven versts around. The
Prince crossed himself, went up to it and smote it on the head
with his sword. The head jumped off, saying the while, "Well,
I'm done for now!" and rolled far away into the sea.
After killing the Beast, the Prince went back again, picking
up all the three sisters by the way, with the intention of taking
them out into the upper world: for they all loved him and would
not be separated from him. Each of them turned her palace
into an egg--for they were all enchantresses--and they taught
him how to turn the eggs into palaces, and back again, and they
handed over the eggs to him. And then they all went to the
place from which they had to be hoisted into the upper world.
And when they came to where the rope was, the Prince took
hold of it and made the maidens fast to it. Then he jerked
away at the rope, and his brothers began to haul it up. And
when they had hauled it up, and had set eyes on the wondrous
maidens, they went aside and said: "Let's lower the rope, pull
our brother part of the way up, and then cut the rope. Perhaps
he'll be killed; but then if he isn't, he'll never give us these
beauties as wives."
So when they had agreed on this, they lowered the rope.
But their brother was no fool; he guessed what they were at,
so he fastened the rope to a stone, and then gave it a pull.
His brothers hoisted the stone to a great height, and then cut
the rope. Down fell the stone and broke in pieces; the Prince
poured forth tears and went away. Well, he walked and walked.
Presently a storm arose; the lightning flashed, the thunder
roared, the rain fell in torrents. He went up to a tree in order
to take shelter under it, and on that tree he saw some young
birds which were being thoroughly drenched. So he took off
his coat and covered them over with it, and he himself sat down
under the tree. Presently there came flying a bird--such a big
one, that the light was blotted out by it. It had been dark
there before, but now it became darker still. Now this was the
mother of those small birds which the Prince had covered up.
And when the bird had come flying up, she perceived that her
little ones were covered over, and she said, "Who has wrapped
up my nestlings?" and presently, seeing the Prince, she added:
"Didst thou do that? Thanks! In return, ask of me any
thing thou desirest. I will do anything for thee."
"Then carry me into the other world," he replied.
"Make me a large _zasyek_ with a partition in the middle,"
she said; "catch all sorts of game, and put them into one half
of it, and into the other half pour water; so that there may be
meat and drink for me."
All this the Prince did. Then the bird--having taken the
zasyek on her back, with the Prince sitting in the middle of it began
to fly. And after flying some distance she brought him
to his journey's end, took leave of him, and flew away back.
But he went to the house of a certain tailor, and engaged himself
as his servant. So much the worse for wear was he, so
thoroughly had he altered in appearance, that nobody would
have suspected him of being a Prince.
Having entered into the service of this master, the Prince
began to ask what was going on in that country. And his
master replied: "Our two princes--for the third one has disappeared--have
brought away brides from the other world, and
want to marry them, but those brides refuse. For they insist
on having all their wedding-clothes made for them first, exactly
like those which they used to have in the other world, and that
without being measured for them. The King has called all the
workmen together, but not one of them will undertake to do it."
The Prince, having heard all this, said, "Go to the King,
master, and tell him that you will provide everything that's in
"However can I undertake to make clothes of that sort;
I work for quite common folks," says his master.
"Go along, master! I will answer for everything," says
So the tailor went. The King was delighted that at least
one good workman had been found, and gave him as much
money as ever he wanted. When the tailor had settled everything,
he went home. And the Prince said to him:
"Now then, pray to God, and lie down to sleep; to-morrow
all will be ready." And the tailor followed his lad's advice,
and went to bed.
Midnight sounded. The Prince arose, went out of the city
into the fields, took out of his pocket the eggs which the
maidens had given him, and, as they had taught him, turned
them into three palaces. Into each of these he entered, took
the maidens' robes, went out again, turned the palaces back
into eggs, and went home. And when he got there he hung up
the robes on the wall, and lay down to sleep.
Early in the morning his master awoke, and behold! there
hung such robes as he had never seen before, all shining with
gold and silver and precious stones. He was delighted, and he
seized them and carried them off to the King. When the princesses
saw that the clothes were those which had been theirs in
the other world, they guessed that Prince Ivan was in this
world, so they exchanged glances with each other, but they
held their peace. And the master, having handed over the
clothes, went home, but he no longer found his dear journeyman
there. For the Prince had gone to a shoemaker's, and him too
he sent to work for the King; and in the same way he went the
round of all the artificers, and they all proffered him thanks,
inasmuch as through him they were enriched by the King.
By the time the princely workman had gone the round of all
the artificers, the princesses had received what they had asked
for; all their clothes were just like what they had been in the
other world. Then they wept bitterly because the Prince had
not come, and it was impossible for them to hold out any
longer, it was necessary that they should be married. But when
they were ready for the wedding, the youngest bride said to the
"Allow me, my father, to go and give alms to the beggars."
He gave her leave, and she went and began bestowing alms
upon them, and examining them closely. And when she had
come to one of them, and was going to give him some money,
she caught sight of the ring which she had given to the Prince
in the other world, and her sisters' rings too--for it really was
he. So she seized him by the hand, and brought him into the
hall, and said to the King:
"Here is he who brought us out of the other world. His
brothers forbade us to say that he was alive, threatening to slay
us if we did."
Then the King was wroth with those sons, and punished
them as he thought best. And afterwards three weddings were
[The conclusion of this story is somewhat obscure.
Most of the variants represent the Prince as forgiving
his brothers, and allowing them to marry two of the
three princesses, but the present version appears to
keep closer to its original, in which the prince
doubtless married all three. With this story may be
compared: Grimm, No. 166, "Der starke Hans," and No.
91, "Dat Erdmaenneken." See also vol. iii. p. 165,
where a reference is given to the Hungarian story in
Gaal, No. 5--Dasent, No. 55, "The Big Bird Dan," and
No. 56, "Soria Moria Castle" (Asbjoernsen and Moe, Nos.
3 and 2. A somewhat similar story, only the palaces
are in the air, occurs in Asbjoernsen's "Ny Samling,"
No. 72)--Campbell's "Tales of the West Highlands," No.
58--Schleicher's "Litauische Maerchen," No. 38--The
Polish story, Wojcicki, Book iii. No. 6, in which
Norka is replaced by a witch who breaks the windows of
a church, and is wounded, in falcon-shape, by the
youngest brother--Hahn, No. 70, in which a Drakos, as
a cloud, steals golden apples, a story closely
resembling the Russian skazka. See also No. 26, very
similar to which is the Servian Story in "Vuk
Karajich," No. 2--and a very interesting Tuscan story
printed for the first time by A. de Gubernatis,
"Zoological Mythology," vol. ii. p. 187. See also
ibid. p. 391.
But still more important than these are the parallels
offered by Indian fiction. Take, for instance, the
story of Sringabhuja, in chap. xxxix. of book vii. of
the "Kathasaritsagara." In it the elder sons of a
certain king wish to get rid of their younger
half-brother. One day a Rakshasa appears in the form
of a gigantic crane. The other princes shoot at it in
vain, but the youngest wounds it, and then sets off in
pursuit of it, and of the valuable arrow which is
fixed in it. After long wandering he comes to a castle
in a forest. There he finds a maiden who tells him she
is the daughter of the Rakshasa whom, in the form of a
crane, he has wounded. She at once takes his part
against her demon father, and eventually flies with
him to his own country. The perils which the fugitives
have to encounter will be mentioned in the remarks on
Skazka XIX. See Professor Brockhaus's summary of the
story in the "Berichte der phil. hist. Classe der K.
Saechs. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften," 1861, pp.
223-6. Also Professor Wilson's version in his "Essays
on Sanskrit Literature," vol. ii. pp. 134-5.
In two other stories in the same collection the hero
gives chase to a boar of gigantic size. It takes
refuge in a cavern into which he follows it. Presently
he finds himself in a different world, wherein he
meets a beauteous maiden who explains everything to
him. In the first of these two stories the lady is the
daughter of a Rakshasa, who is invulnerable except in
the palm of the left hand, for which reason, our hero,
Chandasena has been unable to wound him when in his
boar disguise. She instructs Chandasena how to kill
her father, who accordingly falls a victim to a
well-aimed shaft. (Brockhaus's "Maehrchensammlung des
Somadeva Bhatta," 1843, vol. i. pp. 110-13). In the
other story, the lady turns out to be a princess whom
"a demon with fiery eyes" had carried off and
imprisoned. She tells the hero, Saktideva, that the
demon has just died from a wound inflicted upon him,
while transformed into a boar, by a bold archer.
Saktideva informs her that he is that archer.
Whereupon she immediately requests him to marry her
(ibid. vol. ii. p. 175). In both stories the boar is
described as committing great ravages in the upper
world until the hero attacks it.]
The Adventures of a prince, the youngest of three brothers, who has
been lowered into the underground world or who has ascended into an
enchanted upper realm, form the theme of numerous skazkas, several of
which are variants of the story of Norka. The prince's elder brothers
almost always attempt to kill him, when he is about to ascend from the
gulf or descend from the steeps which separate him from them. In one
instance, the following excuse is offered for their conduct. The hero
has killed a Snake in the underground world, and is carrying its head
on a lance, when his brothers begin to hoist him up. "His brothers
were frightened at the sight of that head and thinking the Snake
itself was coming, they let Ivan fall back into the pit." But this
apology for their behavior seems to be due to the story-teller's
imagination. In some instances their unfraternal conduct may be
explained in the following manner. In oriental tales the hero is often
the son of a king's youngest wife, and he is not unnaturally hated by
his half-brothers, the sons of an older queen, whom the hero's mother
has supplanted in their royal father's affections. Accordingly they do
their best to get rid of him. Thus, in one of the Indian stories which
correspond to that of Norka, the hero's success at court "excited the
envy and jealousy of his brothers [doubtless half-brothers], and they
were not satisfied until they had devised a plan to effect his
removal, and, as they hoped, accomplish his destruction." We know
also that "Israel loved Joseph more than all his children," because he
was the son "of his old age," and the result was that "when his
brethren [who were only his half-brothers] saw that their father loved
him more than all his brethren, they hated him." When such tales
as these came west in Christian times, their references to polygamy
were constantly suppressed, and their distinctions between brothers
and half-brothers disappeared. In the same way the elder and jealous
wife, who had behaved with cruelty in the original stories to the
offspring of her rival, often became turned, under Christian
influences, into a stepmother who hated her husband's children by a
There may, however, be a mythological explanation of the behavior of
the two elder brothers. Professor de Gubernatis is of opinion that "in
the Vedic hymns, Tritas, the third brother, and the ablest as well as
best, is persecuted by his brothers," who, "in a fit of jealousy, on
account of his wife, the aurora, and the riches she brings with her
from the realm of darkness, the cistern or well [into which he has
been lowered], detain their brother in the well," and he compares
this form of the myth with that which it assumes in the following
Hindoo tradition. "Three brothers, _Ekata_ (_i.e._ the first), _Dwita_
(_i.e._ the second) and _Trita_ (_i.e._ the third) were travelling in
a desert, and being distressed with thirst, came to a well, from which
the youngest, Trita, drew water and gave it to his brothers; in
requital, they drew him into the well, in order to appropriate his
property and having covered the top with a cart-wheel, left him in the
well. In this extremity he prayed to the gods to extricate him, and by
their favor he made his escape." This myth may, perhaps, be the
germ from which have sprung the numerous folk-tales about the
desertion of a younger brother in some pit or chasm, into which his
brothers have lowered him.
It may seem more difficult to account for the willingness of Norka's
three sisters to aid in his destruction--unless, indeed, the whole
story be considered to be mythological, as its Indian equivalents
undoubtedly are. But in many versions of the same tale the difficulty
does not arise. The princesses of the copper, silver, and golden
realms, are usually represented as united by no ties of consanguinity
with the snake or other monster whom the hero comes to kill. In the
story of "Usuinya," for instance, there appears to be no
relationship between these fair maidens and the "Usuinya-Bird," which
steals the golden apples from a monarch's garden and is killed by his
youngest son Ivan. That monster is not so much a bird as a flying
dragon. "This Usuinya-bird is a twelve-headed snake," says one of the
fair maidens. And presently it arrives--its wings stretching afar,
while along the ground trail its moustaches [_usui_, whence its name].
In a variant of the same story in another collection, the part of
Norka is played by a white wolf. In that of Ivan Suchenko it is
divided among three snakes who have stolen as many princesses. For the
snake is much given to abduction, especially when he appears under the
terrible form of "Koshchei, the Deathless."
Koshchei is merely one of the many incarnations of the dark spirit
which takes so many monstrous shapes in the folk-tales of the class
with which we are now dealing. Sometimes he is described as altogether
serpent-like in form; sometimes he seems to be of a mixed nature,
partly human and partly ophidian, but in some of the stories he is
apparently framed after the fashion of a man. His name is by some
mythologists derived from _kost'_, a bone whence comes a verb
signifying to become ossified, petrified, or frozen; either because he
is bony of limb, or because he produces an effect akin to freezing or
He is called "Immortal" or "The Deathless," because of his
superiority to the ordinary laws of existence. Sometimes, like Baldur,
he cannot be killed except by one substance; sometimes his
"death"--that is, the object with which his life is indissolubly
connected--does not exist within his body. Like the vital centre of
"the giant who had no heart in his body" in the well-known Norse tale,
it is something extraneous to the being whom it affects, and until it
is destroyed he may set all ordinary means of annihilation at
defiance. But this is not always the case, as may be learnt from one
of the best of the skazkas in which he plays a leading part, the