Magazine article Russian Life

Ten Important Legends and Folk Tales

Magazine article Russian Life

Ten Important Legends and Folk Tales

Article excerpt

Baba Yaga lives deep in the forest, in a house on chicken legs surrounded by a fence made of human bones. She flies on a mortar and pestle, sweeping behind with a broom. She typically threatens to eat her visitors, if they do not fulfill her impossibly difficult tasks. She provides some object she possesses to young men and women in search of a spouse, or riches to those that succeed in pleasing her. She kills those who disobey her commands and sends their bones home in a basket.

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The Kievan epic cycle includes songs about the great bogatyrs

Ilya Muromets, Dobryniya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich.

These heroes, who served the ruler Prince Vladimir, defended Rus' and the holy city of Kiev from Tatar invaders and supernatural monsters. Ilya was known for defeating Nightingale the Robber and Kalin Tsar, Dobryniya for besting the dragon who kidnapped Kievans and Alyosha for killing the foreign noble Tugarin.

Koshchey the Deathless, the evil sorcerer, kidnaps a princess from Russia and takes her to his kingdom, where the hero must save her by finding Koshchey's death. The princess tricks Koshchey into revealing where he has hidden his death: on an island in the middle of the sea in a coffer buried under an oak. The coffer contains an egg inside a duck, which is inside of a hare. The hero obtains the egg and hits Koshchey's forehead with it, killing him and freeing the princess.

Vasilisa the Beautiful and Vasilisa the Wise are common heroines of the Russian tale tradition. Vasilisa the Wise, the daughter of the Sea King, is a magical character who performs the difficult tasks set by her father for her beloved prince. She also arranges their escape from the Sea King's realm, so that they can marry. Vasilisa the Beautiful is sent into the forest to Baba Yaga to get fire (often by her wicked stepmother). She is protected from harm by a doll left to her by her mother and wins Baba Yaga's favor. The witch gives her fire in a skull, which lights the girl's way home and burns the stepmother and her two daughters to death.

Ivan the Fool stories tell of the stupid youngest brother of three, who lies on the stove all day long. His two brothers finally force him to work, at which he fails miserably. In the end, however, he manages to succeed and outwits his much smarter siblings, often killing them and reaping the rewards of his shrewd "foolishness."

The most famous tale of the firebird is "Prince Ivan, the Gray Wolf and Yelena the Fair." The firebird steals fruit from the king's garden, and the youngest son, Ivan manages to get one feather from the magical bird. …

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