The Magical Kingdom of Russian Folklore – Part Two


7) Ivan the Fool is usually the youngest son of a peasant family. He doesn’t think before acting, and often does things randomly. Other people don’t take him seriously – at best they treat him like a fool, and at worst they push him around. Ivan the Fool doesn’t like work; he can’t manage even the simplest task, instead bringing woe upon his family or employer. Yet somehow he always blunders through thanks to some miraculous assistance, and ends up achieving feats that not even heroes can manage.

Despite his chaotic nature, Ivan the Fool fulfills a very important role: his bungling antics provide amusement for both the other characters and the readers too, and they prove that even the slowest sometimes turn out to be the fastest. We find Ivan the Fool in stories such as “Little Ivan the Fool,” “The Humpty-Back Little Horse” and “Sivka-Burka.” Here’s one of the fairy tales here.


8) Nightingale the Robber is the hero of the classic Russian epic tale, “The First Journey of Ilya Muromets.” He lives in a nest which is in either nine or twelve oak-trees. He’s the head of a family – his three grown-up daughters and their husbands live with him there. He stalks the road from Chernigov to Kiev – no matter whether travelers go on horseback or on foot, the Nightingale whistles at them with his deathly call and frightens them to death.

Thus things went until the warrior Ilya Muromets defeated the Nightingale and took him to the Grand Prince in Kiev. People have seen the Nightingale in different ways, sometimes as a man, sometimes as a winged avian half-man. He personifies the kind of fear that might strike travelers along their way.


9)Schuka is a pike fish. The Slavs of old assigned terrifying abilities to this fish – people thought it could swallow a man and that the Water Spirit rode it in the watery kingdoms. In Russian fairy tales, the pike assumes more reasonable proportions and a more harmless nature.

In fact a meeting with a pike fish brings good luck, as the fish can even grant wishes. But you have to catch it first, as Yemelya the Fool (or Ivan in some versions) does in the fairy tale of the same name, and then release it back into the water. There is no limit to the wishes you may ask. Yemelya gets eight wishes in his tale. The tale here is “The Fool and the Fish.”


10) The Tsar is the all-powerful character of the fairy tale’s sub-plot. Very often, the young hero will meet the Tsar before his great adventure begins. Tsars always seem to lack beautiful brides, Firebirds or fearless stallions. And thus the Tsar is always dispatching young heroes – his own son, some knight in his entourage, or a newly arrived traveler – to distant realms, where the very thing the Tsar needs is to be found.

It also happens that our hero gets an audience with the Tsar in the middle of the story, putting a new twist in the tale and posing some new quest for the hero. We meet Tsars in tales such as “The Firebird and Vasilisa the Beautiful,” “The Frog Princess” and many others.


11) Vasilisa the Beautiful shouldn’t be confused her with her namesake, Vasilisa the Wise, who is a sorceress and daughter of the King of the Seas. Vasilisa the Beautiful is a merchant’s daughter. Her mother died young, leaving her to cope with an evil stepmother. She is sweet and good natured but gets into a lot of scrapes, especially with Baba Yaga. But she’s helped in her adventures by a doll her mother left her.

The story of Vasilisa is an illustration of the folk belief that loving parents continue to watch over their children and help them even from the grave. The tale to read here is “Vasilisa the Beautiful.”


12) Vodyanoy (or Water Spirit) is the King of the Deep. In Slavic mythology, the Water Spirit is often an unattractive old man covered in silt and algae, and sometimes with a fishy tail. But he can change form.


He dwells in all kinds of reservoirs and wells, but you’ll most frequently find him in the pools near a water mill. In mythology he’s considered evil, but in fairy tales he is often not malevolent, though he sometimes tries to prevent the young hero from marrying his beloved, especially if she turns out to be the Water Spirit’s daughter. The Water Spirit appears in a tale “Tsarevitch Ivan and Princess Marfa.”



9 thoughts on “The Magical Kingdom of Russian Folklore – Part Two

    1. Interesting, the Poles and Russians have a long history together. It wasn’t always a very friendly one from what I’ve studied. The post is hopefully going to help create a new section of my blog. I believe that studying folklore helps in understanding a culture and it’s people.

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