Posts Tagged ‘Russian folklore’

Here is a joke from the web site “From Russia With Love.” It features Zmey Gorynych with a different bogatyr, Ilya Murometz. The English is somewhat rough there, so I’ve cleaned it up a bit.

One time the famous Russian bogatyr, Ilya Murometz, was enjoying a day at home. A group of elders from the village nearby came to see him and said, “Ilya, help us! Zmey Gorynych is so angry that he burned 3 villages and ate all the hens. We are in trouble!”

But Ilya did not answer them. They went away discouraged.

A few days later, the village elders returned. “Please help us, Ilya! Zmey Gorynych has destroyed 10 villages, eaten all the cows, and kidnapped our wives. You must take action!”

Again there was no reply. They went away desolate.

After a few more days, the elders came calling again. “Ilya, it’s a nightmare! He’s destroyed 20 villages, eaten every domestic animal, and snatched the princesses. He’s very close to us now. Please, won’t you do something?”

At this, Ilya got up and got dressed. The elders were relieved and grateful. “Thank you for helping us at last!”

But Ilya said, “Oh, fellows. It’s time to escape now.”

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Previously… A bogatyr (heroic knight) named Dobrynya Nikitich had fought the dragon, Zmey Gorynych, and forced her to plead for mercy. The two of them agreed never to fight again. All was well, or so Dobrynya thought.

When he returned to the court of his patron, Vladimir the Great, Dobrynya was greeted by terrible news — none other than Zmey Gorynych had descended from the sky and snatched away Vladimir’s niece, Zabava Putyatishna! The king was furious when he learned that Dobrynya had encountered this dragon and allowed her to live. He ordered the bogatyr to rescue his niece or die trying.

Dobrynya went home to his mother and complained bitterly that he had neither horse nor weapons suited to such a task. (Never mind that he had already defeated Zmey Gorynych with nothing but a hat…) Mama Dobrynya gifted her boy with a fine horse named Burko, a spear, and a magical whip from Shamakhi (modern-day Azerbaijan) that would heal any wound.

Thus equipped, Dobrynya Nikitich set off on his quest. He followed Zmey Gorynych’s trail to the Saracen Mountains. There he rescued several Russian captives, but was unable to find the missing princess. He did locate the Zmey’s nest, where he trampled and crushed her young. Before dying, one of the dragonlings bit Burko’s leg and paralyzed the poor horse. Fortunately, Dobrynya remembered his magical whip and was able to restore his faithful steed.

Just then, Zmey Gorynych rushed from her lair in a rage over the loss of her brood. She swore that she would never release Zabava until Dobrynya had fallen before her. The battle was joined, and what a battle it was! Combat raged all over the Saracen Mountains for days on end. By the third day, the bogatyr was exhausted and had nearly decided to abandon his mission. But a voice came from the Heavens urging him to fight just three hours longer. Dobrynya Nikitich gathered his courage and fought on.

Just as the voice had promised, Zmey Gorynych lay dead less than three hours later. But Dobrynya was still in trouble. The dragon was so evil that the earth would not allow her blood to sink in. A great pool of blood collected there, and Dobrynya was at risk of drowning in it. Again a voice called down from the Heavens, telling him to speak an incantation and jab his spear into the ground. At this, the blood finally soaked into the ground. Dobrynya was able to save the Princess Zabava. (One assumes he washed the blood away before returning her to her uncle’s court, however.)

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.


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Dobrynya Nikitich is a great and popular character who stars in many byliny (epic poems) of Russian and Slavic folklore. Dobrynya was a bogatyr (a heroic knight). He may have been based on a real person who lived in the court of Vladimir the Great, an Eleventh Century ruler in what is now Ukraine. As often happens, the legend of Dobrynya’s cunning and skill at arms far outstrips that of any mere mortal.

Perhaps his best known adventure came when he faced the dreaded dragon, Zmey Gorynych. As the tale begins, Dobrynya’s mother warns him of four things that he must not do: travel through the Saracen Mountains, trample baby dragons, rescue a Russian captive, and swim in the Puchai River. Like many young men, the bogatyr was fearless and proud. He scoffed at his mother’s advice.

One day, as he traveled on court business, he came to that very same river. It was hot, so he decided to go for a swim. Unfortunately for Dobrynya, someone else was also bathing that day — a twelve-headed dragon burst from the water, roaring! This, of course, was Zmey Gorynych. Because they were in the water, the bogatyr was able to avoid being burned by her fiery breath, but his weapons and armor were back on the bank. If he tried to reach them, he would be incinerated! In desperation, Dobrynya groped in the water for anything that could help him. All he found was a sturdy pilgrim’s hat.

Somehow, the bogatyr was able to use this as a weapon. Now it was the dreadful dragon who feared for her life. She pleaded with Dobrynya to spare her on account of having young baby dragons at home. The courtly knight was moved to pity, and the two of them made a promise not to fight each other again. Zmey Gorynych flew away — but she was as wicked as she was fierce. As soon as Dobrynya was out of sight, she started to plan her revenge…

Come back Saturday for part two of the epic tale!

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.



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Way back in the 14th Century, Serbia was ruled by the Tsar Lazar and his wife, Militza. The tsarina was such a great beauty that she caught the eye of a Zmaj living near Yastrebatz. Every night for more than a year, the Zmaj visited her bedchamber. (I have to think he disguised himself as Lazar, but the story doesn’t say.) Eventually Lazar realized what was going on. He demanded that his wife find out the dragon’s weakness. Militza must also have been angry at the deception, for she agreed with her husband’s request.

When the Zmaj returned to her, the tsarina pretended to be concerned for his safety. She asked if he feared anyone other than God, or if some hero might even be superior to him. The unsuspecting Zmaj replied that there was just one threat to his well-being — Vook, a Zmaj-Despot. Upon learning of this, Lazar sent his people out to search the countryside. Eventually he learned that Vook lived near a village called Koopinova on the plains of Sirmia.

Lazar promptly sent a message to Vook, complaining of his subject’s behavior. Vook arrived in a fury — and that is the last thing the story tells us about the Zmaj of Yastrebatz.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Many cultures have some form of dragon in their folklore. In Russian and Slavic legends, this creature is known as a Zmey (also spelled Zmei or Zmaj). The breed in general are gigantic reptiles living in dense forests and rugged mountains. They are green, to better blend with their habitat, and have between three and nine heads! Each of these can blow fire from their noses and smoke from their ears. As if that isn’t bad enough, Zmey also can fly, and when they do they are big enough to block out the sun.

Different cultures have different ideas about Zmey, of course. In Serbian lore, Zmey have the heads of rams and are guardians who fend off the evil Azjada who would destroy people’s crops. Bulgarian lore tells that only male Zmey are the benevolent protectors while females are the malevolent destroyers. Sounds like they have a dramatic home life!

The Serbian lore continues that Zmey may be gifted with superior strength and intellect, but they all have one major weakness — women. Several legends relate to Zmey who are captivated by human women. At times when crops failed, villagers believed that the Zmey were neglecting their duties and chasing skirts instead of chasing Azjada. In that case, the priests would go from house to house saying prayers to force the Zmey back into their usual haunts. Indeed, more than one historic leader in the region played on this folklore by claiming that they were the sons of Zmey disguised as men.

Come back Saturday for one of these Serbian dragon legends.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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Koschei is a legendary character of Russian folklore who sometimes took the shape of a dragon. He seems to have originally been a man, in some versions related to the dreaded witch, Baba Yaga. With his magical might, Koschei could change his form to the dragon or a whirlwind. However, that was not his greatest power. Koschei was called Deathless because he had discovered the secret to immortality!

Perhaps it was more of a work-around for death. Koschei had learned how to separate his soul from his body. He kept his soul in a secret hiding place. As long as it remained inviolate, Koschei could never be killed.

Freed from the fear of death, Koschei embarked on a reign of terror. Nobody could resist his draconic power, and of course, no one could kill him. Only one brave prince stood against the tyrant. Koschei tried to force him into submission. He assumed his whirlwind form and swooped down upon the prince’s beloved wife. Screams trailed behind them as he snatched her away.

The prince faced a grim choice, to submit to a tyrant or lose his dear wife. But the princess was just as brave as her husband. She pretended to admire her captor. With flattery, she tried to find out the source of his immortality. First she found out that his soul was hidden away. Then she begged to know where it was hidden. Koschei enjoyed her attention, but he wasn’t completely taken in. He gave her a false answer. The princess got a message to her husband telling him of the hiding place. He rushed to the spot and destroyed the supposed vessel of Koschei’s soul.

When it became evident that Koschei was alive and as wicked as ever, the princess again pleaded to know where his soul was kept. Again, he lied. Again, she got word to her husband and again he tried to destroy Koschei’s soul. It did no good. A third time, the princess wheedled and teased. Koschei gave what seemed like a ridiculous answer: his soul was in a pebble, inside the yolk of an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a great rock, on an island.

After many trials, the brave prince managed to find the island, the rock, the hare, the duck, and the egg. Believe it or not, there was a pebble inside the egg! He took it back to confront Koschei, fully expecting that the dragon would kill him. But a slight blow from the tiny pebble restored the wizard’s soul. All the deaths that had been warded off suddenly fell upon him, and he was killed instantly! The prince and princess were reunited, and peace restored to the land.

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