Fairy Tale Friday: The Death of Koshchei the Deathless

With Halloween right around the corner, it seems only right that today’s fairy tale should feature Baba Yaga, monsters, violent deaths, and unnatural resurrections. For bonus points, there is also a warlike princess whose future husband falls in love with her over the bodies of the 1,000 soldiers she’s just slain. (Russian ladies are fierce!)

The Fearsome Baba Yaga

Without further ado, I present you with this thrilling tale from Andrew Lang’s Red Fairy Book:

The Death of Koshchei the Deathless

IN a certain kingdom there lived a Prince Ivan. He had three sisters. The first was the Princess Marya, the second the Princess Olga, the third the Princess Anna. When their father and mother lay at the point of death, they had thus enjoined their son: “Give your sisters in marriage to the very first suitors who come to woo them. Don’t go keeping them by you!”

They died, and the Prince buried them, and then, to solace his grief, he went with his sisters into the garden green to stroll. Suddenly the sky was covered by a black cloud; a terrible storm arose.

“Let us go home, sisters!” he cried.

Hardly had they got into the palace, when the thunder pealed, the ceiling split open, and into the room where they were came flying a falcon bright. The Falcon smote upon the ground, became a brave youth, and said:

“Hail, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer!” I wish to propose for your sister, the Princess Marya.”

“If you find favour in the eyes of my sister, I will not interfere with her wishes. Let her marry you, in God’s name!”

The Princess Marya gave her consent; the Falcon married her and bore her away into his own realm.

Days follow days, hours chase hours; a whole year goes by. One day Prince Ivan and his two sisters went out to stroll in the garden green. Again there arose a storm-cloud, with whirlwind and lightning.

“Let us go home, sisters!” cries the Prince. Scarcely had they entered the palace when the thunder crashed, the roof burst into a blaze, the ceiling split in twain, and in flew an eagle. The Eagle smote upon the ground and became a brave youth.

“Hail, Prince Ivan! I Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer!”

And he asked for the hand of the Princess Olga. Prince Ivan replied:

“If you find favour in the eyes of the Princess Olga, then let her marry you. I will not interfere with her liberty of choice.”

The Princess Olga gave her consent and married the Eagle. The Eagle took her and carried her off to his own kingdom.

Another year went by. Prince Ivan said to his youngest sister:

“Let us go out and stroll in the garden green!”

They strolled about for a time. Again there arose a storm-cloud, with whirlwind and lightning.

“Let us return home, sister!” said he.

They returned home, but they hadn’t had time to sit down when the thunder crashed, the ceiling split open, and in flew a raven. The Raven smote upon the floor and became a brave youth. The former youths had been handsome, but this one was handsomer still.

“Well, Prince Ivan! Before I came as a guest, but now I have come as a wooer! Give me the Princess Anna to wife.”

“I won’t interfere with my sister’s freedom. If you gain her affections, let her marry you.”

So the Princess Anna married the Raven, and he bore her away into his own realm. Prince Ivan was left alone. A whole year he lived without his sisters; then he grew weary, and said:

“I will set out in search of my sisters.”

He got ready for the journey, he rode and rode, and one day he saw a whole army lying dead on the plain. He cried aloud, “If there be a living man there, let him make answer! Who has slain this mighty host?”

There replied unto him a living man:

“All this mighty host has been slain by the fair Princess Marya Morevna.”

Find out what happens next!

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  1. Uncle Vinny’s avatar

    Crazy! I’m very fond of this phrase: “Thereat was Prince Ivan glad”, and the bit about having enough time to grow wheat and turn it into pies before one really needs to begin pursuing the Prince.

  2. amyleighmorgan’s avatar

    I liked so many things about this story! The Russians are so much fiercer than the Germans, in all these subtle ways. Maybe that’s going to be the holiday theme for Fairy Tale Friday – Russian fairy tales.

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