The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life

Posted by M ws On Wednesday, August 15, 2012 0 comments
According to Wikipedia, RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES is a collection of Russian fairy tales, collected by Alexander Afanasyev and published by him between 1855 and 1863. His work was explicitly modeled after the Brothers Grimm's work, Grimm's Fairy Tales.

I love fairy tales and many do not know that the original versions of many such tales , especially by the Brothers Grimm are not simple tales. I also love Russian writers especially those from the Golden Age such as Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace), Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov) and Anton Chekhov (Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard). Twentieth century Russian writers I admire are Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita, Pnin and The Real Life of Sebastian Knight) and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago).

This evening, I wish to share two of my favourite Russian fairy tales: The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life written by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye Russkie Skazki, 1862 and Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What written by Alexander Afanasyevin Narodnye Russkie Skazki. These tales are delightful and it is most unfortunate that due to the current state in the standard of English, children cannot enjoy such beautifully crafted tales.  Happy reading!

The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life  
by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye Russkie Skazki, 1862

An old king whose sight was failing heard of a garden with apples that would make a man grow young, and water that would restore his sight. His oldest son set out; he came to a pillar that said on one road, his horse would be full and he hungry, on the second, he would lose his life, and on the third, he would be full and his horse hungry. He took the third. He came to a house where a widow made him welcome and offered to let him spend the night with her daughter Dunia. He accepted, and Dunia made him fall into the cellar.

His second son set out and met the same fate. Finally the youngest son set out, over his father's reluctance. When he received the same offer from the widow, he said he must go to the bathhouse first; Dunia led him to it, and he beat her until she revealed his brothers. He freed them, but they were ashamed to go home.

He rode on and found a pretty maiden weaving. She could not direct him to the garden but sent him on to her second sister. She bade him leave his horse with her and go on a two-winged horse to their third sister. The third sister gave him a four-winged horse and told him to ensure that it leapt the wall in a single bound, or it make bells ring and wake the witch. He tried to obey her, but the horse's hoof just grazed the wall. The sound was too soft to wake the witch. In the morning, she chased after him on her six-winged horse, but only caught him when he was near his own land and did not fear her. She cursed him, saying nothing would save him from his brothers.

He found his brothers sleeping and slept by them. They stole his apples and threw him over a cliff. He fell to a dark kingdom. There, a dragon demanded a beautiful maiden every year, and this year the lot had fallen on the princess. The knight said he would save her if the king would promise to do as he asked; the king promised not only that but to marry him to the princess as well. They went to where the dragon was coming and he went to sleep, telling the princess to wake him. The dragon came, she could not wake him and began to weep, and a tear fell on his face, waking him. He cut off the dragon's heads, put them under a rock, and threw its body in the sea.

Another man sneaked up behind him and cut off his head. He threatened to kill the princess if she would not say that he had killed the dragon. The king arranged for the marriage, but the princess went to sea with fishermen. Each time they caught a fish, she had them throw it back, but finally, their nets caught the knight's body and head. She put them back together and used the water of life on them. He comforted her and sent her home, saying he would come and make it right. He came and asked the king whether the alleged dragon slayer could find the dragon's heads. The imposter could not, but the knight could. The knight said he wanted only to go to his own country, not to marry the princess, but she did not want to be parted from him. She knew a spoonbilled bird that could carry them, if it had enough to eat. They went off with a whole ox, but it was not quite enough; the princess cut off part of her thigh to feed it. The bird carried them all the way and commented on the sweetness of the last piece of meat. She showed it what she had done, and it spat the piece back out; the knight used the water of life to restore it.

He went back with his father, used the water of life, and told him what his brothers had done. The brothers were so frightened they jumped in the river. The knight married the princess.


Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What 
by Alexander Afanasyevin Narodnye Russkie Skazki

A royal hunter shot a bird; wounded, it begged him not to kill it but to take it home, and when it went to sleep, strike its head. He did so, and the bird became a beautiful woman. She proposed that they marry, and they did. After the marriage, she saw how hard he had to hunt, and told him to borrow one or two hundred rubles. He did so, and then bought silks with them. She conjured two spirits and set them to make a marvelous carpet. Then she gave the carpet to her husband and told him to accept whatever price he was given. The merchants did not know how much to pay for it, and finally the king's steward bought it for ten thousand rubles. The king saw it and gave the steward twenty-five thousand for it.

The steward went to the hunter's house to get another, and saw his wife. He fell madly in love with her, and the king saw it. The steward told him why, and the king went himself and saw the hunter's wife. He decided that he should marry her instead and demanded the steward devise a way to be rid of the husband. The steward, with Baba Yaga's advice, had him sent to sea in a rotten ship, with a bad crew, to catch the stag with golden horns in the thrice tenth kingdom. The hunter being told of this, told his wife. She conjured up the stag and had him take it on the ship, sail out for five days and turn back.

The king was enraged with the steward, who again went to Baba Yaga. This time, the steward had the king send him to "go I know not whither and bring back I know not what." The wife's conjured spirits could not help her. She told him to ask for gold from the king and gave him a ball, which if rolled before him would led him where he needed to go, and a handkerchief, with directions to wipe his face with it whenever he washed. He left. The king sent a carriage for his wife. She turned back into a bird and left.

Her husband finally came to a castle. They gave him food and let him rest; then they brought him water to wash. He wiped his face not with their towel but his handkerchief. They recognized it as their sister's. They brought their mother, who also recognized it; she questioned him, and he told his story. She summoned all the beasts and birds to see if they knew how to "go I know not whither and bring back I know not what." Then she went out to sea with him and summoned all the fish. Last of all to arrive, a limping frog knew.

The woman gave him a jug to carry the frog, which could not walk that fast. He did, and the frog directed him to a river, where it told him to get on it, and swelled large enough to carry him across. There, it directed him to listen to two old men who would arrive. He did, and heard them summon "Shmat Razum" to serve them. Then the old men left, and he heard Shmat Razum lament how they treated him. The man asked Shmat Razum to serve him instead, and he agreed.

Shmat Razum carried him back. He stopped at a golden arbor, where he met three merchants. At Shmat Razum's directions, he exchanged his servant for three marvels: they could summon up a garden, a fleet of ships, and an army. But after a day, Shmat Razum returned to the hunter.

In his own country, the hunter had Shmat Razum build a castle. His wife returned to him there. The king saw the castle and marched against him. He summoned the fleet and the army and defeated the king, and was chosen king in his place.

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