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More on Slavic folklore. Koschei the Immortal.

Have you been missing my stories about Slavic folklore characters? We have already talked about Baba Yaga, so now is the turn of another very important character, Koschei the Immortal (Koschei the Deathless), or Кащей (sometimes written as Кощей) Бессмертный.

That's what he looked like:
Koschei depicted by Viktor Vasnetsov

And if you want to take a closer look at him, here's another portrait from a well-known old children's film:



So who is this man? The first thing you can see is that he is bony, old and not exactly handsome. His name is probably derived from the word "кость" (kość in Polish) which means "bone". There are no detailed descriptions of Koschei in Russian fairytales, but people generally believe he was a fleshless skeleton. And what's more, he has an ugly soul. Basically, he's a demon of Slavic mythology. He hates all people, especially those considered fortunate, or blessed. He kidnaps young beautiful women and keeps them captive in his castle, trying to make them marry him. Thankfully, those women are usually saved by a handsome prince. :-)

So how does the prince kill Koschei and save the beautiful girl? That's a tough task. First, he needs to find Koschei who usually lives far away. So he starts his journey and after a long time he meets a wise man or a woman who tells him the way and sometimes gives the prince a magic ball of wool that leads him to Baba Yaga. She tries to kill him but doesn't succeed, so she tells him how to defeat Koschei. Oh, did I tell you he's immortal? He can't be killed by any weapon, can't be poisoned etc. In order to kill him, the prince needs to find Koschei's death. He needs to go to the end of the world (or Buyan Island, that depends on the fairytale) and find the biggest oak tree. Koschei's death is in the needle which is inside the egg. The egg is inside the duck, and the duck is inside the hare. The hare is in a huge chest either buried under that oak tree, or chained to the tree. While looking for Buyan Island and for the oak tree the prince meets 4 animals and even though he is very hungry he doesn't kill them, and the animals later help him to get Koschei's death. In the end, the prince breaks the egg and then the needle, and voila - Koschei is dead, his castle is destroyed and the beautiful princess is saved!

According to the fairytale "The frog princess/Царевна-лягушка" (in the Russian fairytale it's the princess who is turned into a frog, not a prince), Koschei has a daughter. Her name is Vasilisa Premudraya (Vasilisa the Wise). Koschei turned her into a frog because she was smarter than he and she was supposed to stay a frog for three years, but she met a young prince Ivan (Иван-Царевич) who changed her destiny.

That's all about Koschei. One last thing I wanted to say is that with time people stopped seeing this character as a demon. In children's films and cartoons he is sometimes portrayed as a wise and even somewhat humorous and thus charming character. And sometimes parents who have thin kids call them "Koschei" just because they are skinny (I was an extremely skinny kid, so I was called Koschei all the time :)), so this name has obviously lost some of its negative connotation though people do remember all his evil deads.


Here are some resources in Einglish where you can read more about Koschei:
Wikipedia
Koschei the Deathless
Fairytale about Koschei's death

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