Monday, February 19, 2018

Giants, vampires, lady foxes (Following folktales around the world 59. - Ukraine)

Today I continue the blog series titled Following folktales around the world! If you would like to know what the series is all about, you can find the introduction post here. You can find all posts under the Following Folktales label, or you can follow the series on Facebook!

Ukrainian Folk Tales
Anatole Bilenko
Dnipro Publishers, 1974.

This English-language volume, published in the Soviet era, contains twenty folktales from the Ukraine. Some have origins specified by region ("Transcarpathian folktale", "Bukovinian folktale"), but other than those, we don't learn much about their backgrounds. The text sometimes reads odd, like something not translated by a native English speaker, using phrases that are amusingly out of context for the tales. The book is illustrated in black-white-gold drawings. Entertaining read, but other than a few footnotes, not very useful for further research.


The best story in the book was The Poor Man and His Sons, in which a boy, chased away from home by his father, was raised by a wise giant, and sent out on quests to defeat vampires and save kingdoms. I also liked The Poor Man and the Raven Czar, a tale of haunting imagery, in which a poor man did not unwittingly promise his son away, and the magic mill did not end up sinking into the ocean.
The most amusing of the animal tales was The Goat and the Ram - a smart but small goat, and a strong but cowardly ram ran away together, and managed to outwit a bunch of wolves. I could almost see the Pixar movie...
The tale of Oh was essentially that of the Sorcerer's Apprentice, with some really nice embellishments. A lazy boy was trained by the dwarf king Oh in an underground kingdom, burned and revived multiple times until he turned into a shapeshifting hero. Ilya Muromets and the Nightingale Robber were already familiar to me; I included that story in my own book, because of the robber's unique ability to create a sonic blast with his whistle.
I also liked Boris Son O'Three for his name: The abandoned boy was raised by three brothers who all loved him like a son, so they named him "Son of Three [Fathers]". Yay for non-traditional family models!


In a very amusing variant of the Fox and the Wolf, a vixen named Foxy-Loxy outwitted a (male) wolf in several classic ways (tail trapped in the ice, etc.), in order to punish him for breaking the sledge she had made herself. She also featured into the story of Pan Kotsky, the tomcat that became the ruler of the forest by scaring the wits out of all animals (after shacking up with the vixen). And it was also the clever fox-girl who ended up devouring the runaway Kolobok the Johnnycake (a Ukrainian version of the gingerbread boy). I am not entirely sure what was translated into English as johnnycake, though.

Where to next?


  1. Have you read "The Magic Egg and Other Tales from Ukraine?" It has a Cinderella variant, "The Golden Slipper," where the heroine is abused by her mother, instead of her stepmother, and it is her dead grandmother whose helps her. Another story, "The Magic Doll" combines Donkeyskin with Vasilisa The Beautiful.