Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

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One-Eyed Likho

Miscellaneous Impersonifications.

Somewhat resembling the picture usually drawn of the supernatural Witch in the Skazkas, is that which some of them offer of a personification of evil called Likho. [1] The following story, belonging to the familiar Polyphemus-cycle, will serve to convey an idea of this baleful being, who in it takes a female form.


ONCE upon a time there was a smith. "Well now," says he, "I've never set eyes on any harm. They say there's evil (likho) [2] in the world. I'll go and seek me out evil." So he went and had a goodish drink, and then started in search of evil. On the way he met a tailor.

                 "Good day," says the Tailor.

                 "Good day."

                 "Where are you going?" asks the Tailor.

                 "Well, brother, everybody says there is evil on earth. But I've never seen any, so I'm going to look for it."

                 "Let's go together. I'm a thriving man, too, and have seen no evil; let's go and have a hunt for some."

                 Well, they walked and walked till they reached a dark, dense forest. In it they found a small path, and along it they went--along the narrow path. They walked and walked along the path, and at last they saw a large cottage standing before them. It was night; there was nowhere else to go to. "Look here," they say, "let's go into that cottage." In they went. There was nobody there. All looked bare and squalid. They sat down, and remained sitting there some time. Presently in came a tall woman, lank, crooked, with only one eye.

                 "Ah!" says she, "I've visitors. Good day to you."

                 "Good day, grandmother. We've come to pass the night under your roof."

                 "Very good: I shall have something to sup on."

                 Thereupon they were greatly terrified. As for her, she went and fetched a great heap of firewood. She brought in the heap of firewood, flung it into the stove, and set it alight. Then she went up to the two men, took one of them--the Tailor--cut his throat, trussed him, and put him in the oven.

                 Meantime the Smith sat there, thinking, "What's to be done? how's one to save one's life?" When she had finished her supper, the Smith looked at the oven and said:

                 "Granny, I'm a smith."

                 "What can you forge?"


                 "Make me an eye."

                 "Good," says he; "but have you got any cord? I must tie you up, or you won't keep still. I shall have to hammer your eye in."

                 She went and fetched two cords, one rather thin, the other thicker. Well, he bound her with the one which was thinnest.

                 "Now then, granny," says he, "just turn over." She turned over, and broke the cord.

                 "That won't do, granny," says he; "that cord doesn't suit."

                 He took the thick cord, and tied her up with it famously.

                 "Now then, turn away, granny!" says he. She turned and twisted, but didn't break the cord. Then he took an awl, heated it red-hot, and applied it to her eye--her sound one. At the same moment he caught up a hatchet, and hammered away vigorously with the back of it at the awl. She struggled like anything, and broke the cord; then she went and sat down at the threshold.

                 "Ah, villain!" she cried. "You sha'n't get away from me now!"

                 He saw that he was in an evil plight again. There he sat, thinking, "What's to be done?"

                 By-and-by the sheep came home from afield, and she drove them into her cottage for the night. Well, the Smith spent the night there, too. In the morning she got up to let the sheep out. He took his sheep-skin pelisse and turned it inside out so that the wool was outside, passed his arms through its sleeves, and pulled it well over him, and crept up to her as he had been a sheep. She let the flock go out one at a time, catching hold of each by the wool on its back, and shoving it out. Well, he came creeping up like the rest. She caught hold of the wool on his back and shoved him out. But as soon as she had shoved him out, he stood up and cried:

                 "Farewell, Likho! I have suffered much evil (likha) at your hands. Now you can do nothing to me."

                 "Wait a bit!" she replied; "you shall endure still more. You haven't escaped yet!"

                 The Smith went back through the forest along the narrow path. Presently he saw a golden-handled hatchet sticking in a tree, and he felt a strong desire to seize it. Well, he did seize that hatchet, and his hand stuck fast to it. What was to be done? There was no freeing it anyhow. He gave a look behind him. There was Likho coming after him, and crying:

                 "There you are, villain! you've not got off yet!"

                 The Smith pulled out a small knife which he had in his pocket, and began hacking away at his hand--cut it clean off and ran away. When he reached his village, he immediately began to show his arm as a proof that he had seen Likho at last.

                 "Look," says he, "that's the state of things. Here am I," says he, "without my hand. And as for my comrade, she's eaten him up entirely."

               In a Little-Russian variant of this story, quoted by Afanasief, [3] (III. p. 137) a man, who often hears evil or misfortune (likho) spoken of, sets out in search of it. One day he sees an iron castle beside a wood, surrounded by a palisade of human bones tipped with skulls. He knocks at the door, and a voice cries "What do you want?" "I want evil," he replies. "That's what I'm looking for." "Evil is here," cries the voice. So in he goes, and finds a huge, blind giant lying within, stretched on a couch of human bones. "This was Likho (Evil)," says the story, "and around him were seated Zluidni (Woes) and Zhurba (Care)." Finding that Likho intends to eat him, the misfortune-seeker takes to flight. Likho hears the iron doors creak, and cries to them to stop the fugitive. "But he had already passed out of doors. Only he lost his right hand, on which the door slammed: whereupon he exclaimed 'Here's misfortune, sure enough!'"

               The opening of the story of Likho is somewhat similar to that of one of the tales of Indian origin translated by Stanislas Julien from the Chinese. Once upon a time, we are told, a king grew weary of good fortune, so he sent messengers in search of misfortune. It a certain god sold to them, in the shape of a sow which devoured a peck of needles a day. The king's agents took to worrying his subjects for needles, and brought such trouble upon the whole kingdom, that his ministers entreated him to have the beast put to death. He consented, and it was led forth to die. But neither knife nor axe could penetrate its hide, so they tried to consume it with fire. After a time it became red-hot, and then it leaped out from amid the flames, and dashed about setting fire to all manner of things. The conflagration spread and was followed by famine, so that the whole land was involved in ruin. [4]

               The Polyphemus story has been so thoroughly investigated by Wilhelm Grimm, [5] that there is no occasion to dwell upon it here. But the following statement is worthy of notice. The inhabitants of the Ukraine are said still to retain some recollection of the one-eyed nation of Arimaspians of whom Herodotus speaks (Bk. IV. c. 27). According to them the One-Eyes [6] dwell somewhere far off, beyond the seas. The Tartars, during their inroads, used to burn towns and villages, kill old folks and infants, and carry off young people. The plumpest of these they used to sell to cannibals who had but one eye apiece, situated in the forehead. And the cannibals would drive away their purchases, like sheep, to their own land, and there fatten them up, kill them, and eat them. A similar tradition, says Afanasief (VIII. 260) exists also among the Ural Cossacks.

               While on the subject of eyes, it may be remarked that the story of "One-Eye, Two-Eyes, and Three-Eyes," rendered so familiar to juvenile English readers by translations from the German, [7] appears among the Russian tales in a very archaic and heathenish form. Here is the outline of a version of it found in the Archangel Government. [8] There once was a Princess Marya, whose stepmother had two daughters, one of whom was three-eyed. Now her stepmother hated Marya, and used to send her out, with nothing to eat but a dry crust, to tend a cow all day. But "the princess went into the open field, bowed down before the cow's right foot, and got plenty to eat and to drink, and fine clothes to put on; all day long she followed the cow about dressed like a great lady--when the day came to a close, she again bowed down to the cow's right foot, took off her fine clothes, went home and laid on the table the crust of bread she had brought back with her." Wondering at this, her stepmother sent her two-eyed stepsister to watch her. But Marya uttered the words "Sleep, sleep, one-eye! sleep, sleep, other eye!" till the watcher fell asleep. Then the three-eyed sister was sent, and Marya by the same spell sent two of her eyes to sleep, but forgot the third. So all was found out, and the stepmother had the cow killed. But Marya persuaded her father, who acted as the butcher, to give her a part of the cow's entrails, which she buried near the threshold; and from it there sprang a bush covered with berries, and haunted by birds which sang "songs royal and rustic." After a time a Prince Ivan heard of Marya, so he came riding up, and offered to marry whichever of the three princesses could fill with berries from the bush a bowl which he brought with him. The stepmother's daughters tried to do so, but the birds almost pecked their eyes out, and would not let them gather the berries. Then Marya's turn came, and when she approached the bush the birds picked the berries for her, and filled the bowl in a trice. So she married the prince, and lived happily with him for a time.

               But after she had borne him a son, she went to pay a visit to her father, and her stepmother availed herself of the opportunity to turn her into a goose, and to set her own two-eyed daughter in her place. So Prince Ivan returned home with a false bride. But a certain old man took out the infant prince afield, and there his mother appeared, flung aside her feather-covering, and suckled the babe, exclaiming the while with tears--

               "To-day I suckle thee, to-morrow I shall suckle thee, but on the third day I shall fly away beyond the dark forests, beyond the high mountains!"

               This occurred on two successive days, but on the second occasion Prince Ivan was a witness of what took place, and he seized her feather-dress and burnt it, and then laid hold of her. She first turned into a frog, then assumed various reptile forms, and finally became a spindle. This he broke in two, and flung one half in front and the other behind him, and the spell was broken along with it. So he regained his wife and went home with her. But as for the false wife, he took a gun and shot her.



[1] The adjective likhoi has two opposite meanings, sometimes signifying what is evil, hurtful, malicious, &c., sometimes what is bold, vigorous, and therefore to be admired. As a substantive, likho conveys the idea of something malevolent or unfortunate. The Polish licho properly signifies uneven. But odd numbers are sometimes considered unlucky. Polish housewives, for instance, think it imprudent to allow their hens to sit on an uneven number of eggs. But the peasantry also describe by Licho an evil spirit, a sort of devil. (Wojcicki in the "Encyklopedyja Powszechna," xvii. p. 17.) "When Likho sleeps, awake it not," says a proverb common to Poland and South Russia.

[2] Afanasief, iii. No. 14. From the Voroneje Government.

[3] From an article by Borovikovsky in the "Otech. Zap." 1840, No. 2.

[4] "Les Avadânas," vol. i. No. 9, p. 51.

[5] In the "Philogische und historische Abhandlungen," of the Berlin Academy of Sciences for 1857, pp. 1-30. See also Buslaef, "Ist. Och.," i. 327-331.; Campbell's "West Highland Tales," i. p. 132, &c.

[6] Ednookie (edno or odno = one; oko = eye). A Slavonic equivalent of the name "Arimaspians," from the Scythic arima = one and spû = eye. Mr. Rawlinson associates arima, through farima, with Goth. fruma, Lat. primus, &c., and spû with Lat. root spic or spec--in speciospecto, &c., and with our "spy," &c.

[7] Grimm, No. 130, &c.

[8] Afanasief, vi. No. 55.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: One-Eyed Likho
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: ATU 1137: The Blinded Ogre

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