Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

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Léshy, The

St. Friday and St. Wednesday appear to belong to that class of spiritual beings, sometimes of a demoniacal disposition, with which the imagination of the old Slavonians peopled the elements. Of several of these--such as the Domovoy or House-Spirit, the Rusalka or Naiad, and the Vodyany or Water-Sprite--I have written at some length elsewhere, [1] and therefore I will not at present quote any of the stories in which they figure. But, as a specimen of the class to which such tales as these belong, here is a skazka about one of the wood-sprites or Slavonic Satyrs, who are still believed by the peasants to haunt the forests of Russia. In it we see reduced to a vulgar form, and brought into accordance with everyday peasant-life, the myth which appears to have given rise to the endless stories about the theft and recovery of queens and princesses. The leading idea of the story is the same, but the Snake or Koshchei has become a paltry wood-demon, the hero is a mere hunter, and the princely heroine has sunk to the low estate of a priest's daughter.


A CERTAIN priest's daughter went strolling in the forest one day, without having obtained leave from her father or her mother--and she disappeared utterly. Three years went by. Now in the village in which her parents dwelt there lived a bold hunter, who went daily roaming through the thick woods with his dog and his gun. One day he was going through the forest; all of a sudden his dog began to bark, and the hair of its back bristled up. The sportsman looked, and saw lying in the woodland path before him a log, and on the log there sat a moujik plaiting a bast shoe. And as he plaited the shoe, he kept looking up at the moon, and saying with a menacing gesture:--

                 "Shine, shine, O bright moon!"

                 The sportsman was astounded. "How comes it," thinks he, "that the moujik looks like that?--he is still young; but his hair is grey as a badger's." [3]

                 He only thought these words, but the other replied, as if guessing what he meant:--

                 "Grey am I, being the devil's grandfather!" [4]

                 Then the sportsman guessed that he had before him no mere moujik, but a Léshy. He levelled his gun and--bang! he let him have it right in the paunch. The Léshy groaned, and seemed to be going to fall across the log; but directly afterwards he got up and dragged himself into the thickets. After him ran the dog in pursuit, and after the dog followed the sportsman. He walked and walked, and came to a hill: in that hill was a fissure, and in the fissure stood a hut. He entered the hut--there on a bench lay the Léshy stone dead, and by his side a damsel, exclaiming, amid bitter tears:--

                 "Who now will give me to eat and to drink?"

                 "Hail, fair maiden!" says the hunter. "Tell me whence thou comest, and whose daughter thou art?"

                 "Ah, good youth! I know not that myself, any more than if I had never seen the free light--never known a father and mother."

                 "Well, get ready as soon as you can. I will take you back to Holy Russia."

                 So he took her away with him, and brought her out of the forest. And all the way he went along, he cut marks on the trees. Now this damsel had been carried off by the Léshy, and had lived in his hut for three years--her clothes were all worn out, or had got torn off her back, so that she was stark naked but she wasn't a bit ashamed of that. When they reached the village, the sportsman began asking whether there was any one there who had lost a girl. Up came the priest, and cried, "Why, that's my daughter." Up came running the priest's wife, and cried:--

                 "O thou dear child! where hast thou been so long? I had no hope of ever seeing thee again."

                 But the girl gazed and just blinked with her eyes, understanding nothing. After a time, however, she began slowly to come back to her senses. Then the priest and his wife gave her in marriage to the hunter, and rewarded him with all sorts of good things. And they went in search of the hut in which she had lived while she was with the Léshy. Long did they wander about the forest; but that hut they never found.

               To another group of personifications belong those of the Rivers. About them many stories are current, generally having reference to their alleged jealousies and disputes. Thus it is said that when God was allotting their shares to the rivers, the Desna did not come in time, and so failed to obtain precedence over the Dnieper.

               "Try and get before him yourself," said the Lord.

               The Desna set off at full speed, but in spite of all her attempts, the Dnieper always kept ahead of her until he fell into the sea, where the Desna was obliged to join him. [5]



[1] "Songs of the Russian People," pp. 120-153.

[2] Afanasief, vii. No. 33. The name Léshy or Lyeshy is derived from lyes, a forest.

[3] Literally "as a lun," a kind of hawk (falco rusticolus). Lun also means a greyish light.

[4] Ottogo ya i cyed chto chortof dyed.

[5] Afanasief, P.V.S., ii. 226.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Léshy, The
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: unclassified

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