Mythic Russia

Heroic roleplaying in a mythical medieval Russia

‘Deathless’ by Catherynne Valente: a different kind of Mythic Russia — March 10, 2011

‘Deathless’ by Catherynne Valente: a different kind of Mythic Russia

I’m eagerly looking forward to the release of this novel, due out at the end of this month. Here is how it is described:

Twentieth-century Russian history provides a background for Valente’s lush reimagining of folkloric villain Koschei the Deathless and his dalliance with Marya Morevna, a clever but troubled young woman. After Koschei sweeps Marya away from her family’s home in St. Petersburg-Petrograd-Leningrad, Baba Yaga assigns her three tasks that will make her worthy of marrying Koschei. As she spends more time in Koschei’s Country of Life, Marya starts to become too much like her unearthly lover, until naïve Ivan Nikolayevich helps her regain her humanity (as well as the sympathy of the reader). Valente’s lush language and imagery add to the magic and fundamentally Russian nature of the story, drawing pointed parallels between the Soviet Union’s turmoil and the endless war between Koschei and his brother, Viy. Readers used to the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault will find this tale peculiar but enchanting.

More vividly, though, take a look at this wonderfully evocative trailer:

Edited addition, 24 April: And now I’ve actually read this book, let me redouble the recommendation, Some of it is very grim (as slavic folklore so often is), a little towards the end hard to understand, but the language is absolutely beautiful and at times slyly witty, and inventiveness phenomenal and the backdrop of the 1917 Revolution and 1941-44 Siege of Leningrad (as well as the mystical island of Buyan) a very clever and novel approach. Thoroughly recommended, not least for Zmei Gorynich the dragon rendered in a manner reminiscent of Lavrenty Beria and Baba Yaga become Chairman Yaga in good Bolshevik style…

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