Dawn, Evening, and Midnight is a riveting story from a collection of Russian fairy tales published in 1866. The Russian stories were gathered by Aleksandr Afanas’ev, who was considered the Russian counterpart of the Grimm Brothers. Afanas’ev was a lawyer by education and his collection of folklore was instrumental in introducing Russian popular tales to world literature.

The pattern of three is commonly used in fairy tales. It is excessively used in this story – notice how many places it is used throughout the whole tale. The power of three is used as a suspense-building tool. It also illustrates the personality of characters. For example, if there are three children – two of them usually feature very positive or negative qualities, while the third is the complete opposite. They are often rewarded for their uniqueness as the story progresses. The pattern of three also works as a memory tool, and psychologically the number three plays a big part in persuasion. Regardless of the reason, three is commonly used in folklore and will continue to be used as a tool in stories to come.

Dawn, Evening, and Midnight

(Russian Fairy Tale)

In a certain kingdom there was a king who had three daughters of surpassing beauty. The king guarded them more carefully than his most precious treasure; he built underground chambers and kept his daughters there like birds in a cage, so that rough winds could not blow upon them nor the red sun scorch them with his rays. One day the princesses read in a certain book that there was a marvelous bright world, and when the king came to visit them, they straightway began to implore him with tears in their eyes, saying, “Sovereign, our father, let us out to see the bright world and walk in the green garden.”

The king tried to dissuade them but to no avail. They would not even listen to him; the more he refused, the more urgently they besought him. There was nothing to be done, so the king granted their insistent prayer. And so the beautiful princesses went out to walk in the garden. They beheld the red sun, the trees, and the flowers, and were overjoyed that they had the freedom of the bright world.

They ran about in the garden and enjoyed themselves – when a sudden whirlwind seized them and carried them off far and high, no one knew whither. The alarmed nurses and governesses ran to report this to the king; the king straightway sent his faithful servants in all directions, promising a great reward to him who should find traces of the princesses. The servants traveled and traveled but did not discover anything and came back no wiser than they had set out.

The king called his grand council together and asked his councilors and boyars whether anyone among them would undertake the search for his daughters. To any man who might find them, he said, he would give the princess of his choice in marriage, and a rich dowry. The king asked once and the boyars were silent; he asked a second time and they still did not answer; he asked a third time and no one made a sound! The king burst into tears. “Apparently I have no friends or helpers here,” he said, and ordered that a call be issued throughout the kingdom. He hoped that someone from among the common people would undertake the heavy task.

At that time there lived in the village a poor widow who had three sons; they were mighty champions. All of there were born in one night – the eldest in the evening, the second at midnight, and the youngest in the early dawn, and therefore they were called Evening, Midnight, and Dawn. When the king’s call reached them, they straightway asked for their mother’s blessing, made ready for the journey, and rode to the capital city. They came to the king, bowed low, and said, “Rule for many years, sovereign! We have come to you not to celebrate a feast, but to perform a task. Give us leave to go in search of your daughters.”

“Hail, good youths! What shall I give you for your voyage?”

“We do not need anything, sire; only do not forget our mother, care for her in her poverty and old age.” The king took the old woman into his palace, and ordered that she be given food and drink from his table and clothes and shoes from his stores.

The good youths set out on their way. They rode one month, a second, and a third; then they came to a wide desert steppe. Beyond the steppe was a thick forest, and close to the forest stood a little hut. They knocked at the window and there was no answer; they entered and no one was in the hut. “Well, brothers,” said one of the three, “let us stop here for a time and rest from our travels.”

They undressed, prayed to God, and went to sleep. Next morning Dawn, the youngest brother, said to Evening, his eldest brother, “We two shall go hunting, and you stay at home and prepare the diner.” The eldest brother consented. Near the hut there was a shed full of sheep; without thinking much he took the best ram, slaughtered and cleaned it, and put it on the roast for dinner. He prepared everything and lay down to rest on a bench.

Suddenly there was a rumbling noise, the door opened, and there entered a little man as big as a thumb, with a very long beard. He cast an angry look around and cried to Evening, “How dared you make yourself at home in my house, how dared to slaughter my ram?”

Evening answered, “First grow up – otherwise you cannot be seen from the ground! I shall take a spoonful of cabbage soup and a crumb of bread and throw them in your eyes!”

The old man as big as a thumb grew more furious, “I am small but strong!”

He snatched up a crust of bread and began to beat Evening over the head with it; he beat him till he was half dead and threw him under the bench. Then the little old man ate the roasted ram and went into the woods. Evening tied a rag around his head and lay moaning. The brothers returned and asked, “What is the matter with you?”

“Eh, brothers, I made a fire in the stove, but because of the great heat I got a headache; I lay all day like one dazed, I could neither cook nor roast!”

Next day Dawn and Evening went hunting, and Midnight was left at home to prepare dinner. Midnight made a fire, chose the fattest ram, slaughtered it, and put it in the oven; then he lay on the bench. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise, and the old man as big as a thumb came in and began to beat and thrash him; he almost beat him to death. Then he ate the roasted ram and went into the woods. Midnight tied up his head with a handkerchief and lay under the bench and moaned. The brother returned. “What is the matter with you?” Dawn asked him.

“I have a headache from the fumes of the stove, brothers, and I have not prepared your dinner.”

On the third day the two elder brothers went hunting and Dawn stayed at home; he chose the best ram, slaughtered and cleaned it, and put it on to roast. Then he lay on the bench. Suddenly there was a rumbling noise – and he saw the old man as big as a thumb carrying a whole hayrick on his head and holding a huge cask of water in his hand. The little old man put down the cast of water, spread the hay over the yard, and began to count his sheep. He saw that another ram was missing, grew angry, ran to the house, jumped at Dawn, and hit him on the head with all his strength, Dawn jumped up, grabbed the little old man by his long beard, and began to drag him around, repeating, “Look before you leap, look before you leap!”

The old man as big as a thumb began to implore him, “Have pity on me, mighty champion, do not put me to death, let my soul repent!” Dawn dragged him out into the yard, led him to an oaken pillar, and fastened his beard to the pillar with a big iron spike; then he returned to the house and sad down to wait for his brothers.

The brothers came back from their hunting and were amazed to find him safe and sound. Dawn smiled and said, “Come with me, brothers, I have caught your fumes and fastened them to a pillar.”

They went into the yard, they looked – but the old man as big as a thumb had long since run away. But half of his beard dangled from the pillar, and blood was spattered over his tracks. Following this clue, the brothers came to a deep hole in the ground. Dawn went to the woods, wound a rope, and told his brothers to drop him underground. Evening and Midnight dropped him into the hole.

He found himself in the underworld, released himself from the rope, and walked straight ahead. He walked and walked, and saw a copper castle. He entered the castle, and the youngest princess, rosier than a pink rose, whiter than white snow, came out to meet him and asked him kindly, “How have you come here, good youth – of your own will or by compulsion?”

“Your father has sent me in search of you, princess.”

She straightway seated him at the table, gave him meat and drink, and then handed him a vial with water of strength. “Drink of this water,” she said, “and you will have added strength.”

Dawn drank the vial of water and felt great power in himself. “Now,” he thought, “I can get the better of anyone.”

At this moment a wild wind arose, and the princess was frightened. “Presently,” she said, “my dragon will come.” And she took Dawn by his hand and hid him in the adjoining room.

A three-headed dragon came flying, struck the damp earth, turned into a youth, and cried, “Oh, there is a Russian smell in here! Who is visiting you?”

“Who could be here? You have been flying over Russia and you have the Russian smell in your nostrils – that is why you fancy it is here.”

The dragon asked for food and drink, and the princess brought him a variety of meats and drink and poured a sleeping potion into the wine. The dragon ate and drank his fill and was soon overwhelmed by drowsiness; he made the princess pick the lice from his hair, lay on her knees, and fell sound asleep. The princess called Dawn.

He came forward, swung his sword, and cut off all the dragon’s three heads; then he made a bonfire, burned the foul dragon and called his ashes in the open field. “Now, farewell, princess! I am going to seek your sisters; and when I have found them I shall come back for you,” said Dawn, and set out.

He walked and walked, and came to a silver castle; in that castle lived the second princess. Dawn killed a six-headed dragon there and went on. After a long time or a short time, he reached a golden castle, and in that castle lived the eldest princess; Dawn killed a twelve-headed dragon and freed that princess from captivity.

The princess was overjoyed, made ready to return home, went out into the wide courtyard, waved a red handkerchief, and the golden kingdom rolled up into an egg; she took the egg, put it in her pocket, and went with Dawn to seek her sisters. These princesses did the same thing, they rolled up their kingdoms into eggs, took them, and all of them went to the hole.

Evening and Midnight pulled up their brother and the three princesses out into the bright world. They all came together to their own land; the princesses rolled their eggs into the open field, and straightway three kingdoms appeared, a copper, a silver, and a golden one. The king was more overjoyed than any tongue can tell; he immediately married Dawn, Evening, and Midnight to his daughters, and at his death made Dawn his heir.

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