The Enchanted Dolls, originally titled “Prince Danilla Govorilla,” is a delightfully dark 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.

Dolls have often been a source of inspiration in fairy tales. Some well known examples are puppets, voodoo dolls, and even a nutcracker. Russian fairy tales have a particular fondness for creepy animated dolls. Vasilisa, a main heroine in Russian folklore, has a magical doll that grants her wishes. The enchanted dolls in Prince Danilla Govorilla create a portal to the underworld. Russian folklore is deeply rooted in old world paganism. Small handheld dolls have even been found buried in the walls of village homes from hundreds of years ago. The dolls were used as charms to ward off  evil spirits and bring good fortune.

The Enchanted Dolls

(Russian Fairy Tale)

There was once an old princess; she had a son and a daughter, both well built, both handsome. A wicked witch disliked them; she pondered and pondered as to how she could lead them into evil ways and destroy them. In the end she conceived a plan. Like a cunning fox she came to their mother and said, “My little dove, my dear friend, here is a ring for you; put it on your son’s finger. With its help he will be healthy and wealthy, but he must never take it off, and he must marry only that maiden whom the ring fits.” The old woman believed her and was overjoyed; before her death she enjoined upon her son that he take to wife, a woman whom the ring would be found to fit.

Time went by and the little son grew up. He grew up and began to seek a bride; he would like one girl, then another, but upon trying the ring he always found it to be too big or too small; it did not fit either the one or the other. He traveled and traveled through villages and cities, tried the ring on all the lovely maidens, but could not find one whom he could take as his betrothed; he returned home and was pensive and sad.

“Little brother, why are you grieving?” his sister asked him. He told her his trouble. “Why is the ring so troublesome?” said the sister. “Let me try it.” She put it on her finger and the ring clasped it, and began to gleam; it fitted her as though made to her size.

“Ah, my sister,” said the brother, “you have been chosen for me by fate, you shall be my wife.”

“What are you saying, my brother? Think of God, think of the sin; one does not marry one’s own sister.”

But the brother did not heed her; he danced for joy and ordered that preparations be made for the wedding. The sister burst into bitter tears, went out of her room, sat on the threshold, and wept and wept. Some old women passed by; she invited them in and offered them food and drink. They asked her what her grief was, why she was sad. It was of no use to hide it; she told them everything. “Weep not, grieve not,” said the old women, “but listen to us. Make four little dolls, seat them in four corners; when your brother calls you to your wedding, go; when he asks you to come to the bridal chamber, do not hurry. Put your hope in God. Farewell!”

The old women left. The brother wed his sister, went to the room, and said, “Sister Catherine, come to the featherbed.”

She answered, “I will come in a minute, only let me remove my earrings.” And the dolls in the four corners cried like cuckoos:

Cuckoo, Prince Danila,
Cuckoo, Govorila,
Cuckoo, he takes his sister,
Cuckoo, for a wife,
Cuckoo, earth open wide,
Cuckoo, sister, fall inside!

The earth began to open, the sister began to fall in. Her brother cried, “Sister Catherine, come to the featherbed!”

“Just a minute, my brother, I must remove my slippers.” The Dolls cuckooed, and she vanished into the earth.

The brother called her, he called her again in a louder voice, but she did not come. He ran to her room, banged at the door, and the door broke. He looked everywhere, but his sister was gone. Only the dolls were sitting in the corners and crying, “Earth, open wide! Sister, fall inside!” He seized an ax, cut off their heads, and threw them into the stove.

The sister walked and walked underground and then she saw a little hut on chicken legs, turning round and round. “Little hut, little hut,” she said, “stand the old way with your back to the woods and your front to me.” The little hut stood still and the door opened.

Inside sat a lovely maiden embroidering a towel with silver and gold. She received her guest with kindness, then sighed and said, “My little dove, my heart is glad to see you, I will welcome you and fondle your while my mother is out. But when she comes back there will be trouble for both of us, for she is a witch.”

The guest was frightened by these words, but she had nowhere to go, so she sat with her hostess at the embroidery frame, they embroidered the towel and talked together. After a long or a short time, when the hostess knew that her mother was about to come, she turned her guest into a needle, thrust the needle into a birch broom, and put the broom in a corner. She had no sooner done all this than the witch appeared at the door. “My good daughter, my comely daughter, I smell a human bone,” the witch said.

“Madam mother, passers-by came in to drink some water.”

“Why did you not keep them here?”

“They were old people, my mother, they would not have been to your liking.”

“Henceforth, mind you, invite all into the house, do not let anyone go; I will leave now and get some booty.”

She left; the maidens sat at the frame, and hastened to finish the embroidered towel. While working thus hurriedly they planned how to escape from their trouble and run away from the wicked witch. They had hardly had time to exchange a few whispers, when the witch (talk of the devil and he will appear) stood in the doorway, catching them by surprise. “My good daughter, my comely daughter, I smell a human bone!” she cried.

“There, my mother, a lovely maiden is awaiting for you,” said her daughter. The maiden looked at the witch and her heart failed her. Before her stood Baba Yaga the Bony-legged, her nose hitting the ceiling.

“My good daughter, my comely daughter, make a good hot fire in the stove,” said the witch. They brought wood, oak and maple, and made a fire; the flame blazed forth from the stove. The witch took a broad shovel and began to urge her guest, “Now, my beauty, sit on the shovel.”

The beauty sat on it. The witch shoved her toward the mouth of the stove, but the maiden put one leg into the stove and the other on top of it.
“You do not know how to sit, maiden. Now sit the right way,” said the witch.

The maiden changed her posture, sat the right way; the witch tried to shove her in, but she put one leg into the stove and the other under it.
The witch grew angry and pulled her out again. “You are playing tricks, young woman!” she said. “Sit quietly, this way – just see how I do it.”

She plumped herself on the shovel and stretched out her legs, and the two maidens quickly shoved her into the stove, locked her in, covered her up with logs, plastered and tarred the opening, and then ran away, taking the embroidered towel and a brush and comb with them.
They ran and ran, and looking back beheld the wicked witch; she had wrenched herself free, caught sight of them, and was hissing, “Hey, hey, hey, are you there?”

What could they do? They threw down the brush and there appeared a marsh thickly overgrown with reeds. The witch could not crawl through it, but she opened her claws, plucked out a path, and again came close. Where could they go? They threw down the comb, and there appeared a dark, thick forest: not even a fly could fly through it. The witch sharpened her teeth and set to work: each time she clamped her teeth she bit off a tree by its roots. She hurled the trees to one side, cleared a path, and again came close – very close.

The maiden ran and ran till they could run no longer; they had lost all their strength. They threw down the gold-embroidered towel, and there spear from them a sea, wide and deep, a sea of fire. They witch soared high; she wanted to fly across the sea, but fell into the fire and was burned.

The maidens remained alone, little doves with a home; they did not know where to go. They sat down to rest. A servant came to them and asked them who they were, then reported to his mater that in his domain sat not two little birds of passage but two marvelous beauties, one exactly like the other – they had the same brows, the same eyes.

“One of them,” said the servant, “must be your sister, but which of the two that is, it is impossible to guess.”

The master went to see hem and invited them to his home. He saw that his sister was there, but which of the two she was she could not guess – his servant had told the truth. She was angry and would not tell him herself. What could be done?

“This is what can be done, master,” said the servant. “I will fill a sheep’s bladder with blood, you will put it under your arm, and while you speak to your guests, I will come near you and strike you with a knife in your side; blood will flow and your sister will reveal herself.”

They did what they had planned; the servant struck his master in the side and blood gushed forth. The brother fell, the sister rushed to embrace him, and she cried and lamented, “My beloved, my dearest!” The brother jumped up, safe and sound, embraced his sister, and married her to a good man; and he himself married her friend, on whose finger the ring fitted, and all of them lived happily forever after.

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