I like to weave Russian folklore, myths and legends into my novels; be they the baba yagi of the Belarus swamps, Mayor Voloctic's house spirits, or Akulina's tale of the Uglish bell. During a Russian class at the University of Dayton, our professor expanded our appreciation for the Slavic culture by introducing us to the rusalka, a myth with which I was not familiar.
|Professor Tatiana Liaugmias|
Doctor Liaugmias' described the rusalka as the slimy ghost of drowned young women who tickled boys to death. Yes, tickled. She presented the story in such a dramatic fashion, I knew I had to include the rusalka in my novel Slogans: Our Children Our Future. I chose to write the scene from the viewpoint of three village lads. No one believes more in belligerent spirits and enjoys telling scary stories than that age group. Also, the riverside incident provided an excellent avenue to broaden their character.
* * *
Oleg studied the river; then the sinking sun. “We better get going. All those splashes in the deeps will awaken the rusalka and then we'll be in big trouble.”
“There's no such thing as rusalka.” Stepha said and flung another stone. “Master Gleb said they're just make-believe pagan stories to keep babies from the river.”
Oleg shook his head. “Oh, they're real alright. One of the Staroverok boys told me one time a girl from the village fell in and drowned and she became a rusalka because his cousin saw her return to the village one night. Then this other boy saw her and said her skin looked like wet bread dough and her hair was dripping with weeds and so were her clothes and then she crept from izbah to izbah looking for a boy to tickle.”
“That's the dumbest thing I ever heard.” Stepha was just about to cock his arm when icy fingers caressed his sides and began to tickle.Stepha's shrieks echoed off the rocky hills and sailed up and downstream. He leapt toward the water, slipped and plunged into the winter-chill. By time Stepha righted himself, Vanya and his icy fingers were mere specks on the trail, his long-limbed legs flying back to the village. For a moment, Stepha thought about giving chase but thought better. Unlike rusalka, Vanya's speed was not make-believe.
* * *In early 1900 Dvorak wrote an opera based on the rusalka tale. The synopsis sounds an awful lot like the plot of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid, written in 1837. I'm not saying Dvorak stole the idea, but one wonders.
|Dvorak's opera Rusalka|