Tag Archives: Russian fairy tales

The Frog Princess

The 26-year-old informant was born in Russia, but moved to the U.S. at a young age. During his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College, he was a teaching assistant for a Russian folklore class and found these pieces of folklore to be particularly interesting or representative of Russian culture.

“So there’s this prince named Prince Ivan who has two older brothers. Their dad, the King tells them that they have to find wives and they must do so by shooting arrows in different directions to find their brides. The first two brothers shoot their arrows and they land in the houses of noble and wealthy merchants. Ivan shoots his arrow, and it lands in the mouth of a frog that lives in a swamp. Ivan gets upset and is like, “How am I supposed to marry a frog??” but the King says he must because that was the agreement and he must meet is fate.

So Ivan marries the frog and his brothers marry their beautiful brides, and after, the King tells his sons that he wants each of their wives to bake him some bread for the next day. Ivan is freaking out and goes home and his wife, the frog, asks him what’s wrong, so he tells her what his dad just asked of him and his brothers. The frog tells Ivan not to worry and that she’ll take care of it. She tells him “morning is wiser than the evening,” and so Ivan goes to bed. That night, the frog takes off her frog skin and turns into a beautiful maiden and bakes the bread. The next day, the King is impressed and likes the frog’s bread best.

He then asks the three wives to make him a full silk carpet, and that night, the frog does the same thing and makes the best carpet. The next day, there’s a ball at the palace and wants all the princes to come with their wives. Once again, Ivan is sad because how can he go to a ball with a frog? But the frog tells him to go to the ball alone, and when he hears thunder and the earth starts shaking, just tell the other guests not to worry and that it’s just your frog coming in a little box. Ivan does this.

At the ball, the frog performs other magical feats. One thing she does it pour some water into her left sleeve and bones into her right sleeve. So as she dances, she swings her left sleeve out and creates a lake. She swings her right sleeve out and swans appear on the lake. The other wives are understandably jealous and try to do the same thing, except since they have no magical powers,  they just spray water and bones at the King and the guests.

Meanwhile, Prince Ivan sneaks away back home and finds the frog skin lying on the ground. Since he wants his wife to stay in human form, he burns the skin. When his wife gets home, she’s like, “What did you do? If you had just been patient for one more night, I would’ve been free from this curse, but now you must find me 33 kingdoms away in the castle of Koshei the Deathless,” who’s like a major evil figure in Russian folklore.

So Ivan sets off on his quest, and he first sees an old man. He tells the old man of his misfortune, the old man says, “Why’d you burn the frog skin?” But he decideds to take pity on him and gives him a magic ball of yarn. and tells him to follow it to find the right path. Along the way he sees a bear, which he wants to kill, but the bear speaks to him and says “Don’t kill me! I’ll be useful to you in the future,” so Ivan takes pity on him.

Next, he sees a duck, and wants to kill it, but the duck also asks him to take pity, so Ivan takes pity again. Next, he sees a rabbit, and the same thing happens. Then, he comes across a fish trapped in a shallow pond, and the same thing happens.

So then, he reaches the home of a witch named Baba Yaga, who lives in a magical house on chicken legs. He tells the house to turn to face him, and it does, so he’s able to enter. Baba Yaga can be helpful or sometimes a cannibal, so she’s like, “What are you doing here, young man?” and he tells her she’s got bad manners because she’s asking a guest questions before offering a meal and a bath, which is really representative of Russian culture. So Baba Yaga then provides both, and then Ivan tells her of his dilemma.

Baba Yaga’s possibly the only creature that knows where to find Koshei’s death, which is on the tip of a needle. The needle is in an egg, and the egg is in a duck, and the duck is inside a rabbit, and the rabbit is in a big chest, chained to the top of a tall oak, which is hidden. So, Baba Yaga tells Ivan where to find the oak.

When Ivan gets there, he doesn’t know how to get to the chest. Suddenly, the bear he spared shows up and destroys the oak, and breaks the chest open. Out of the chest springs a rabbit, which runs away, but the rabbit that Ivan spared appears and kills it. Out of that rabbit, a duck flies into the sky, but the duck that Ivan spares kills it. Then, the egg with the needle falls into the sea, but the fish that Ivan saved retrieves it from the bottom of the sea. Ivan then breaks the needle, and now Koshei is mortal, so he defeats him, getting his wife back and living happily ever after.”


For another version of this fairytale, see Vasilisa the Beautiful. Dir. Vladimir Pekar. Soyuzmultfilm, 1977. Film.

Tsarevna Lyagushka (Царевна Лягушка)

There’s a king with three sons. They’re all getting old enough to marry, and he says: “Go and take these arrows and shoot them off and wherever they land, there you’ll find your bride.”

The oldest one shoots an arrow and he goes and it lands in the court of a rich landowner. He marries the daughter.

The second oldest one shoots an arrow and it lands in the court of another wealthy prince.

The youngest one shoots an arrow and it lands in a swamp. He goes to the swamp and he looks and finally finds the arrow, and it’s by a little frog. The frog talks to him and says, “I’m a princess!” He is disappointed, but being duty-bound, he brings the frog back and they get married.

They go to a dinner where all the sons bring their wives. Using magic because it’s at night, the frog comes to the party and she’s the most charming person, and completely outshines the other two brides. She also does this special dance — the other two brides and the other brothers are astounded and confused.

The youngest brother goes back home and he sees the frog there, and he kills it but it messes up the curse on the frog — basically, she was cursed by this immortal evil person (kashey bezsmertny – informant’s note: “looks like Skeletor”). She used to be a princess but she was turned into a frog, but at night, she can be her normal self. The curse would’ve been over after that night, but because the prince destroyed her frog form, he messed it up and she was stuck in limbo.

So, the prince finds out that he has to defeat the immortal evil person in order to get her back. Kashey bezsmertny is at the end of the earth — on his quest to reach him and defeat him, he befriends several animals including a bird, a squirrel and a horse. Each time he befriends this animal, he helps the troubled animal and earns their gratitude and debt. He ends up facing kashey bezsmertny and able to defeat him, but only with the help of his animal friends, as it turns out. The princess returns to her form and they live happily ever after.

The informant heard this story when he was a child from watching a cartoon, but he also read it in storybooks. There are many variations of this story, which clearly follows Vladimir Propp’s fairy tale type model. The story apparently takes different iterations within Russian culture and varies between different cultures.

I spoke to my informant during an on-campus event.

Given that non-modern Russian culture was feudalistic, the idea of succession and success were both very important to families, especially families with multiple sons, who had to get married and start new lives elsewhere. For that reason, that’s why the idea that the father sends the sons out to get brides is so interesting to me — other iterations have the mothers sending the sons out, or the sons seeking adventure on their own.

For a slightly different version of this same story, see “The Frog.”