Thursday, March 15, 2012

Russian Vampires: Lonely Solitary Hunters

“Presently up ran the first corpse--the one that had chased the Soldier--and dashed into the chapel. Thereupon the one that was lying on the table jumped up, and cried
to it: "What hast thou come here for?"
"I've chased a soldier in here, so I'm going to eat him."
"Come now, brother! he's run into my house. I shall eat him myself."
"No, I shall!"
"No, I shall!"
And they set to work fighting; the dust flew like anything.
The Two Corpses – Russian Fairy Tale

Those who encounter vampires in Russian fairy tales and live to tell the tale are often not strong, they are the lucky. They are those who through happenstance survived until the cocks crow (morning) when the dead loose the ability to move. Humans in these tales are swept into the dark world of the dead, rarely if ever do they go in search of it. They spend their night in fear, praying, begging for the light, hoping for some reprieve as the vampires, as evil descends upon them. Then something happens, and through luck they survive until dawn, when in Russian tales the dead loose the ability to move.
This all is typical of such stories, what’s unique about this story is that while most Russian folk tales involve a single vampire this one has two. The two vampires in the tale meet not as friends or kindred spirits, instead they meet as two predators hunting the same prey. So it would seem that in the Russian conception of the world, those who haunted the night were territorial, typically solitary hunters.
At the same time vampires in the Russian tradition seem to crave company. Other fiendish beings will befriend travelers or the people of a village. They don’t simply do so to eat them because that would be easy enough without a long term deceit. Indeed in the tale “The Soldier and the Vampire” the vampire eats everyone but the soldier who he tries to befriend. As strange as it might seem this does paint vampires as both tragically lonely figures and deadly hunters.

Nukiuk is a folklorist who’s been translating Russian Fairy Tales into English and writing on them. You can find these at