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May 12, 2024 30 mins

Margaret reads three Slavic folk tales about magic women and mean children.

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Speaker 1 (00:01):
Cool Zone Media book Club book Club book CLUBO, Hello
and welcome to Cool Zone Media book Club, the only
book club that you don't need to do the reading for. Well, actually,

I've been in a lot of book clubs where I
don't do the reading, but don't tell anyone in any
of my previous book clubs about that. The reason you
don't have to do your reading is that I'm going
to do your reading. I'm your host, Margaret Kildre, and
every week I bring you a different fiction story or sometimes,

like today, three different fairy tales. So it's no secret
that I like stories. It's no secret that I think
stories matter. Nonfiction has its value, and very little work
is needed to defend the value of nonfiction. But stories,
people think that they're just silly things, so I'm going
to defend them. Stories are the smithy in which we

forge our sense of who we can be, the tool
by which we open up possible futures. That's often what
I focus on. But they're also one of the best
glimpses into people and cultures. And it's for this reason
that I love folk stories so much. The great novels
or whatever, they're great. It's in the name great novels,
but the folk stories, usually anonymous, are usually the source

of all the most interesting ideas, tropes, and archetypes. As
a history podcaster, find myself drawn again and again to
the nineteenth century, in particular because the nineteenth century is
when all sorts of ideas and social movements really coalesced.
Anti capitalism, for example, had been growing up alongside capitalism
for centuries, but in the nineteenth century it formed into ideologies.

The twentieth centuries when those hypotheses, those ideologies were tested,
and now it's the twenty first century, and what we've
got to do is analyze the results of those tested
hypotheses and then make some adjustments and then try again.
But the nineteenth centuries where the current era began, at
least as I understand things, And one thing that was
happening in the nineteenth century was the rise of folklorists.

It was an era where people just went around and
were like, oh, maybe we should write some of the
shit down that people have been saying for uncountable generations.
And I've run across this time and time again in
my research, like just different countries will be well, rather
different languages and different groups of people will be doing
this because also this era is kind of the rise

of the concept of the state, which is also something
I'm not really excited about, but that's unrelated. More recently,
I've been doing a lot of reading about various Slavic cultures,
especially Ukraine and Russia, which are of course themselves amalgamations
of various cultures. So I first thought I would read
you some Ukrainian folk tales this week. But then I

was like, well, one of the people I've been studying
lately is a Cossack, which is an ethnic group mostly
known for being mercenary and nomadic horse writers, And so
I was like, all right, why not go with some
Cossack folk stories, and this week I'm going to read
you three of them. Saves me the trouble of doing
the weird ad transitions in the middle of the story.

These are from a nineteen sixteen translation of a book
called Cossack Fairy Tales, translated by R. Nisbit Bane from
the Ruthenian language. Most of these were collected by folklorists
in the eighteen fifties and eighteen seventies. I couldn't promise
you that these stories are specifically Cossack only that someone
labeled them as such in the nineteen sixteen translation, and

that they're from the Ruthenian language, and also shout out
to Jack, who's the person who got me to buy
my first book of Ukrainian folklore. I don't know if
you're listening, but if you are, thanks. The first story
is called the story of Ivan and the Daughter of
the Sun. There were once upon a time for brethren,

and three of them remained at home, while the fourth
went out to seek for work. The youngest brother came
to a strange land and hired himself out to a
husbandman for three gold pieces a year. For three years
he served his master faithfully, so at the end of
his time he departed with nine gold pieces in his pocket.
The first thing he now did was to go to

a spring, and into the spring he threw three of
his gold pieces. Let us see, now, said he, If
I have been honest, they will come swimming back to me.
Then he lay down by the side of the spring
and went fast asleep. How long he slept there, who
can tell, But at any rate, he woke up at
last and went to the spring, and there was no

sign of his money to be seen. Then he threw
three more of his gold pieces into the spring, and
again he lay down by the side of it and slept.
Then he got up and went and looked into the spring,
and still there was no sign of the money. So
he threw his three remaining gold pieces, and again lay
down and slept. The third time he arose, looked into

the spring, and there, sure enough was all his money.
All nine of the gold pieces were floating on the
surface of the water. And now his heart felt lighter,
and he gathered up the nine gold pieces and went
on his way. On the road. He fell in with
three Kotsapi with a laden wagon. Kotsapi is a word
used in this context to mean Russians because the it's

like harry. I think it means like bear or goat
or something. But the Ruthenians were clean shaven and the
Russians were harry, so it's a probably not a super
polite word. He asked them concerning their wares, and they
said they were carrying a load of incense. He begged
them straight away to sell him this incense. Then they
sold it to him for the gold pieces. And when

he had bought it and they had departed, he kindled
fire and burnt the incense and offered it up to
God as a sweet smelling sacrifice. Then an angel flew
down to him and said, oh thou that hast offered
this sweet smelling sacrifice to God, what dost thou want
for thine own self? Dost thou want azardam or great riches?

Or perchance the desire of thy heart is a good wife?
Speak for God will give thee whatsoever thou desirest. When
the man had listened to the angel, he said to him,
terry a while, I will go and ask those people
who are plowing yonder. Now, those people who are plowing
there were his own brethren, but he did not know

that they were his brethren. So he went up and
said to the elder brother, tell me, uncle, what shall
I ask of God? Azardam or great riches or a
good wife? Tell me which of the three is the
best gift to ask for? And his eldest brother said
to him, I know not, and who does know? Go
and ask someone else. So he went to the second brother,

who is plowing a little farther on. He asked him
the same question. But the man only shrugged his shoulders
and said he did not know. Either. Then he went
to the third brother, who is the youngest of the three,
and also plowing there, and he asked him, saying, tell
me now, which is the best gift to ask of God?
A zardam, or great riches or a good wife? And

the third brother said, what a question. Thou art too
young for a zardam and great riches. Last, but for
a little while, ask God for a good wife. For
if it please God to give THEE a good wife,
tis a gift that will bless THEE all thy life long.
So he went back to the angel and asked for
a good wife. Then he went on his way till
he came to a certain wood, and looking about him,

he perceived that in this wood was a lake. And
while he was looking at it, three wild doves came
flying along and lit down upon this lake. They threw
off their plumage and plunged into the water. And then
he saw that they were not wild doves, but three
fair ladies. They bathed in the lake, and in the meantime
the youth crept up and took the raiment of one

of them and hid it behind the bushes. When they
came out of the water, the third lady missed her clothes.
The youth said to her, I know where thy clothes are,
but I will not give them to THEE. Thou wilt
be my wife. Good, cried she, thy wife, I shall be.
Then she dressed herself, and they went together to the
nearest village. When they got there, she said to him,

now go to the nobleman who owns the land here,
and beg him for a place where we may build
us a hut. So he went right up to the
nobleman's castle and entered his reception room, and said, Glory
be to God forever and ever. Replied the nobleman, what
dost thou want here, Ivan, I have come, sir, to
beg of THEE a place where I may build me
a hut, A place for a hut. Day good, very good,

Go home, and I'll speak to my overseer, and he
shall appoint THEE a place. So he returned from the
nobleman's castle, and his wife said to him, go now
into the forest and cut down an oak, a young
oak that thou canst span round with both arms. So
he cut down such an oak as his wife had
told him of, and she built a hut of the oak,
for the overseer had come and shown them a place

where they might build their hut. But when the overseer
returned home, he praised laud to his master. The wife
of this Ivan, she is such and such, said he.
Fair she may be, replied the nobleman, but she is another's.
She need not be another's for long, replied the overseer,
This Ivan is in our hands. Let us send him
to see why it is the sun grows so red

when it sets. That's just the same as if you
had sent him to a place, whence he can never return.
All the better. Then they sent for Ivan and gave
him this errand, and he returned home to his wife,
weeping bitterly. Then his wife asked him all about it,
and said, well, I can tell THEE all about the
ways of the sun, for I am the son's own daughter.

So now I'll tell THEE the whole matter. Go back
to this nobleman and say to him that the reason
why the sun turned so red as he sets is this.
Just as the sun is going down into the sea,
three fair ladies rise out of it, and it is
the sight of them which makes him turn so red
all over. So we went back and told them, Oh, ho,
cried they. If you can go as far as that,

you may now go a little farther. So they told
him to go to Hell and see how it was there. Yes,
said his wife, I know the road that leads to
Hell also very well. But the nobleman must let his
overseer go with THEE, or else he never will believe
that thou really didst go to Hell. So the nobleman
told us overseer that he must go to Hell too.

So they went together, and when they got there, the
rulers of Hell laid hands upon the overseer straight away.
Thou dog roared, They we've been looking out for thee
for some time. So Ivan returned without the overseer, and
the nobleman said to him, where's my overseer? I left
him in Hell, said Ivan, And they said there that

they were waiting for you, sir too. When the nobleman
heard this, he hanged himself. But Ivan lived happily with
his wife, much like you can live happily if you
listen to our sponsors, hopefully none of which is a
wife given to you by the son. I don't know,

or maybe it would be cool. Who's to say, and
we're back. This next story is called the Ungrateful Children
and the Old Father who went to school again. Once

upon a time there was an old man. He lived
to a great age, and God gave him children, whom
he brought up to man's estate, and he divided all
his goods amongst them. I will pass my remaining days
among my children, thought he. So the old man went
to live with his eldest son. And at first the
eldest son treated him properly and did reverence to his
old father. Tis but meet and write that we should

give our father to eat and drink, and see that
he has wherewithal to clothe him, and take care to
patch up his things from time to time, and let
him have clean new shirts on festivals, said the eldest son.
So they did so, and at festivals also the old
father had his own glass beside him. Thus the eldest
son was a good son to his old father. But

when the eldest son had been keeping his father for
some time, he began to regret his hospitality and was
rough to his father, and sometimes even shouted at him.
The old man no longer had his own set place
in the house, as heretofore, and there was none to
cut up his food for him. So the eldest son
repented him that he had said he would keep his father,
and he began to grudge him for every morsel of

bread he put in his mouth. The old man had
nothing for it but to go to his second son.
It might be better for him there or worse. But
stay with the eldest son any longer he could not,
So the father went to his second son. But here
the old man soon discovered that he had only exchanged
wheat for straw. Whenever he began to eat, his second
son and his daughter in law looked sour and murmured

something between their teeth. The woman scolded the old man.
We had as much as we could do before to
make both ends meet, cried she, And now we have
an old man to keep into the bargain. The old
man soon had enough of it there also, and went
on to his next son. So, one after another, all
four sons took their father to live with them, and

he was glad to leave them all. Each of the
four sons, one after the other, cast the burden of
supporting him on one of the other brothers. It is
for him to keep thee daddy said they and the
other would say, nay, Dad, But it is as much
as we can do to keep ourselves. Thus, between his
four sons he knew not what to do. There's quite

a battle among them as to which of them should
not keep their old father. One had one good excuse,
and another had another, and so none of them would
keep him. This one had a lot of little children,
and that one had a scold for a wife. And
this house was too small, and that house was too poor.
Go where thou wilt, old man said, they only don't

come to us. And so the old man, gray, gray,
gray as a dove, he wept before his sons and
knew not whither to turn. What could he do. Entreaty
was in vain. Not one of the sons would take
the old man in, and yet he had to be
put somewhere. Then the old man strove with them no more,
but let them do with him even as they would.

So all four sons met and took counsel. Time after
time they laid their heads together, and at last they
agreed among themselves that the best thing the old man
could do was go to school. There'll be a bench
for him to sit upon there, said they, and he
can take something to eat in his knapsack. Then they
told the old man about it. But the old man

did not want to go to school. He begged his
children not to send him there, and wept before them.
Now that I cannot see the white world, said he,
how can I see a black book? Moreover, from my
youth upward, I have never learnt my letters? How shall
I begin to do so? Now? A clerk cannot be
fashioned out of an old man on the point of death.
But there was no use talking his children, and said

he must go to school. And the voices of his
children prevailed against his feeble old voice. So to school
he had to go. Now, there was no church in
that village, so he had to go to the village
beyond it to go to school. A forest lay along
the road, and in this forest the old man met
a nobleman driving along. When the old man came near

the nobleman's carriage, he stepped out of the road to
let it pass, took off his hat respectfully, and then
would have gone on further. But he heard someone calling,
and looking back, saw the nobleman beckoning to him. He
wanted to ask him something. The nobleman then got out
of his carriage and asked the old man whither he
was going. The old man took off his hat to

the nobleman and told him all his misery, and the
tears ran down the old man's cheeks. Woe is to me,
gracious sir, if the Lord had left me without kith
and kin, I should not complain. But strange, indeed is
the woe that has befallen me. I have four sons,
thank God, and all four have houses of their own,
and yet they send their poor old father to school

to learn. Was ever the like of it known before?
So the old man told the nobleman his whole story,
and the nobleman was full of compassion for the old man. Well,
old man said, he tis no use for THEE to
go to school. That's plain. Return home. I'll tell THEE
what to do, so that thy children shall never send
THEE to school again. Fear not, old man, weep no more,

and let not thy soul be troubled. God shall bless THEE,
and all will be well. I know well ought what
to be done here. So the nobleman comforted the old man,
and the old man began to be merry. Then the
nobleman took out his purse. It was a real nobleman's purse,
with a little sack in the middle of it to
hold small change. Lord, what a lovely thing it was.

The more he looked at it, the more the old
man marveled at it. The nobleman took out this purse
and began filling it with something. When he had well
filled it, he gave it to the old man. Take
this and go home to thy children, said he. And
when thou hast got home, call together all thy four sons,
and say to them, my dear children. Long long ago,

when I was younger than I am now, and knocked
about in a world a bit, I made a little money.
I won't spend it, I said to myself, for one
never knows what may happen. So I went into a
forest my children, and dug a hole beneath an oak,
and there I hid my little store of money. I
did not bother much about the money afterward, because I
had such good children. But when you sent me to school,

I came to this self same oak, and I said
to myself, I wonder if these few silver pieces have
been waiting for their master all this time let us
dig and see. So I dug and found them, and
have brought them home to you, my children. I shall
keep them till I die, But after my death consult together,
and whosoever shall be found. I've cherished me most, and

taking care of me most, and not grudged me a
clean shirt now and then, or a crust of bread
when I'm hungry to him, shall be given them greater
part of my money. So now, my dear children, receive
me back again, and my thanks shall be yours. You
can manage it amongst yourselves, For surely does not write
that I should seek a home amongst strangers. Which of

you will be so kind to your old father for money?
So the old man returned to his children with the
purse and a casket. I'm going to interject and say
that a casket in the old timey sense means like
a little box to hold something valuable. And when he
came to the village with a casket under his arm,
one could see at once that he had been in

a good forest. There's a footnote in the original text
here that says that good forest in this context means
a place where you found a bunch of money, which
is you know, a good forest. When one comes home
with a heavy casket under one's arm, depend upon it.
There's something in it. So no sooner did the old
man appear than his eldest daughter in law came running

out to meet him and bade him welcome. In God's name.
Things don't don't seem to get on at all without
thee dad cried she. And the house is quite dreary.
Come in and rest, dad, She went on, thou hast
gone a long way and must be weary. Then all
the brothers came together, and the old man told them
what God had done for him. All their faces brightened
as they looked at the casket, and they thought to themselves,

if we keep him, we shall have the money. Then
the four brothers could not make too much of their
dear old father. They took care of him, and the
old man was happy, But he took heed to the
counsel of the nobleman, and never let the casket out
of his hand. After my death, you shall have everything,
but I won't give it to you now, for who
knows what may happen. I have seen already how you
treated your old father when he had nothing. It shall

all be yours, I say, only wait, and when I die,
take it and divide it as I have said. So
the brothers tended their father, and the old man lived
in Clover and was somebody. He had his own way
and did nothing. So the old man was no longer
ill treated by his children, but lived among them like
an emperor in his own empire. But no sooner did

he die than his children made what haste they could
to lay hand upon the casket. All the people were
called together and bore witness that they had treated their
father well since he came back to them. So it
was adjudged that they should divide the treasure amongst them.
But first they took the old man's body to the church,
and the casket along with it. They buried him as

God commands. They made a rich banquet of funeral meats
that all might know how much they mourned the old man.
It was a splendid funeral. When the priest got up
from the table, the people all began to thank their hosts,
and the eldest son begged the priest to say the
sore coast in the church for the repose of the
dead man's soul. The sore coast is like a well

to prayer for the dead, which it probably could have inferred.
But there's a footnote about it. Such a dear old
fellow he was, said, he was there ever anyone like him?
Take this money for the sore coast, Reverend father, So
horribly grieved was that eldest son. The son gave the
priest money, and the second son gave him the like. Nay,

each one gave him money for an extra half sore coast,
and all four gave him requiem money. We'll have our
prayers in church for our father, though we shall sell
the last sheep to pay for them, cried they. Then,
when all was over, they hastened as fast as they
could to the money. The coffer was brought forth. They
shook it. There was a fine rattling inside. Every one

of them felt and handled the coffer that was something
like a treasure. Then they unsealed it and opened it
and scattered the contents, and it was full of nothing
but glass. They wouldn't believe their eyes. They rummaged among
the glass, but there was no money. It was horrible.
Surely it could not be that their father had dug
up a coffer from beneath an oak of the forest,

and it was full of nothing but glass. Why, cried
the brothers, Our father has left us nothing but glass.
But for the crowds of people there, the brothers would
have fallen upon and beaten each other in their wrath.
So the children of the old man saw that their
father had made fools of them. Then all the people
mocked them. You see what you gained by sending your
father to school? You see he learned something at school.

After all, he was a long time before he began learning.
But better late than never. It appears to us twas
a right good school you sent him to. No doubt,
they whipped him into learning so much. Never mind, you
can keep the money in the casket. Then the brothers
were full of lamentation and rage. But what could they do.
Their father was already dead and buried. And if you

want to spend your meaningless bobbles, you can spend them
on these meaningless bobbles. And we're back. I've got one
more story for you from the same book. This story

is called the Serpent Wife. There once was a gentleman
who had a laborer who never went about in company.
His fellow servants did all they could to make him
come with them, and now and then enticed him into
the tavern, but they can never get him to stay
there long, and he always wandered away by himself through

the woods. One day he went strolling about in the
forest as usual, far from any village and the haunts
of men, when he came upon a huge serpent, which
wriggled straight up to him and said, I'm going to
eat thee on the spot. But the laborer, who is
used to the loneliness of the forest, replied, very well,
eat me, if thou hast a mind to Then the

serpent said, nay, I will not eat thee. Only do
what I tell thee. And the serpent began to tell
the man what he had to do. Turn back home,
it said, and thou wilt find thy master angry because
thou hast tarried so long and there was none to
work for him, so that his corn has to remain
standing in the field. Then he will send thee to

bring in his sheaves, and I shall help thee load
the wagon well, But don't take quite all the sheaths
from the field, leave one little sheaf behind. More than
that thou needst not leave, but that thou must leave.
Then beg thy master to let thee have this little
sheaf by a way of wages. Take no money from

him but that one little sheaf. Only then, when thy
master has given thee this sheath, burn it and a
fair lady will leap out of it, take her to wife.
The laborer obeyed and went and worked for his master.
As the serpent had told him, he went out into
the field to bring home his master's corn, and marvelously
he managed it. He did all the carrying himself, and

loaded the wagon so heavily that it creaked beneath its burden. Then,
when he had brought home all his master's corn, he
begged that he might have the remaining little sheaf for himself.
He refused to be rewarded for his smart labor. He
would take no money. He wanted nothing for himself, he said,
but the little sheaf he had left in the field.
So his master let him have the sheaf. So he

went out by himself into the field, burnt the sheaf,
and just as the serpent had told him, and immediately
a lovely lady leapt out of it. The laborer forthwith
took and married her. And now he began to look
out for a place to build him a hut. Upon
his master gave him a place where he might build
a hut, And his wife helped him so much with
the building of it that it seemed to him as

if he himself never laid a hand to it. His
hut grew up as quick as thought, and it contained
everything they wanted. The man could not understand it. He
could only walk about and wonder at it. Wherever he
looked there was everything quite spick and span and ready
for use. None in the whole village had a better
house than he. And so he might have lived in

all peace and prosperity to the end of his days,
had not his desires outstripped his deserts. He had three
fields of standing corn, And when he came home one day,
his laborers said to him, thy corn is not gathered
in yet, though it is standing all ripe on its stalks.
Now the season was getting on, and for all the
care and labor of his wife, the corn was still
standing in the field. Why what's the meaning of this?

Thought he Then, in his anger, he cried, I see
how it is once a serpent, always a serpent. He
was quite beside himself all the way home, and he
was very wrath with his wife because of the corn.
When he got home, he went straight to his chamber
to lie down on his pillow. There was no sign
of his wife, but a huge serpent was just coiling

itself round and round and settling down in the middle
of the pillow. Then he called to mind how once
his wife had said to him, beware, for Heaven's sake
of ever calling me a serpent. I will not suffer
thee to call me by that name. And if thou dost,
thou shalt lose thy wife. He called this to mind now,
but it was already too late. What he had said

could not be unsaid. Then he reflected what a good
wife he had had, and how she herself had sought
him out, and how she had waited upon him continually
and done him boundless good, and yet he had not
been able to refrain his tongue, so that now maybe
he would be without a wife for the rest of
his days. His heart grew heavy within him as he
thought of all this, and he wept bitterly at the

harm he had done to himself. Then the serpent said
to him, weep no more. What is to be must be?
Is it thy standing corn? Thou art grieved about? Go
up to thy barn, and there thou wilt find all
thy corn, lying to the very last little grain? Have
I not brought it all home and threshed it for thee?
And said, everything in order? And now I must depart

to the place where thou didst first find me. Then
she crept off, and the man followed her, weeping and
mourning all the time as for one already dead. When
they reached the forest, she stopped and coiled herself round
and round beneath a hazel nut bush. Then she said
to the man, now kiss me once, but see to
it that I do not bite thee. Then he kissed

her once, and she wound herself around branch of a
tree and asked him, what dost thou feel within thee?
He answered, at the moment when I kissed thee, it
seemed to me as if I knew everything that was
going on in the world. Then she said to him again,
kiss me a second time. And what dost thou feel now?
She asked? When he had kissed her again, Now said he,

I understand all languages which are spoken among men. Then
she said to him, now kiss me a third time.
This will be for the last time. Then he kissed
the serpent for the last time, and she said to him,
what dost thou feel now? Now? Said he, I know
all that is going on under the earth. Go now,

said she to the Tsar, And he will give thee
his daughter for the knowledge thou hast. But pray to
God for poor me. For now I must be and
remain a serpent forever. And with that the serpent uncoiled
herself and disappeared among the bushes. But the man went
away and wedded the Tsar's daughter the end. I really

like those stories because I feel like they step out
of expectations. There are like morals in these stories, right,
listen to your wife, don't be a shit to your dad.
I like to imagine the dad's story was like made
up by a dad as like a little moral tale
for his kids, you know, just ahead of time or whatever.
But there's still not quite as like heavy handed of

moral stories as some of the other fairies tales that
I've read. Anyway, thanks for listening and join us next
week for Cool Zone Media book Club. I'm Margaret Kiljoy.
I write fiction. I have a book called The Sapling
Cage that comes out in September, and that's going to
be kickstarted in June twenty twenty four. And if you
want more information about that, you can search Kickstarter the

Sapling Cage and you will find a place to sign
up for notifications when that kickstarter goes live so that
you can pre order it. If you liked these stories,
you'll totally love my story about trends which coming of
age in a high fantasy world. See you next week.
It Could Happen here as a production of cool Zone Media.

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find sources for It Could Happen Here, updated monthly at
coolzonemedia dot com slash sources. Thanks for listening.

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