Friday, May 18, 2012

Serbian fairytales

Golden Apple and the Nine Peahens, detail

A few months ago I posted an entry about a book project on Serbian fairytales that I am participating in (click here). After that I was approached by a person from Imagine FX who wanted to talk to me about the Serbian fairytales for a fairytale fantasy art special issue of Imagine FX magazine. I said yes, and after that got a number of very nice questions from them. The interview will be published in the issue 84.

Here is a part from that interview that you might find interesting, in one or another way, and one of the illustrations from the fairytale named Golden Apple and the Nine Peahens.

 What specific Serbian tales struck a chord with you, and why?
There are three Serbian fairytales that I like in particular. The first one is Baš Čelik (Steel Bashaw) which is one of the most popular Serbian fairytales. My book The Legend of Steel Bashaw is based on this ancient folk tale. What I like about this tale is that it’s dynamic, inspiring, exciting and it possesses all the fantastic elements that make up the epic journey of a hero fascinating. It is in a visual sense very inspiring for the illustrator.

The second fairytale that captured my imagination is called The Real trouble cannot be hidden. There is a fascinating detail in this tale, which I did not find in any other story. That part of the tale goes as follows; A very modest, honest and poor man decides to work for a wealthy person. In return, and when a whole year has passed, the rich man will pay to him what he thinks that our poor man has earned during that year. When the first year of hard labor for our honest man came to its end, the rich guy, being a greedy person, paid him with a tiny little coin. Obviously the hardworking man was inadequately paid, but never the less, he gratefully took that little coin and went home. He came across a stream and said: “Dear Lord, let this little coin float on the water in case I really earned it. And let it sink to the bottom if I did not earn it.” Of course, the coin sinks to the bottom and our good man goes to his boss and gives the coin back to him saying: “ Take this coin back, for I did not work hard enough to earn it”. After that he spends another year working for the rich guy, gets another coin, coin sinks to the bottom of the river, and he gives it back to the owner once again. After the third year of hard labor he was paid with another coin, he goes to the river and, this time, the coin starts floating on the water….I find this story very fascinating (although it is just a part of the whole tale). There is a beautiful symbolism in it. It is so remote from the way of thinking of most of us today. On one hand this kind of behavior would be considered as quite irrational, even insane in our contemporary materialistic world. On the other, I think that many of us, after reading it, would somehow feel that this little story embodies a kind of mysterious sanity of a higher (deeper) level, so to say.

The third Serbian fairytale which I am quite fond of is called Usud, which means Destiny. There is a fascinating detail in this one as well. First of all, the same fairytale is to be found in the literal heritage of several other nations. I know about the Chinese and the Irish version. All three of the versions have the same main theme, but they differ in details, and this has to do with the historical and cultural differences between the countries. However, only the Serbian version contains this particular detail. The story goes as follows; A man who had lost all his riches and did not have luck in his life any more, although he worked very hard, decides to go in search of Usud, who was supposed to know the reason for his troubles. During his journey he encounters different people with various problems, who, upon hearing about the purpose of his journey, ask him to ask Usud about the reason for their own troubles. One of this troubled “characters” from the story is a river. Our guy needs to cross the river, but there is no bridge and no boat. So, he asks the river to bring him to the other side. The river does it but, just as others, asks him to ask Usud why there is no life in her waters. Our guy eventually finds Usud and gets all the answers ,including the answer to the river’s question. And the answer to the question why there is no life in the river was: “ Because nobody has drowned yet in that river. After a person is drowned in the river, there will be life in her waters”...Well, what do you say about that? For a long time I did not understand the meaning of this controversial detail from the story. But a few years ago I read Joseph Campbell, who was one of the greatest mythologists (comparative mythology) of the 20th century. I was especially impressed by his famous and extremely influential book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. After that I was able to understand the symbolism of this creepy detail. This part of the fairytale is one of the very few direct links to the Mythology and the Mythological Truth that I have ever found in the Serbian fairytales. In fact it undoubtedly reflects the first function of Mythology, which is to reconcile the human psyche with one of the major and most horrifying truths of Life, which is –Life feeds itself with Life. There is no Life without Death. Today I eat you, tomorrow you eat me, as Joseph Campbell wrote in one of his books. It is horrible, but it is absolutely true, and Mythology has found a wonderful and clever way of presenting these kind of big and scary truths about the existence in the form of such symbolic stories.

Is national character important in fairytales?
In these times of globalization and intense intercultural interaction, when many things that have marked the previous ages are irreversibly changing and vanishing, a kind of global culture is being shaped. In order to survive this process, as well as to participate in it most optimally, it is an imperative for a person, as well as for the nation, to have a developed sense of his/its own identity. In order to be able to function properly in this newly emerging global culture, one must know who he is first. For I believe that if you don’t know where you come from, you cannot know where you go to. Besides, this new global culture can only profit from the diversities that are brought in by the unique national elements. In that respect the national character in fairytales is indeed important.

Golden Apple and the Nine Peahens, illustration no. 3


  1. Lovely sketches. I have shared your website in my social networks!

  2. Pleasure to meet you at Spectrum Live. Your Source of Imagination sketchbook is simply amazing. You have tremendous skill in different arenas.

    1. Thank you! It was nice talking to you at the Spectrum show. And thank you for buying the sketchbook!

  3. Што се тиче националног идентитета, постоји један форум ( који се бави свесловенском баштином, па тиме и српском, могао би вам бити од помоћи при нужним референцама. Мени лично прво што је упало у очи јесте то, што нацртани лик нема физичке особине, тј. црте лица, које налазимо у Срба (тзв. динарски тип). Он јесте типичан лик хероја, али ако вам је национални идентитет тренутно главна задаћа, сматрам да неби било лоше позабавити се и том чињеницом. Што се тиче српског витеза, српски витез је по ономе што знамо био тешки оклопник, веће силе. Цар Душан је имао обичај увести у витезе само оне који су били од одређене снаге а уједно и висине, неки тврде изнад 2 метра код своје личне гарде. Сила српске војске није лежала у дисциплини чете, него у јунаштву појединих бораца, нјихово примарно оружје на коњу бијаше копље, а на ногама дворуки мач. То је уједно вриједи и за цијелу хришћанску Европу тога доба. Турска војска је наиме баш због те чињенице и покорила српску војску, која је била трома за разлику од дисциплиноване брзопокретне турске, као што можемо прочитати у хроникама Константина Михаиловића. Извињавам се на подугом тексту, веома цијеним ваш рад.

    1. Vukasine,

      Iako je Dinarski tip mozda najprisutniji tip fizionomije u Srba, te zbog toga i prihvacen kao najautenticniji, ipak nije to jedini tip srpske fizionomije. Postoji, recimo, i panonski tip koji je, kao sto znamo, po mnogo cemu drugaciji od dinarskog – manji je, siri (obliji), malo svetlije puti, vole da jede slaninu, pije spricer i razvlaci dok prica :0)

      Znam sve o ovom tipu jer sam i sam iz Vojvodine. Prilikom kreiranja lika princa iz bajke Zlatna jabuka i devet paunica namerno sam izbegao da ga prikazem kao dinarski tip. Vodio sam se vise plavokosom i svetlo-smedjokosom slovenskom zicom. Konkretno, ovaj princ je radjen po liku mog brata od ujaka, momka svetle kose i nebeskoplavih ociju, slovena-srbina iz Srema.

      Hvala najlepse na komentaru i na interesantnom linku.
      Svako dobro vam zelim!

  4. Pozdrav.
    Ovdje administrator web stranice Imate prelijepe radove vezane za Slavensku mitologiju. Svakako se pridružite našoj web stranici (forumu) i podijetile vaša dijela sa našom zajednicom! A možda dobijete od naših članova kakvu inspiraciju za ubuduće :)

    Svako dobro i pozdrav! :)