Background Information

Origin: Russian Mythology
Dragons Slain: Koshchei the Deathless

Background: Ivan, a young tsarevich from an unnamed kingdom, paid a merchant the full debt of Bulat the Brave. [3] Thinking nothing of it, Ivan proceeded on his journey [1] to find his prophesized wife, Vasilissa Kirbitevna, the daughter of Tsar Kirbit. [3] However, Bulat knew just how much torment Ivan had saved him from, so he insisted upon repaying the debt to Ivan. [1]

Bulat the Brave, the Dragon Slayer

Bulat the Brave helped Ivan find and free the Tsar's daughter, Vasilissa, who was kept in a tower. It was not long before the Tsar discovered his daughter missing from her tower, so he set out after the men who took her. [1] Twice, Bulat kept the Tsar's troops from overtaking them.

One night, Bulat decided to scout around the camp to ensure the Tsar was not on his third attempt, so he instructed Ivan to keep watch over the girl. [1] Unfortunately, just after midnight, Ivan fell asleep, and by the time Bulat returned from his scouting, Vasilissa was gone. [1]

Ivan became disheartened because he assumed the Tsar had recovered his daughter, but Bulat knew it was not the work of the Tsar but the work of Koshchei the Deathless, [1] a dragon with the powers of a sorcerer. He could transform into a human, and he had a magically imbued horse.

Thus, the two companions set out to find Koshchei and Vasilissa. It wasn't long before they came to a cattle herd belonging to the dragon-sorcerer himself. Ivan and Bulat took on the guise of two cattle herders to get closer to Koshchei. [1] Vasilissa, who took comfort from daily goats milk, soon saw that her two saviors had found her and her captor; however, she had no way of escaping. [1]

Koshchei earned the title "The Deathless" because he was invulnerable; he had hidden his soul somewhere outside his body so no one could kill him. Knowing this, Ivan and Bulat could not dispatch the sorcerer and rescue Vasilissa. [1] To find the soul, Bulat advised her to use her wiles to discover where Koshchei had hidden it. [2]

That very night, Koshchei flew home, and Vasilissa pretended to miss him. She said she worried for him while he was gone for the day, not knowing what evil could befall him. [2] He assured her he was in no danger, for he did not carry his soul with him; instead, he hid it in a broom in the kitchen. [2]

The next morning, Vasilissa told Bulat what Koshchei had said, but Bulat knew it was a lie. Undeterred, Vasilissa took the kitchen broom and finely decorated it. That night when Koshchei returned home, she presented it to him as a gift, saying that his soul was far too precious to be lying around in some closet. [2] Koshchei laughed and said his soul was not in the broom, but inside of the very goat she got her milk from each day. [2]

The next morning, Vasilissa told Bulat what Koshchei had told her, and again Bulat knew Koshchei had lied. This time, Vasilissa took the goat and finely decorated it, and she presented it as a gift for Koshchei that night. [2] He laughed and told her that his soul was not inside the goat, but in fact inside of an egg, inside of a duck, inside of a hare, under a huge oak tee on a remote island in the middle of the ocean. [2] He advised her that, no matter how precious she perceived his soul, she should not attempt to dress this one.

The next morning, Vasilissa told Bulat everything, and this time Bulat knew that Koshchei had told her the truth. [2] Without a moment's hesitation, Bulat and Ivan set out to find the island.

The journey was long, and they grew dangerously short of food, pushing them to hunt when they otherwise would not. They first hunted down a dog, but it begged for mercy on its life. Bulat let the dog go. The same thing happened with an eagle and again with a lobster when they reached the ocean. [2]

Perhaps a little too hungry, they crossed the ocean to and island with a single oak tree. Bulat unearthed the oak tree, but no sooner had they found the hare than it sprang to life and ran. Luckily, the dog they spared captured the hare. No sooner had this happened then a duck bust out of the hare's mouth, flying away. Luckily, the eagle Bulat had spared attacked the duck mid-air. No sooner had the eagle bested the duck then it dropped an egg into the ocean. Luckily, the lobster Bulat had spared returned the egg to shore. This is where Koshchei had stored his soul. [2]

With the egg in their possession, Ivan and Bulat returned to Koshchei's lands. Bulat took the egg and smashed it against the dragon's forehead, finally ending the life of Koshchei the deathless. [2] Vasilissa became free once again.

Ivan married Vasilissa, his princess, and Bulat became his most trusted adviser. [4]

Quick Facts

  • Ivan earned Bulat's trust and friendship by his generosity. [3]
  • Bulat helped Ivan find and free Vasilissa from her father. [1]
  • Ivan fell asleep one night on watch, inadvertently allowing Koshchei the Deathless to kidnap Vasilissa. [1]
  • Koshchei was a dragon and powerful sorcerer. [1]
  • Bulat and Ivan disguised themselves as cattle herders to speak with Vasilissa. [1]
  • Vasilissa feigned affection for her captor to discover where he hid his soul, for only by discovering where he kept it could he be slain. [2]
  • First Koshchei said he hid his soul in a broom and then a goat. Finally, Koshchei told her the truth: his soul was in an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, beneath an oak tree on and island in the middle of an endless ocean. [2]
  • Bulat and Ivan journeyed to find Koshchei's soul. [2]
  • After finding the soul, they returned to Koshcehi's land, and Bulat smashed the egg against his forehead, killing him. [2]
  • Ivan, prophesized to marry Vasilissa, [3] finally wed her after Koshchei's death. [4]
  • Bulat became Ivan's most trusted adviser. [4]

Related Articles


  1. Dixon-Kennedy [Slavic] 45
  2. Dixon-Kennedy [Slavic] 46
  3. Dixon-Kennedy [Slavic] 120
  4. Dixon-Kennedy [Slavic] 121

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.