In a Certain Kingdom
Summary: Deathless villains that can’t help dying, idiots who are wiser than kings, and everyone’s favorite pestle-riding hag… Welcome to the perilous land of Slavic myths and legends, a land of wonder and adventure. In a Certain Kingdom is a podcast where storyteller and award-winning fantasy novelist Nicholas Kotar translates and retells Slavic fairy tales and myths, then delves into the symbolic structure of the story. Featuring original music composed by Natalie Wilson.
This week we return to the world of mythical Kiev for another tale of the bogatyrs and... their wives? The Tale of Vasilisa Mikulishna is a wonderfully fun gender-swapping tale that puts masculine and feminine tropes on their head... only to put them all back in glorious order by the end. In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas offers a real-life example of someone who was conquered by Christ through a life of storytelling.
In "The Proud Bride," we see the classic trope of the shrewish bride who is impossible to marry off (think King Thrushbeard and the Taming of the Shrew) being tamed by a trickster figure of a groom. But this time, it's the Russian fairy tale version. In the analysis, Deacon Nicholas reflects on some of the difficulties of the creative life by reading a wonderful essay by Ivan Ilyin on "A Wasted Day." Sounds depressing, perhaps, but in the beautiful words of Ilyin, it's a truly comforting reminder of the importance of seeking beauty every day.
When a mysterious old woman visits the house of three brothers, unexpected gifts begin to abound. But the greatest gift is sometimes the smallest, least expected thing... In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas continues his examination of the poetry of St Gregory the Theologian and finds some unexpected insight in a poem... about poetry.
Ivan, the third son of a peasant family, refuses to be left behind when his brothers go to war against a dragonish monster. And a good thing, too! For his brothers prefer snoring to swordplay. After coming into a land scorched by the attacks of the monster, Ivan becomes the last man standing between the monster and the people of the Rus. But the trouble is, there's not one... but three dragonish monsters! And they have dragon-brides too... And a great dragon-mother, the most dangerous serpent of all... In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas reads some poetry of St Gregory the Theologian that demonstrates a proper patristic approach to reading the parables of Christ. In his heart-felt poetry, St Gregory begins to reveal something very important about the role of the heart in properly reading stories.
The Third Son, a Carpatho-Russian fairy tale, starts like the well-known parable of the talents. But this time, we're looking at it from the perspective of the lazy, third son who did nothing with the talent given to him. What happened to that poor son? Well, in this tale, he goes on a transformative journey where his own adventures and redemption ends up saving an entire land from the scourge of dark powers. In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas begins his apology for imaginative storytelling by setting up several ground rules for his investigation. If you're interested in learning what the Church does or doesn't say about the value of stories, you don't want to miss this episode!
After a long wait, In a Certain Kingdom is back! And thanks to the show's patrons, it will now be an ongoing bi-monthly podcast with no limit to the number of episodes. Not only that, but Nicholas Kotar is going to include stories not only from Russia, but from Ukraine, Carpatho-Russia, Georgia, Romania, and maybe a few others. In addition, wonderful composer Natalie Wilson has written new music for this season that is the most beautiful so far! Look for In a Certain Kingdom to return with full length episodes in May.
As the Tatar horde lords it over Kiev, Ilya slowly digs himself out of his prison. There is no one else left between Batu-khan and total domination. Batu decides to try to woo Ilya, instead of keeping him imprisoned. But Ilya will have none of it, and Batu orders him to be executed. At the place of execution in the field of Kulikovo, the rebirth of the Rus begins. Be sure to listen to the end of this episode to find out Nicholas Kotar's plans for the future of this podcast.
Ilya Muromets's fateful words to Vladimir prove true. A massive army led by the terrifying Batu-Khan approaches Kiev, intent on destroying it and feasting in its streets. Vladimir, in his terror, agrees to let the Tatars into the city, in return for his life. But Ilya Muromets will have none of it. He attacks the army on his own, and almost defeats it singlehandedly. But Batu Khan is a trickster. He has one last trick up his sleeve, and even the great Ilya Muromets may find himself powerless in the end. As Kiev stands on the brink of collapse, betrayed by its own prince, all the people rise up for one final, desperate battle against the foe...
After the untimely death of Sukhmann the young warrior, Ilya Muromets is furious with Vladimir of Kiev. He plans to take revenge on the prince, but Vladimir manages to pacify him for a short time. But the boyars of Kiev are at it again. Jealous of Ilya's preferred position in court, they slander Ilya Muromets to Prince Vladimir. The hot-headed prince does the unthinkable: he imprisons Ilya, just as he did Sukhmann. But a new threat is on the horizon: King Kalin, a new leader of the Tatars. And not a single bogatyr of the Rus remains to protect Kiev the great city . . .
When Sukhmann the young warrior comes to Vladimir's feast, he feels a sudden desire to thank his host with a special gift. A white swan caught with his own two hands. But his hunting does not go at all as he planned. Unexpectedly, he is faced with a new enemy of the Rus. A never-before seen fighting force called the Tatars.
Sadko is a young musician. The best in Novgorod! But he's also one of the poorest. This is the lot of the true artist. No one understands him, he feels. No one except the beautiful river near his city. Well, it turns out that the river does understand him. Not only that, but she (yes, she!) is intent on marrying him! There is no analysis this week, as the Kotars are expecting the imminent coming of their fourth child. Feasting will no doubt ensue. Later.
Dobrynia, son of Nikita, fresh off his victory over the dragon, finds a mysterious set of hoof prints in the forest. He follows them, and finds a mysterious warrior. But who that warrior actually is, he could never have guessed... In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas reads an email from a listener that adds some interesting nuance to the ongoing conversation we've had on this podcast concerning the nature of evil in stories and how best to depict the battle between good and evil in a way that resonates with the audience.
In our second dragon-themed tale, Kiev the great city's perfect existence is darkened by a terrible dragon. It promises not to destroy the city, but only if the people offer it a beautiful maiden once a month. Finally, it's the princess's turn. Her only hope of avoiding a terrible death is a humble tanner living in obscurity outside the city. But he wants to have nothing to do with dragons... In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas offers some thoughts about how evil can emerge in reality, and how the good stories explain the emergence of evil not only in metaphorical terms, but in actual ones. Turns out that not only are fairy tales comforting, but they may be indispensable if we want to avoid the emergence of evil in our own lives.
In the court of Kiev, there are three famous warriors. We've already met Ilya Muromets. We haven't yet met Dobrynia Nikitich or Alyosha Popovich. It's time for Dobrynia's story, a mythic tale of a dragon who likes to steal princesses, a young warrior out to clear his name, and a battle that will literally cleave the earth in two. In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas begins a two-episode exploration of the nature of evil in stories. In particular, three topics are raised: Why does modern culture like to rehabilitate traditionally evil characters? Is evil just a misunderstanding? Is it really more fun to be bad than good?
After Ilya Muromets was healed by the three wanderers, they warned him against ever picking a fight with several famous fellow-warriors. One of those was Volga Vseslav'evich, renowned for his strength, but even more for his cunning. This is his story, a tale filled with deep magic, deeds of renown, and the triumph of virtue over power. In the analysis section, Deacon Nicholas reads a short essay by Ivan Ilyin about the failures of modern culture, and how a renewed attention to a life of the heart that warms the soul and spirit may be the only way out of our current difficulties. Luckily, it also may be the best way to begin anew the joyful process of cultivating our own selves.