R. Shteyn’s Viy


My weekend viewing was the recent double-disc release from Eureka: Viy (1967), a Russian film directed by Georgi Kropachyov & Konstantin Yershov with Aleksandr Ptushko, and A Holy Place (1990), a Serbian film directed by Djordje Kadijevic. Both features are based on Viy, a story by Nikolai Gogol which the author described as a transcription of a Ukrainian folk tale although the piece is assumed to be Gogol’s invention.


The story concerns Khoma, a seminarian in Kiev, whose alarming nocturnal encounter with a witch is followed by a seemingly unconnected summons to a Cossack village where a young woman has just died. The woman’s last wish was that Khoma should say prayers for her, something he’s reluctantly compelled to do when this involves spending three nights locked in the church where her coffin lies. The events in the church are the heart of the story, and involve a reanimated corpse, a flying coffin, and a climax involving a visitation by “the unclean powers”, all of whom try to attack Khoma by breaking into a circle he’s drawn around himself. The monstrous Viy is described by Gogol as the “chief of the gnomes” although the Russian filmmakers offer no such description of the shambling creature that a crowd of vampires lead into the church. Ukrainian gnomes are evidently a world away from the miniature beings that populate British gardens.


These drawings by R. Shteyn (or Shtein) are from a heavily-illustrated Russian printing from 1901 which may have contributed to the 1967 film: many of the scenes in the film closely resemble the illustrations, especially the appearance of the main characters and the Cossack villagers. These are only the full-page drawings but they include the climactic appearance of the terrible Viy. The rest of the drawings may be seen here.












Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Viyi by Esteban Maroto
The Nose, a film by Alexandre Alexeieff & Claire Parker

5 thoughts on “R. Shteyn’s Viy”

  1. A couple of years ago I read the University of Chicago Press two volume set of Gogol’s (folk) tales. According to the blurb, he “was an artist who, like Rabelais, Cervantes, Swift, and Sterne, “knew how to walk upside down in our valley of sorrows so as to make it to a merry place.”” So referencing four more of my favourites, no wonder I enjoyed it so much. I was attracted to it after seeing the Russian TV series, actually three films cut into parts. That was a riot too, but not really up there with the original material. Which is all to say that I’m looking forward to seeing Viy.

  2. Hi Steve. I’ve still not read any Gogol although I do have Nabokov’s short study of the man and his works. I ought to remedy this situation. Stories like The Nose are very much ahead of their time.

  3. Hi Trevor. The Serbian film tells the same story but with a very different approach, more serious, and with none of the special effects or apparitions seen in the Russian film. The story of the village witch is filled out with flashbacks showing how she led men astray. It’s not bad but it lacks the verve of the Russian version, as well as being further away from its source.

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