🎵Come with meee and you’ll beee in a world of pure imagination… 🎶
- Gene Wilder, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
Quick side note: If you have only seen the Johnny Depp version of Charlie, stop reading this immediately and go watch the original. Depp is a master, and he’s hilarious, but nothing compares to Gene Wilder. I see you there streaming — WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES, ma’am/mister!
Where was I?
I thought it would be a relaxed Sunday afternoon walk in the snow and mist, starting in the town of Bystřice nad Pernštejnem:
But I didn’t count on a workout:
Obstacle courses aside, if you’re not careful, you may run into some pretty shady characters outside the realm of their televised domain at Christmastime, or on playing cards, or on the pages of children’s books.
In Bystřice, you can actually chance a glance or a poke at their statues on the Fairytale Path.
Some look similar to the ones I am used to in the fairytales of my childhood, but as they are based on Slavic myth, there are both similarities and differences.
All fairytales have to have a stock hero, and Czech myth is no different. This character is often translated as Dull, Lazy, or Poor Honza (the Czech name for John). He’s the son of village farmers who goes off “to the world” – a phrase for coming of age and going out into the world to become an adult and get experience. He battles dragons (GASP!) and faces other obstacles, but overcomes them all, shedding his immaturity in the process and coming home with wealth and a princess for a wife (it’s easy!).
I think of him kinda like a Czech Ash Ketchum leaving Pallet Town for the first time.
Or is that just me?
Čert (a demon)
He’s got horns, a red face, hooves, a tail, a pitchfork, and looks evil, but he’s not the devil. Hell is full of these demons who do devilish things though, like trying to get people to sell their souls for money and then bringing them to their underground world.
These demons live under Lucifer, which reminds me of Futurama’s Devil and cronies. Strange that all my associations are animated…
I do not take credit for the following photos:
The vodník is my favorite Slavic character. It’s a male water spirit, but nothing like your common nymph… In the picture he looks almost leprechaunish, though if you were to know some of the legends about him, he wouldn’t seem so harmless…
Vodníci live in ponds or rivers but can leave them, though Czech, Slovak and Slovene legend says that, despite looking human, water is always dripping from their coattails.
They can be good or bad, but the bad is always more interesting… so of course, being water spirits, they’ll drown you if you enter their turf. Then, they’ll take your soul and put it in a lidded porcelain cup for safekeeping. A porcelain cup? Okay then. At least the soul can escape if the lid is taken off. From Wikipedia:
Vodníci spend their time by running their territory or – in their spare time – playing cards, smoking pipes or just sitting at the water surface (on rocks, willows nearby) and loitering. Fishermen ask the vodník for help by placing a pinch of tobacco in the water and saying, “Here’s your tobacco, Lord Vodník, now give me a fish.”
Fishing is a big thing here. And it’s also true that if you go canoeing in Czechia, you’ll see a lot of statues of this creature at the edge of waterside houses.
But be more wary if you see a statue of this one:
She looks much prettier there than she is portrayed elsewhere. You can translate Polednice into English as “the Noon Witch.” She’s a character from Karel Jaromír Erben’s book of poems, famous among Czechs, Kytice. She was also featured in the 2016 film of the same name, seen below. Originally she’s a cautionary tale from a mother to a son – if he doesn’t behave, she’ll call Polednice to take him away. Your mother has done that too, right? Everyone’s mother has. It has no effect. So of course the boy doesn’t behave, so the witch comes and tries to take the child, at which time the mom grabs her son tightly to her. Then she faints, and protecting her son… accidentally smothers him to death.
That’s a serious case of buyer’s remorse, am I right? I’m not even sure what the moral of the story is. It started out as a warning for kids, then maybe was a warning for parents not to torture their kids with lies, like “I’ll tell you when you’re older” and, “If you just behave nicely for a little while I’ll buy you ice cream,” or else they’ll hallucinate an ugly old woman who comes for their kid. The murderer was in the house the whole time! Careful what you wish for, especially if it involves…
The personification of Death or the Grim Reaper. He looks and seems similar to the one I know and love (specifically the one in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series), but it’s such a great statue I had to place it here. Doesn’t he look so regal in the light of the setting sun?
Who’s your favorite fairytale character?