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The Slavic Myths

Noah Charney, Svetlana Slapšak


A Pulitzer-nominated author and one of the great public intellectuals of Slavic culture bring to life the unfamiliar myths and legends of the Slavic world

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Slavic cultures are far-ranging, comprising East Slavs (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus), West Slavs (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland) and South Slavs (the countries of former Yugoslavia plus Bulgaria), yet they are connected by tales of adventure and magic with deep roots in a common lore. In this first collection of Slavic myths for an international readership, Noah Charney and Svetlana Slapšak expertly weave together a retelling of the ancient stories with nuanced analysis that illuminates their place at the heart of Slavic tradition.

Though less familiar to us than the legends of ancient Egypt, Greece and Scandinavia, in the world of Slavic mythology we find much that we can recognize: petulant deities, demons and faeries; witches, the sinister vestica, whose magic may harm or heal; a supreme god who can summon storms and hurl thunderbolts. Gods gather under the World Tree, reminiscent of Norse mythology’s Yggdrasill; or, after the coming of Christianity, congregate among the clouds. The vampire – usually the only Serbo-Croatian word in any foreign-language dictionary – and the werewolf emerge from the shallow graves of Slavic belief.

In their careful analysis and sensitive reconstructions of the origin stories, Charney and Slapsak unearth the Slavic beliefs before their distortion first by Christian chroniclers and then by 19th-century scholars seeking origin stories for their new-born nation states. They reveal links not only to the neighbouring pantheons of Greece, Rome, Egypt and Scandinavia but also the belief systems of indigenous peoples of Australia, the Americas, Africa and Asia. In so doing, they draw out the universalities that cut across cultures in the stories we tell ourselves.

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'Combines analysis with celebration, context with storytelling, academic debate with new versions of some of the great folktales which emerged long, long ago from the crucible of the Carpathian Mountains ... a welcome entree into the intricate world of Slavic mythology, with plenty of esoteric facts to get your teeth into, stories to be read aloud at the witching hour, and memorable back-and-white woodcut illustrations'
Sir Christopher Frayling

'Delightfully dark and whimsical, this collection of eight folk tales from Slavic mythology unearths the bones of the original stories, boldly forcing us to question what we know about a mostly oral tradition that has been silenced for far too long'
Olesya Salnikova Gilmore, author of THE WITCH AND THE TSAR

'A compelling and illuminating introduction to Slavic mythology, through a rich medley of stories, discussion and striking illustrations'
Sophie Anderson, author of The House with Chicken Legs

'This book, with its dramatic illustrations, will go a long way to enlarging western ideas about Eastern Europe … great things have come from [Slavic myths] in the past and will do in the future'
The Irish Catholic

'Beautifully produced … I wholeheartedly recommend that you buy the book'
Facts and Fiction

'[An] elegant work of folklore and ethnography ... enhanced by ominous woodcut-style illustrations ... Sophisticated teen readers and adults drawn to the subject will find much to ensorcell them in the storytelling and academic inquiry of The Slavic Myths'
Wall Street Journal

'A wonderfully written and beautifully illustrated book delving into various Slavic myths, gods, and supernatural figures as well as the histories behind them'
World History Encyclopedia

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Product Information

Book Details

Format: Hardback

Size: 23.4 x 15.3 cm

Extent: 240 pp

Illustrations: 38

Publication date: 21 September 2023

ISBN: 9780500025017

Contents List

The Slav Epic: How the 19th Century Established Slavic Mythology
“Black Butterfly”
“At Stake”
Libuse and Women at the Threshold
“Do Not Weep”
Don’t Mess with a Goddess: Three Versions of the Great Goddess Among the Slavs
“Ilya Muromets in Defense of Kiev”
Perun: The Supreme God in Heaven and the Heroes on Earth
“The Waterman”
Creatures of the Waters
Slavic Magic: Spells, Magicians, Enchanted Animals, Plants and Treasures

About the Author

Noah Charney is an American art historian and internationally bestselling author of fiction (The Art Thief) and non-fiction (The Art of Forgery, The Collector of Lives and The Museum of Lost Art). Svetlana Slapsak is a leading specialist in Balkan studies and award-winning essayist who has published more than eighty books. She won the American PEN Freedom of Expression Award in 1993 and was nominated for
the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. Both Charney and Slapsak live in Slovenia.