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Kashchey the Immortal by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1926-1927.

In Slavic folklore, Koschei (Russian: Коще́й, tr. Koshchey; IPA: [kɐˈɕːej], also Kashchei or Kashchey; Ukrainian: Кощій, Koshchiy; Polish: Kościej; Czech: Kostěj) is an archetypal male antagonist, described mainly as abducting the hero's wife. None of the existing tales actually describes his appearance, though in book illustrations, cartoons and cinema he has been most frequently represented as a very old and ugly-looking man. Koschei is also known as Koschei the Immortal or Koschei the Deathless (Russian: Коще́й Бессме́ртный, Ukrainian: Кощій Безсмертний or Кащик невмирущий, Czech: Kostěj nesmrtelný), as well as Tsar Koschei. As is usual in transliterations, there are numerous other spellings, such as Koshchei, Kashchej and Kaschei. The spelling in Russian and other Slavic languages (like Polish "Kościej" or Czech "Kostěj") suggests that his name may be derived from the word kost '​ (Rus. кость, Pol. kość) meaning "bone", implying a skeletal appearance.[citation needed]

Koschei cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. His soul (or death) is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away; if it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick, and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the egg or needle is broken (in some tales, this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die.

In folk tales[edit]

"The Death of Koschei the Deathless" is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki, which itself is included in The Red Fairy Book.

Koschei also appears in Russian versions of the story "The Frog Princess".

In popular culture[edit]

Koshchey the Deathless by Ivan Bilibin, 1901.
  • In Vasilisa Prekrasnaya (Vasilisa the Beautiful), a Russian cartoon based on the Russian fairy tale.
  • A villain in Igor Stravinsky's Firebird.
  • In Alexander Veltman's Koshchei bessmertny: Bylina starogo vremeni (Koshchei the immortal: A bylina of old times, 1833), a parody of historical adventure novels, the hero, Iva Olelkovich, imagines that his bride has been captured by Koschei.
  • Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera involving Koschei, titled Кащей бессмертный, or Kashchey the Deathless.
  • In the Soviet animated film Beloved Beauty (1958).
  • Mercedes Lackey's novel of Stravinsky's Firebird features Katschei as the main villain, retelling the classic tale for a modern audience. Also, in her 500 Kingdoms series, the Katschei is referenced in the novels The Fairy Godmother and Fortune's Fool.
  • Koschei appears as a slave to Baba Yaga in the Hellboy comic book series, his soul hidden in an egg, inside a duck, inside a hare, inside a goat. First appearing in Hellboy: Darkness Calls, Baba Yaga sends Koschei to kill Hellboy in return for his freedom. Vasilisa Prekrasnaya also appears and helps Hellboy. Koschei's origin story is later revealed in (as yet uncollected) backup stories to single issues of Hellboy: The Wild Hunt.
  • In The Sandman: Fables and Reflections, Koschei's emerald heart (or, more likely a piece of green glass being passed off as such) passes into the possession of a Romani trader, then a werewolf, and finally Baba Yaga.
  • In Monday Begins on Saturday by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, as one of the creatures held in the NIIChaVo institute.
  • Nina C. Young wrote Kashchei (2010), a music composition for nine instruments and electronics based on the layers that conceal Koschei's death.[1]
  • Koschei appears as an immortal Russian warrior in the dark fantasy novel Fury of the Witch Queen (2012) by Joseph Robert Lewis. The novel also features Baba Yaga as Koschei's mother.
  • Koschei appears as a character in the MMORPG RuneScape, under the name "Koschei the Deathless".
  • Koschei appears as a character in John C. Wright's "War of the Dreaming" novels. He offers to save the hero's wife, if the hero will agree to take the life of a stranger.
  • Catherynne Valente's novel Deathless is a retelling of the Koschei story set against a backdrop of 20th-century Russian history.[2]
  • A reference to Koschei is found in the role-playing game book The Plains of Howling Darkness of the Fabled Lands series. An immortal tyrant named Kaschuf the Deathless keeps a steppe village under his yoke until the player releases his soul from a locket kept hidden on an island in another book in the series, Over the Blood-Dark Sea.
  • H. Beam Piper named an industrial planet Koshchei in his novel Junkyard Planet, aka Cosmic Computer, about the search for a computer called Merlin that was so advanced it could predict the future.
  • Koschei was the name given to an early incarnation, and also an alternate version, of the Master in the Doctor Who range of novels.
  • A Wesen called a Koschei appears in season three of the NBC show Grimm, depicted as a zombie-like creature with transparent skin that can either heal or kill with a touch.
  • In the book The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin by L. Jagi Lamplighter, Koschei is one of the Terrible Five—five sorcerers considered so evil that they were turned to stone, whose release caused a reign of terror.
  • The demon lord Kostchtchie from the Dungeons & Dragons fantasy roleplaying game was inspired by Koschei.
  • In the novel, Monster Hunter Alpha by Larry Correia, Koschei the Deathless is portrayed as a werewolf that lived for seven centuries, a lifetime powered by a mystical amulet that granted immortality.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Composer website (Nina C. Young): www.ninacyoung.com/Works.html
  2. ^ Author interview: [1]

External links[edit]