The Russian Stories (C. J. Cherryh)

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The Russian Stories
CherryhChernevogHCover.jpg
Chernevog, the second book in the "Russian" series
Author C. J. Cherryh
Illustrator Keith Parkinson (original cover artwork)
Country United States
Genre Fantasy
Publisher Del Rey Books
Published 1989–1991
Media type Print (hardcover and paperback)

The Russian Stories, also known as the Russian Series, the Russian Trilogy and the Rusalka Trilogy, are a series of fantasy novels by science fiction and fantasy author C. J. Cherryh. The stories are set in medieval Russia,[1] in a fictional alternate history of Kievan Rus', a predecessor state of modern day Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. The three books in the series are Rusalka (1989), Chernevog (1990), and Yvgenie (1991). Rusalka was nominated for a Locus Award in 1990.[2]

The stories draw heavily from Slavic mythology and concerns the fate of a girl who has drowned and become a rusalka.[3] For example, a "Rusalka" is a type of life-draining Slavic fairy that haunts a river or lake. And "Chernevog" is an alternate spelling of Chernobog, a mysterious Slavic deity. Other creatures in the books derived from Slavic folklore include Bannik, Leshy and a Vodyanoy.[4]

How magic operates in these books sets them apart from other Cherryh works of fantasy. Wizards are presented as especially dangerous in these novels because even their most casual desires, if expressed, may set into action a course of events with unpredictable outcomes. Wizards in the series therefore must carefully attend to what they think lest they accidentally set loose magical forces that could result in negative outcomes.

The books can therefore be read as a cautionary tale regarding the incompatibility of magic and human society, and also as a criticism of the cavalier treatment of magical power in many works of fantasy, especially high fantasy.[5] They are best described as historical fantasy, although they also borrow elements from the horror fiction genre.

Magic in the series[edit]

In an essay entitled "Shifting Ground: Subjectivities in Cherryh's Slavic Fantasy Trilogy", academic Janice M. Bogstad says the Russian Series describe three levels of magic:

  1. Folkloric magic performed by local creatures, including bannicks, leshys and vodyanois, which is often misinterpreted as peasant superstition;[6][5]
  2. Wish magic performed by wizards, an imprecise art because of the way wishes interact with other wizard's wishes;[7][5]
  3. Power magic, the "most destruction of magics" that draws its power from "dark forces" in a "parallel realm", practised by some wizards, but considered sorcery by others.[8][9]

Franco-Bulgarian philosopher Tzvetan Todorov called this second level of magic "pan-determinism" where "the limit between the physical and the mental, between matter and spirit, between word and thing, ceases to be imperious".[10]

Bogstad says that besides the books being a story about a girl-turned-rusalka, it is about "humaniz[ing] the experience of magic".[11] Each characters' experience with magic is subjective as they never get to see the complete picture, and can only speculate as to what they think the "presence of magic" is causing.[6] Bogstad calls the story "a kind of science of magics" because of the way in which the characters explore of this phenomena.[6]

Reception[edit]

Academic Janice M. Bogstad described this series as an "unusual fantasy trilogy" that "deserves attention" because Cherryh has departed from traditional fantasy based on Celtic folklore and introduced Western readers to the lesser known Slavic mythology.[3] Science fiction and fantasy writer Roland J. Green described Cherryh's Russian series as her "most significant work of fantasy".[12] Latin language literature scholar, Mildred Leake Day called the Russian Stories "the very best of the books of sorcery".[1]

Publication information[edit]

Cherryh self-published revised editions of Rusalka, Chernevog and Yvgenie in e-book format at Closed Circle Publications between 2010 and 2012.[13] Authorship of the e-book edition of Chernevog is credited to C. J. Cherryh and Jane Fancher because of Fancher's contributions to the revisions.[14] Cherryh said that in these e-book editions, "there’s been a little change in Rusalka, a greater change in Chernevog, and a massive change in Yvgenie—in the latter, I’ve rewritten it line by line: nothing’s left untouched."[15]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Day, Mildred Leake (1991). "Arthurian News and Events". Quondam et Futurus (Scriptorium Press) 1 (3): 106–107. JSTOR 27870146.  edit (subscription required)
  2. ^ "1990 Award Winners & Nominees". Worlds Without End. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  3. ^ a b Bogstad 2004, p. 114.
  4. ^ Bogstad 2004, p. 115.
  5. ^ a b c Bogstad 2004, p. 126.
  6. ^ a b c Bogstad 2004, p. 117.
  7. ^ Bogstad 2004, p. 120.
  8. ^ Bogstad 2004, p. 123.
  9. ^ Cherryh 2012, pp. 98–99.
  10. ^ Todorov, Tsvetan (1975). The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Translated by Richard Howard. Cornell University Press. p. 112. 
  11. ^ Bogstad 2004, p. 116.
  12. ^ Green, Roland J. (1991-12-08). "Watching the past saves the future". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2013-03-01.   – via HighBeam (subscription required)
  13. ^ "Rusalka". Closed Circle Publications. Retrieved 2013-08-14. 
  14. ^ Cherryh, C. J. (2012-10-19). "Editing older novels to new editions". Wave Without a Shore. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 
  15. ^ Cherryh, C. J. (2012-03-31). "Getting very close to adding Chernevog and Yvgenie". Wave Without a Shore. Retrieved 2013-08-15. 

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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