Sredni Vashtar

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For the film, see: Sredni Vashtar (film)

"Sredni Vashtar" is a short story written by Saki (Hector Hugh Munro) between 1900 and 1911 and initially published in his book The Chronicles of Clovis. It has been adapted for opera, film, radio and television.

The story concerns a slowly dying ten-year-old boy named Conradin, who lives with his strict cousin and guardian, Mrs. De Ropp. Conradin rebels against her and invents a new religion for himself, which centres on idolising a polecat-ferret he calls Sredni Vashtar; a vengeful, merciless god. Conradin keeps the ferret hidden in a cage in the garden shed, and worships the idol in secret. The story comes to a climax when his cousin sets out to discover his god.


Conradin, a sickly ten-year-old boy ("the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years") who lives with his cousin and guardian, Mrs. De Ropp, secretly takes care of a polecat-ferret whom he calls Sredni Vashtar. He invents a religion of his own with Sredni Vashtar as the god, a merciless and vengeful god. Mrs. De Ropp notices that Conradin has been visiting the shed in the garden (where the ferret and a Houdan hen live) and announces to Conradin that the hen was sold and taken during the night. Distressed, Conradin begs his god to do something for him. Mrs. De Ropp notices that Conradin's visits to the shed do not cease and decides to clear out whatever Conradin is keeping in the shed. Conradin is ordered to stay in the house, but he defiantly calls out a hymn: "Sredni Vashtar went forth, his thoughts were red thoughts and his teeth were white. His enemies called for peace, but he brought them death. Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful." Later, he sees Sredni Vashtar with dark wet stains around his mouth emerge out of the shed and prowl out of the garden, never to return again. Conradin, buttering a piece of toast, tells the maid that her mistress is in the shed. While people scream outside and bring something heavy into the house, Conradin makes himself another piece of toast.


"Sredni Vashtar" has been adapted as a chamber opera three times. In 1988 the composer Robert Steadman and the author Richard Adams wrote the 75-minute Sredni Vashtar.[1] In 1996 Cuban-born composer Jorge Martin and librettist Andrew Joffe with the American Chamber Orchestra produced Beast and Superbeast, a group of four chamber operas based on stories by Saki, including "Sredni Vashtar".[2] Martin also composed a Piano Fantasy on Sredni Vashtar [3] In 2010 the story was again adapted by Nicholas Pavkovic and Jim Coughenour and performed at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

This story was adapted for American television and aired on a ghost anthology series called Great Ghost Tales on August 24,1961. "Sredni Vashtar" was the basis of the 1979 horror film The Orphan, also known as Friday the 13th: The Orphan, by the director John Ballard. In 1981, the short film Sredni Vashtar by British director Andrew Birkin won a BAFTA award and was nominated for an Oscar.[4] In 2003 Angela M. Murray produced a version of the story in the Tartan Shorts series for the BBC, set in Scotland and including shadow puppetry.[5] "Sredni Vashtar" was further adapted with two other Saki stories for a 2007 broadcast on BBC4 titled Who Killed Mrs De Ropp?[6]

The story also inspired film directors of the Czech Republic three times. Vaclav Bedrich made a cartoon film based on it in 1980. Martin Faltyn's 1981 graduation film from the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography is an adaptation of "Sredni Vashtar". In 1995, Pavel Marek adapted the story into his graduation film from FAMU.[7]

"Sredni Vashtar" was adapted as a single narrative song for the musical Saki Shorts by John Gould and Dominic McChesney. The one serious item in the show, it stays faithful to the story with the addition of a twist in the last line that hints it is being sung by (the adult) Conradin himself.

References in popular culture[edit]

The name "Sredni Vashtar" plays an important role in Raymond Postgate's 1940 mystery novel Verdict of Twelve.

The Burning Season, the 2003 studio album by the Gothic rock band Faith and The Muse, features a song titled "Sredni Vashtar."

The Seattle punk band Steel Tigers of Death also has a song titled "Sredni Vashtar." The lyrics reference the story, including the chorus, "Sredni Vashtar, do one thing for me! Sredni Vashtar, kill!"

Wevie Stonder's 2002 album Drawing on Other People's Heads includes a track called "Shredni Vashtar" [sic], in which a woman's voice recites some lines from the short story.

Stephen Fry references the story in The Liar.

Jean Rhys references the tale in the eponymous story of her 1976 collection of short stories, Sleep It Off Lady, in which the protagonist, Miss Verney, feels terrorized by a large rat hiding in her garden shed; at one point calling out aloud, "Come out, come out, Shredni [sic] Vashtar, the beautiful."


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