Viy (story)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Illustration for Viy by R.Shteyn (1901)

"Viy" (Russian: Вий, IPA: [ˈvʲij]), also translated as "The Viy", is a horror novella by Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, first published in the first volume of his collection of tales entitled Mirgorod (1835). The title is also the name of the demonic entity central to the plot.

Plot summary[edit]

Every summer, there is usually a large procession of all the students moving around the area as they travel home. However, the group is reduced to three students: the theologian Khaliava, the philosopher Khoma Brut, and the rhetorician Tibery Gorobets.

As the night draws in, the students hope to find a village near the main road where they can find some rest and food. However, they become lost in the wilderness, eventually coming upon two small houses and a farm. An older woman there tells them she has a little room and cannot accommodate any more travelers, but she eventually agrees to let them stay.

At night, the woman comes to Khoma. At first, he thinks she is trying to seduce him, but then she draws closer and he sees that her eyes are glowing strangely. She leaps on his back, and he reluctantly finds himself galloping with her all over the countryside with a strength he previously never knew. He eventually slows the witch by chanting exorcisms out loud, and then rides on her back and later picks up a piece of wood and beats her as punishment. The older woman later collapses, and he discovers she has turned into a beautiful girl.

Khoma runs away to Kyiv and resumes his easy life, when a rumor reaches his dean that a rich cossack’s daughter was found crawling home near death, her last wish being for Khoma the philosopher to come and read psalms over her corpse for three nights after her death.

Sketch for the French edition of Viy, by Constantin Kousnetzoff

Although Khoma is uncertain why the girl requested him specifically, the bribed dean orders him to go to the cossack’s house and comply with her last wish. Several Cossacks bring him by force to the village where the girl lived. When he is shown the corpse, however, he finds it is the witch he overcame earlier in the story. Rumors among the Cossacks are that the daughter was in league with the Devil, and they tell horror stories about her evil ways, such as previously riding on another person, drinking blood, and cutting off the braids of village girls and Khoma is reluctant to say prayers over her body at night.

On the first night, when the cossacks take her body to a ruined church, he is somewhat frightened but calms himself when he lights more candles in the church to eliminate most of the darkness. As he begins to say prayers, he imagines to himself that the corpse is getting up, but it never does. Suddenly, however, he looks up and finds that the witch is sitting up in her coffin. She begins to walk around, reaching out for someone, and begins to approach Khoma, but he draws a circle of protection around himself that she cannot cross.

The next night similar events occur but more horrible than before, and the witch calls upon unseen, winged demons and monsters to fly about outside the church, but Khoma is invisible for them. When the cossacks find the philosopher in the morning, he tries to escape but is captured and brought back to finish.

On the third night, the witch's corpse is even more terrifying, and she calls the demons and monsters around her to bring into the church the Viy, the one who can see everything. Khoma realizes that he should not look at the creature when they draw his long eyelids up from the floor so he can see, but he does anyway and sees a horrible, iron face staring at him. Viy points in his direction, and the monsters leap upon him. Khoma dies from horror. However, the monsters miss the first crowing of the rooster and fail to escape the church before the light of dawn.

The priest arrives the next day to find the monsters frozen in the windows as they tried to flee the church. The temple is forsaken forever, eventually overgrown by weeds and trees. The story ends with Khoma's other two friends commenting on his death and how it was his lot in life to die in such a way, agreeing that if he had not looked into Viy's eyes, he could have still survived.

Folkloric sources[edit]

Gogol states in his author's note that Viy, the King of the Gnomes, was an actual character from Ukrainian folklore. This was merely a literary device. In reality Gogol probably never heard of Viy at all. No discovery has been made of the folklore source of Viy, and as such it remains a part of Gogol's imagination. However, some scholars believe that the conception of Viy may have been at least partially based on old folk tradition surrounding St. Cassian the Unmerciful, who was said in some tales to have eyebrows that descended to his knees and which were raised only on Leap Year. It is likely that Gogol had heard about the character and designed Viy on his various forms.[1]

The demons summoned into the church come from the Slavic superstitions of "midnight dead". Evil people, it was believed, automatically became Devil's subjects upon death. Earth would not hold them so that every night they would crawl out of their graves and torment the living. In the story, the demons have "black earth" clung to them, as if they crawled out of the ground.

The water sprite (Rusalka) seen by Khoma during his night ride bears relation to the "midnight dead". It was widely believed, in Russian and Ukraine, that rusalki were spirits of unbaptized children or drowned maidens, who were in league with the Devil. They were known to drown their victims or tickle them to death. They were described as beautiful, and deadly, and bear relation to the young version of the witch, and Gogol's frequent portrayal of women as beautiful yet evil.

Incantations, exorcism, and the magic circle come from Ukrainian beliefs of protection from evil forces. The circle relates to "chur", a magical boundary that evil cannot cross. Even though Khoma died from fear, the creatures could not touch him.

Additionally, the final notion that Khoma died only because he let fear win over him appears to stem from John of Damascus, who said "... all evil and impure passions have been conceived by [evil spirits] and they have been permitted to visit attacks upon man. But they are unable to force anyone, for it is in our power either to accept the visitation or not."

However, despite the facts described above, Viy is mentioned as the witch's husband in the Russian folk tale, "Ivan Bykovich". It says that Viy's assistants were raising his eyebrows and eyelashes with an iron fork.[2]

Film adaptations[edit]

Several other works draw on the short story:

  • Mario Bava's film Black Sunday is loosely based on "Viy".
  • In the 1978 film Piranha, a camp counselor retells Viy's climactic identification of Khoma as a ghost story.
  • Russian heavy metal band Korrozia Metalla are believed to have recorded a demo tape in 1982 titled Vii, however nothing about the tape has surfaced.
  • In the adventure-platformer La-Mulana, Viy serves as the boss of the Inferno Cavern area.
  • In Catherynne M. Valente's novel Deathless, Viy is the Tsar of Death, a Grim Reaper-like figure who embodies gloom and decay in Russia.
  • In the mobile game Fate/Grand Order, Viy appears as Anastasia's familiar and the source of her powers.


  • Krys, Svitlana, “Intertextual Parallels Between Gogol' and Hoffmann: A Case Study of Vij and The Devil’s Elixirs.” Canadian-American Slavic Studies (CASS) 47.1 (2013): 1-20.
  • Complete text in Russian: [1]
  • Gogol, Nikolai. Pevear, R. and Volokhonsky, L. (Trans). The Collected Tales of Nikolai Gogol. 1998, Vintage Classics.
  • Complete text in Russian: [2]
  • Putney, Christopher. "Russian Devils and Diabolical Conditionality in Nikolai Gogol's Evenings on a farm near Dikanka." New York: Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 1999. Print.
  • Kent, Leonard J "The Collected Tales and Plays of Nikolai Gogol." Toronto: Random House of Canada Limited. 1969. Print.


  1. ^ Ivantis, Linda. Russian Folk Belief pgs. 35-36
  2. ^ Ivan Bykovich. Russian folk tale (in Russian)