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How Vasil Vanquished the Dragon  

Region: Eastern Europe, Belarus

Author: Folktales in English rendition and retelling by Miriam Morton

Original Language: Belarusian

Translator: Irina Zheleznova

Descriptors: bravery; courage; clever and smart people; dragons; heroes; oppressors; villages; battle

Age: 3-10 years old


In this Belarusian folktale dating back centuries, the title gives away the inevitable fate of the Dragon. However, the reader is introduced to just how dreadful and terrible the dragon is, wreaking constant havoc and even devouring all villagers who try, but eventually fail, to bring him enough daily tributes to satiate his hunger. The villagers, weeping at their cruel fate to the Dragon, are met one day by a visiting man named Vasil. Matter-of-factly, Vasil ensures the villagers that he will save them. The reader is then taken on a clever, mischievous journey as Vasil tries to vanquish the Dragon, whose inevitable fate does not come with the epic life-or-death battle that one would expect between a mortal man and a mighty Dragon. While the translation of this folktale reads fluently, there are moments when the sentence structure is unusual. The illustration near the end perfectly captures the Dragon’s emotion as he realizes his fate. 

More About This Book

The story is found in A Harvest of Russian Children's Literature (see notes below)  

Reviewed: print book (1967) by University of California Press. ISBN: 0520017455. Pages 152-154

Notes: The anthology was published several decades ago, in the times of the U.S.S.R. existence. Librarians relying on this source should treat classifications and notes in this story with care and an understanding of historical context. Belarusian literature is not Russian literature; these days, Belarus is an independent country in Eastern Europe. At the time of Anthology publication, it was one of the Soviet Republics and had a Russified and culturally biased spelling of Belarus—Belorussia—appears in the story. This needs to be corrected in the contemporary presentation of the story. Belarusian literature is not Russian literature; in this sense, the title of the Anthology is a misnomer. This classification is an outgrowth of the past soviet approach towards smaller ethnic and linguistic groups. This story also includes an outdated footnote: “*Belorussia is the western part of the Soviet Union bordering on Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Ukraine.” p.152. The story is translated from Russian into English; it could have been originally translated from Belarusian into Russian or recorded in Russian from oral renditions. It is to be noted that it could also have been adapted in the process and may not reflect the Belarusian original exactly. The story is entered as a standalone item to bring North American children the magic of a world literature that has little international exposure. It is not entered under the Anthology title to correct the misrepresentation of Belarusian literature as Russian literature. Librarians may consider retelling rather than reading the story to eliminate unusual terminology and culturally biased and outdated references.  

Reviewed by Tiffany Bowers

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