The Lost Letter: A Tale Told by the Sexton of the N…Church by Nikolai Gogol
Author: Nikolai Gogol
Genre: Short Story
“The Lost Letter: A Tale Told by the Sexton of the N…Church” is a short story by Nikolai Gogol. It was first published in 1831 in the first volume of his short story collection, Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka. The narrator of this story, Foma, is an old sexton and also appears as the narrator in another of Gogol’s stories, “A Bewitched Place.”
1. Synopsis of The Lost Letter: A Tale Told by the Sexton of the N…Church
Foma, an old sexton, relates a story about his grandfather’s journey to hell. Once, when Foma’s grandfather went to a fair, he befriended a Cossack who had made a deal with the devil. He acquires the Cossack’s hat in a trade, in which he sewed a letter for the Czarina, and they turn in for the night. After Foma’s grandfather wakes, he realizes that the Cossack and the hat he had traded for are both gone. Anxious to retrieve the letter, Foma’s grandfather embarks on an adventure where he encounters numerous demons and witches.
2. Story Summary
Foma’s grandfather was once tasked with delivering a letter to the Czarina. On his way, he stops by a fair where he befriends a Zaporozhian Cossack who claims to have sold his soul to the devil. The two drink to each other’s health and Foma’s grandfather trades for the Cossack’s hat, in which he sewed the letter. Foma’s grandfather and his friends rest outside a tavern and fall asleep. Although Foma’s grandfather promised to stay up and keep watch, he fell asleep.
When Foma’s grandfather wakes, he realizes that the Cossack has left and took the hat with the Czarina’s letter in it. Moreover, the Cossack also rode away with his horse. Anxious to get back the letter, he asks for help to track down the missing Cossack. The tavern keeper advises him to go on an off-road trip through the forest.
Following the tavern keeper’s instructions, Foma’s grandfather arrives at a field with a stream across it. He spots a light shining in the stream and sees a group of pig-faced men sitting around it. The pig-faced men are devils and refuse to help him find the missing hat and letter. Frustrated, Foma’s grandfather flings his money onto the ground.
He soon finds himself in a circle of creatures with animal faces and witches. Among them is a beautiful witch who appears to be the leader. She offers to help him retrieve his hat if he wins one of three games of ‘fool,’ a traditional Russian card game. Foma’s grandfather discovers that the deck is stacked against him and, enraged, slams his fist on the table. He makes the sign of the cross under the table, and this gesture brings him luck. Over and over again, he produces a trump card, causing the witches to lose their temper.
Finally, the missing hat flies into the face of Foma’s grandfather, who also demands that he wants his horse back. The witches give him a demonic horse that takes him home by jumping over ravines and other places he cannot describe to anyone. In the end, Foma’s grandfather successfully delivers the letter to the Czarina. The last remnant of his adventure is that every year, on the day when he met the group of demons and witches, his wife would get a mysterious urge to dance.