The Viy by Nikolai Gogol
Author: Nikolai Gogol
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
“The Viy” (Вий, translit. Vii), also known as “Viy,” is a novella by Nikolai Gogol first published in 1835 in his story collection, Mirgorod. The titular Viy is the chief of gnomes who can see everything. It has an iron face, root-like limbs, and dangling eyelids that reach the ground. It is believed to be Gogol’s invention despite the author’s note that the ‘Viy’ is the name given to the ‘chief of gnomes’ by the ‘Little Russians.’
The story also features a witch who rides a man like a horse. Scholars have found parallels between this character and Russian and Ukrainian folklore figures. For instance, the Malorussian folktale “The Soldier’s Midnight Watch” was noted by its translator, W. R. S. Ralston (1873), to feature a similar character.
During the summer vacation, Khoma, a monastery student, leaves for home with his two comrades. The three attempt to find food and lodging along the journey but get lost while looking for a village where they can spend the night. Eventually, they come across a farm where they are taken in begrudgingly by an old woman. Thus starts a terrifying adventure in which Khoma encounters a witch, an array of demons, and a mysterious creature known as the Viy.
2. Story Summary
Students at Bratsky Monastery in Kyiv leave for home during the summer vacation. Along the way, the impoverished students must try to find food and lodging. A group of three students, Khalyava, Khoma, and Tiberiy, get lost while trying to find a village where they can spend the night. They come across a farm where they meet an old woman who refuses to house them. After some persuasion, however, she agrees to take them in.
During the night, the old woman goes to see Khoma and wakes him. Khoma notices a strange gleam in her eyes, and soon, she starts riding him like a horse. When she whips him with a broom, Khoma’s legs move involuntarily, and he rides off. He gallops into the black forest and realizes that the old woman is a witch. As the witch rides him, Khoma recites an exorcism that weakens her. Khoma manages to throw off the witch and begins riding her instead. He punishes her by striking her with a piece of wood, and she collapses, transforming into a beautiful young girl.
After the incident, Khoma returns to the monastery in Kyiv. Sometime later, the monastery receives news that a Cossack chief’s daughter is dying, and her last wish is for Khoma to recite psalms for her on her deathbed and for three days after her death. Khoma is reluctant to go but is ordered to by the rector, who the Cossack chief has bribed.
At the Cossack community, Khoma meets the chief, Yavtukh, who tells him that his daughter died before revealing how she knew Khoma. Khoma realizes that the chief’s daughter is the witch he had beaten. The Cossacks start sharing horrifying stories about the chief’s daughter, who they know to be a witch. One of their comrades had been ridden by her and did not survive. Another had his infant child’s blood sucked out and his wife killed by the witch.
On the first night, Khoma holds vigil over the witch girl’s body in a church. The girl comes alive and rises from her coffin, frightening Khoma, who draws a magic circle around him. The circle works and prevents the witch girl from coming near him. On the second night, the girl rises from her coffin again. This time, the witch girl, winged demons, and other monsters chase Khoma. Fortunately, the magic circle saves him again.
On the last night, the witch girl calls upon the monsters to summon the Viy, the chief of gnomes who can see everything. The Viy is a creature with fibrous root-like limbs, an iron face, and dangling eyelids that reach the ground. When the monsters lift the Viy’s eyelids, Khoma looks at the creature’s face, although his instinct tells him not to do so. The Viy is then able to see Khoma’s whereabouts. The Viy points out Khoma’s location, allowing all the monsters to attack him. This causes Khoma to die from fright.
At the end of the story, Khoma’s friends discuss his death and conclude that it was his fate to die in this way. They agree that he would not have died if he had maintained his courage and did not show his fear.
A monastery student and philosopher who enjoys drinking and smoking a pipe.
Khoma’s companion, a kleptomaniac, and theologian.
A young rhetorician who accompanies Khoma and Khalyava.
The Old Woman
A witch who is the daughter of a Cossack chief. She first appears as an old woman but changes into a pretty young girl when Khoma beats her with a piece of wood.
A Cossack chief and the witch’s father.
A mysterious creature who is said to see everything. It has long eyelids that reach the ground, an iron face, and root-like limbs.
4. Influence and Legacy
The Viy has received several film adaptations over the years. The 1967 film adaptation Viy, directed by Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov, was the first Soviet-era horror film released in the USSR. Yershov, Kropachyov, and Aleksandr Ptushko wrote the film’s screenplay.
A Holy Place is a 1990 Serbian film based on Gogol’s The Viy. It was directed by Djordje Kadijevic, who uses the film to tell an unusual love story between a theology student and the undead daughter of a powerful feudal lord.
Recently, there have been two film adaptations of The Viy. Viy (2014), also known as Forbidden Empire, is a Russian film adaptation directed by Oleg Stepchenko and loosely based on Gogol’s story. It was a tremendous commercial success, raking in 605.2 million rubles in its first weekend, a record for a Russian movie at the time. Gogol. Viy is a 2018 Russian fantasy film adaptation directed by Egor Baranov. It was made as the sequel to Gogol. The Beginning.