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Literature: Sienkiewicz Trilogy

Known simply as "the Trilogy" in Poland, its a series of novels by Henryk Sienkiewicz covering the lives and adventures of a group of Polish and Lithuanian nobles in the 17th century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Originally published in parts, in a magazine, the Trilogy consists of three books — With Fire and Sword (Ogniem i mieczem), which takes place during Bohdan Khmelnytsky's 1647 Cossack rebellion; The Deluge (Potop), occurring during the 1655 Swedish invasion of Poland; and Pan Wołodyjowski (lit. Sir Wołodyjowski, sometimes translated as Fire in the Steppe), which concludes the saga during the Polish-Turkish wars of the 1670s.

Written between 1884 and 1888 with the intent of "lift[ing] up the hearts" of the Polish people, "the Trilogy" immediately became a sensation in its homeland, where it was eventually adapted to film, the most famous being Jerzy Hoffman's versions of the saga, and is now seen as one of the masterpieces of Polish literature. It has received considerable acclaim outside its country. Its author won the Nobel Prize in Literature, after all. In some countries, though, such as Ukraine, and perhaps Lithuania, it is disliked if not reviled for its negative portrayal of the Commonwealth's opponents.

This saga gives examples of:

  • Abduction Is Love: So Bohun (and Horpyna...) seems to believe. Helena disagrees. Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz is also of this opinion, but his target of choice proves more difficult to abduct.
  • Action Girl: Basia from Pan Wołodyjowski is as much of an action girl as a 17th century woman in a 19th century book can get. Not only has she a passion for fencing, is a good shot and accomplished rider, but knocks her almost kidnapper out with the butt of his own gun and goes back home through the wilderness on foot. By herself. In the middle of winter.
  • Agent Peacock: A villainous one in Potop - Bogusław Radziwiłł.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Basia makes one towards Michal, who's completely baffled at first, then realises he reciprocates. Aww.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Or more than ambiguously. Horpyna the witch in the 1999 film adaptation of With Fire and Sword. She nearly molests Helena, implying that she would were it not for her fear of Bohun. Crossed with Bury Your Gays when she gets shot, and then stabbed through the chest with a stake, a few minutes later.
  • Anyone Can Die: Sienkiewicz wasn't above killing a popular character to remind the readers that the danger faced by the heroes is real.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Bohun's for Helena, Ewa's for Azja (tragically so), Wołodyjowski's for several girls, but he's a better loser.
  • Artistic Licence History: Sienkiewicz may have "tweaked" some things here and there, for a better, more edifying story.
  • Asleep for Days: Basia's illness, complete with babbling in her sleep when she relives what happened.
  • The Atoner: Kmicic starts out as brash, boisterous, utterly selfish Jerkass who doesn't bother with thinking too much. This attitude causes him a world of trouble, leading to a snap and Heel-Face Turn.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Before the Swedes started besieging Częstochowa, they were winning the war. Afterwards, not so much.
  • Badass Adorable: Basia is a small, blonde, cute as a button Plucky Girl, who likes sugary treats and playing matchmaker, and is capable of sulking very adorably. Also fully capable of killing someone with a shotgun.
  • Badass Mustache: Though most, if not all of the male characters have mustaches, and many are badasses, Sienkiewicz pays special attention to Wołodyjowski's badass mustache.
  • Badass Unintentional: Zagloba, time and again (and again).
  • BFS: Longinus's hereditary sword. Normal people require a demonstration to believe that fencing with this is possible. This became Running Gag.
  • Bad Export for You: English versions of the books and film(s) tend to have... issues.
    • Jeremiah Curtin wrote an awkward and extremely literal translation around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. He wasn't fluent in Polish and relied heavily on dictionaries and his knowledge of Russian. This translation is in the public domain, so it's fairly easy to get a copy of this version. For starters, he seems to confuse Russians and Ukrainians...
    • Samuel A. Binion translated With Fire and Sword a few years after Curtin did... but he didn't translate either of its sequels.
    • Polish-American novelist W.S. Kuniczak wrote another translation in the 1990s, with the intent of creating a "modern, more accessible" version. However, unlike Curtin's overly literal translation, his translation suffers from the opposite problem: he freely deleted passages and added many of his own. Kuniczak is himself an award-winning writer, so his changes do fit seamlessly into the rest of the text, but they are changes. Kuniczak's translation is currently out of print, and used copies can be expensive.
    • The English-subbed version of the With Fire and Sword movie is decent... until someone speaks in Ukrainian. For some reason, the Ukrainian lines are dubbed in Polish, but both the Polish and Ukrainian lines are spoken at once! What's worse is that the Polish dubbing is done by the same male voice, even for female characters. It's extremely distracting to someone who cannot understand either language to begin with.
      • Such voice-overs (also known as Gavrilov translation) are actually the standard in Polish translated movies. See Voiceover Translation.
  • Boisterous Bruiser: Jan Zagłoba — much more 'boisterous' than 'bruiser' but still.
  • Bring Help Back: Podbipięta and Skrzetuski are sent through enemy lines to do this during the siege at the end of With Fire and Sword.
  • Bumbling Sidekick / Hypercompetent Sidekick: Yes, at once. It's not that Skrzetuski is incompetent, but without Rzędzian - a Closer to Earth Combat Pragmatist, loyal to a fault and perfectly willing to go on a dangerous mission at a moment's notice - he wouldn't get much done, except suffering dramatically and fighting. At the same time, Rzędzian's attempts to tell his master about his exploits are hilariously rambling and he pays zero attention to the big, political picture, which makes him look rather foolish. Although...
  • The Cavalry: In an aversion of Deus ex Machina and possible deconstruction, Podbipięta and Skrzetuski have to go through a virtual suicide mission to call for it at the end of With Fire and Sword. Podbipięta actually does die, but Skrzetuski makes it.
  • Celibate Hero: Longinus Podbipięta, who is sworn to celibacy until he decapitates three enemies at once with his sword, as one of his forefathers did. Though with his sword it's technically possible.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: When it turns out Krzysia and Ketling have fallen in love (quite innocently), Wołodyjowski suddenly becomes one. Then he decides Ketling wasn't really at fault for falling in love, but it's Wołodyjowski's own rotten luck, and forgives him, which is a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: It's easy for a casual onlooker to get the impression that Zagłoba is a fat, aging drunk with a tendency to tell shaggy dog stories. That's because he is. Just don't get him mad or desperate...
  • The Cutie: Two of them: Anusia and Basia.
  • Darker and Edgier: The third book, Pan Wołodyjowski
  • Dark Chick: Horpyna is a witch, so it's more or less her job. She also gives Helena relationship advice, of sorts.
  • Damsel in Distress: Helena, Aleksandra and Basia each get kidnapped in their respective books. Basia rescues herself, but the other two don't - Helena is terrified out of her wits by her kidnapper, while Aleksandra's hands are tied by politics and being outnumbered. She's a (thoroughly polite) Defiant Captive, though, and attempts to escape at least once.
  • Downer Ending: Wołodyjowski's fate at the end of the third book
  • The Dragon: Horpyna has a dwarf, Czeremis as her dragon. She herself is sort of The Dragon for Bohun.
  • Duel to the Death: Played straight in With Fire and Sword with Wołodyjowski and Bohun, until we learn Bohun survived.
  • Too Dumb to Fool: Roch Kowalski. Zagłoba still manages to confuse him into submission.
  • Expy: Jan Zagłoba bears more than a passing resemblence to Falstaff when he first shows up. And then, he comes into his own.
  • Fate Worse than Death: You would not want to be captured by the Turks in the 17th Century, especially if you were a woman.
  • Father to His Men: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki, particularly to Skrzetuski.
  • Five-Man Band: With Fire And Sword, characters form one:
  • Flynning: Subverted. Wołodyjowski's duel with Kmicic shows actual skill despite what it looks like to an untrained eye. Since Kmicic is no match for Wołodyjowski, the later keeps humiliating him by easily parrying all attacks and in the process turning their fight into elaborate flynning.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: In With Fire and Sword, Jan is choleric, Zagloba is sanguine, Longinus is phlegmatic, and Michal is melancholy.
  • Gentle Giant: Podbipięta
  • Get It Over With: Kmicic, when his duel against Wołodyjowski turns out to be a Curbstomp Battle, begs his opponent to spare him the humiliation. It's probably the most famous Memetic Mutation from the whole Trilogy.
  • Gilded Cage: Bohun spared no expense to gild Helena's cage and she's still afraid of him. Bohun (and Horpyna) thinks she'll get over it with time.
  • Good Shepherd: Augustyn Kordecki, the abbott of Częstochowa and a veritable saint as well as skilled administrator.
  • The Good King: Jan II Kazimierz, depression notwithstanding. He hasn't got very good PR, though, which is historically accurate - his latin initials ICR (Ioannes Casimirus Rex) have been interpreted as Initium Calamitatis Regni (starting of kingdom's doom). Jan Sobieski, who's not king yet, gets unambigously sympathetic portrayal.
  • Heartbroken Badass: Wołodyjowski, twice: after his first Love Interest, Anusia Borzobohata, dies, second when Basia, after the aforementioned trek through the wilderness, is at death's door. Also Skrzetuski, following his Heroic BSOD. And Adam Nowowiejski, permanently, after the loss of everyone he held dear.
  • Heel Realization: Andrzej Kmicic
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Kmicic at the end of Potop, because he's adopted a Nom de Guerre Babinicz for the duration of his Redemption Quest (because his own name had loads of bad rep attached - it had hints of a Meaningful Rename, too). Leading to the big reveal and restoration of his honour.
  • Heroic BSOD: Skrzetuski, when he finds Helena's house burned to the ground and thinks she has died.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Jeremi Wiśniowiecki; the man was so brutal that Sienkiewicz couldn't write around all the unsavory details in With Fire and Sword
    • Had To Be Sharp: Let's see you try keeping relative peace in XVII century steppe...
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Bogusław Radziwiłł in The Deluge. While his cousin Janusz manages to get a Redemption Through Death, Bogusław is so evil that it's not hard to imagine him twirling his mustache in sinister ways.
  • Honor Before Reason: Several characters who take any sort of vows, take them very seriously, which puts some of them in unwinnable situations.
    • An interesting example occurs in With Fire and Sword, when one of the armies switches sides during the war and a unit that remains loyal is forced into a Last Stand. Ironically, its a mercenary unit — the commander calmly informs his enemies that he will gladly switch to their side but only after his current contract has expired.
    • Wołodyjowski and Ketling choose to die rather than break a vow to not let the Turks in the fortress.
  • Hordes from the East: The Tatars.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Used (historically) as a form of death penalty — many mooks and several named characters dies this way.
  • Implausible Fencing Powers: So, you're facing Wolodyjowski? Not wearing any Plot Armor? Can I have your boots?
  • Inspired By: Apparently, there was a real Jerzy Michał Wołodyjowski once, who died at Kamieniec Podolski in 1672. Sienkiewicz took these facts and wrote the whole trilogy around them.
  • Inscrutable Oriental: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz (being a Tatar).
  • Impoverished Patrician: Helena and her family.
  • Karma Houdini: Bogusław Radziwiłł
  • Kick the Son of a Bitch: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz's execution is extremely brutal and written in the most graphic detail, but whatever sympathy the reader had for him is long gone by the time it happens.
  • King Incognito: In Potop Jan II Kazimierz goes kind of missing. Turns out he was fleeing the country out of sheer dejection over what's happening. Kmicic rescues him from bandits and convinces his majesty to come back.
  • Lady-In-Waiting: Part of the background whenever the protagonists visit any sort of court, notably Anusia Borzobohata.
  • La RÚsistance: The Poles and Lithuanians rise up against the Swedes in Potop. Also, from a different point of view, Khmelnytsky's rebellion might be counted as this.
  • Last of His Kind: Podbipięta is the last of his clan.
  • Living MacGuffin: Helena is really only important as a motivation for Skrzetuski and Bohun (and Zagłoba, who treats her like a daughter).
  • Long Hair Is Feminine: Which is why Helena's has to be cut during her and Zagłoba's escape, in order to dress her up as a boy. They're both reluctant to do it.
  • Love at First Sight: Jan Skrzetuski and Helena Kurcewiczˇwna, Andrzej Kmicic and Alexandra Billewiczˇwna. Subverted in the third book with Wołodyjowski and Basia.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Bohun's fallen for Helena, head over heels. By hard work and befriending her relatives, he was promised her hand (but this is not treated very seriously by anyone but him, driving Bohun over the edge somewhat). Also, Azja.
  • Love Potion: Horpyna the witch claims to be able to make these, but she tells Bohun that they won't help him with Helena because if you give one to someone already in love with someone else, all that happens is that the existing love becomes even stronger.
  • Master Swordsman: Wołodyjowski. Also, every other hero, and good chunk of the supporting cast. It's 17th century Poland, people.
  • Maiden Aunt: Wołodyjowski's older sister is a widow, but she acts as one towards Krzysia nad Basia, fussing over them and trying to find them husbands.
  • Not-So-Harmless Villain: Bogusław Radziwiłł. The book informs us about his fighting competence. But in the movie, this info never shows up, making him look like an effeminate spoiled nobleman... until he manages to shoot his would-be kidnapper with his own gun.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Jan Skrzetuski rescues a random man from brigands. The random man promptly turns out to be Bohdan Khmelnytsky, and goes on to organize a rebellion of Cossacs. No Good Deed Goes Unpunished.
  • Not Evil, Just Misunderstood: Bohun is actually a rather sad character.
  • Patient Childhood Love Interest: In the third book, everybody knows Azja is one for Ewa, only stopped by Parental Marriage Veto. Except he got over her a long time ago.
  • Perfectly Arranged Marriage: Andrzej Kmicic and Aleksandra Billewiczˇwna
  • Poles With Lances
  • Politically Correct History: In the film version of The Deluge, released in Soviet-dominated Poland in 1974, not one mention is made of the Russians, who were at war with Poland in the original novel and in Real Life.
    • Well, duh. The original novel did not mention Russians at all, since it was written in Russian-dominated Poland.
    • There're definitely Russians in The Deluge. Kmicic was fighting them in Smolensk.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Everybody!
  • Proper Lady: All the main love interests: Helena, Aleksandra, Krzysia who turns out a Romantic False Lead, but still. Also the wife of Jeremi Wiśniowiecki and the queen.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Even a slightest suggestion of trying to force himself on a lady is a sure sign of a major villain.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Janusz Radziwiłł
  • Redemption Quest: Kmicic undertakes one (to go to Częstochowa and prevent its taking by the Swedes), leading him into many opportunities for Character Development and almost single-handedly turning the course of the war.
  • Reed Snorkel: Near the end of With Fire and Sword.
  • Resentful Guardian: Helen's aunt is a very strict lady who doesn't like her charge very much.
  • Serial Romeo: Wołodyjowski used to fall in love all the time, with all the seriousness usually displayed by an adolescent jackdaw, but by the third book, he's really given up (see Heartbroken Badass). Then Krzysia appears...
  • Shown Their Work: Sienkiewicz did an incredible amount of research when writing his novels, delving into memoirs and chronicles of the time, even shaping the dialogue to resemble 17th-century Polish rather than its 19th-century successor, though he fell short of that mark. He did, however, sometimes fudge historical accuracy in favor of epic plots and heroism, and the fact that he modelled the Ukranian steppe on the American West, even borrowing some stuff on Native Americans for his Cossacks rather than actually look into the Ukranian side of the story, might count as a Critical Research Failure.
  • Smug Snake: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz
    • Also, Bogusław Radziwiłł who, despite a Badass act of shooting a man with his own gun, blows his opportunity to make northern Poland into his family's own personal duchy, just so he can try—and fail—to get Aleksandra.
  • The Siege: Zbarajh in With Fire and Sword, Jasna Gora in The Deluge, Kamieniec Podolski in Pan Wołodyjowski.
  • Taking the Veil: Wolodyjowski, almost, after the first of his heartbreaks. Also Krzysia, when she becomes a part of the Love Triangle with Wołodyjowski and Ketling finds this an honourable third option. Aleksandra's grandfather has left this route open for her if she, for whatever reason, doesn't want to marry Kmicic.
  • The Tease: Anusia loves being adored. Being very, very cute, she has no trouble fulfilling this need.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Basia and Krzysia, respectively, in Pan Wołodyjowski. Basia remains a complete cutie, though, while Krzysia is more ladylike. Aleksandra and Anusia have similar, Elegant, Proper Elder Sister and Cutesy, Impulsive Little Sister sort of dynamics whan they meet.
  • The Trickster: Zagłoba. Witty comments, zany schemes that get him in trouble as often as out, once escaped captivity using nothing but Insane Troll Logic...
  • Women Are Delicate: Helena, Krzysia and Ewa are (which is part of their appeal), but living in the borderlands takes guts. So, even if Basia is the only girl who learns to fence in the Trilogy, messing with a XVII century polish noblewomen (or even sufficiently determined peasant women) was not to be undertaken lightly.
  • Wrong Side All Along: It takes Kmicic considerable time and distance from the Radziwill cousins to realise this.

Return from the StarsPolish MediaShaman of the Undead
Trilby 19 th Century LiteratureThe Turn of the Screw
ShirleyHistorical Fiction LiteratureSimona Ahrnstedt
Shaman of the UndeadNon-English LiteratureSolaris

alternative title(s): Sienkiewicz Trilogy
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