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:
Action Girl: Basia from Pan Wołodyjowski is as action girl as a 17th century woman in a 19th century book can get.
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.
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.
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.
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 heathens at once with his sword, as one of his forefathers did. Though with his sword it's technically possible.
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.
Honor Before Reason: Several characters take any vows they make 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.
Kick the Son of a Bitch: Azja Tuhaj-Bejowicz's execution is extremely brutal and written in the most graphic detail, but whatever any sympathy the reader had for him is long gone by the time it happens.
Not-So-Harmless Villain: Bogusław Radziwiłł. In the book we are informed that he is a competent fighter. But in the movie, this info doesn't show up, making him look like an effeminate spoiled nobleman... until he manages to shoot his would-be kidnapper with his own gun.
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.
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 thought model the Ukranian steppe on the American West, even modelling the Cossacks on Native Americans rather than actually looking into the Ukranian side of the story, might count as a Critical Research Failure.
Also, Bogusław Radziwiłł who, despite his Badass act of shooting a man with his own gun, blows his opportunity to make northern Poland into his family's own personal demesne, just so he can try—and fail—to make it with the heroine.
The Siege: Zbarajh in With Fire and Sword, Jasna Gora in The Deluge, Kamieniec Podolski in Pan Wołodyjowski.