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Literature / Ruslan and Ludmila

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Illustration by Ivan Bilibin

Ruslan and Ludmila is an epic poem by Alexander Pushkin, first published in 1820 when the author was only twenty years old.

It started as an Affectionate Parody of Vasily Zhukovsky's The Twelve Sleeping Maidens but ended up overshadowing it. Though the initial reception was pretty mixed and Pushkin himself was later critical of the poem, it has aged well, getting adapted to the stage and screen, and the prologue is considered one of Pushkin's most iconic works.

The overall plot of the poem is fairly simple: Ludmila, the daughter of Prince Vladimir of Kiev, is kidnapped on her wedding night by the evil wizard Chernomor, and her beloved bridegroom Ruslan sets off to rescue her. However, there is quite a lot of subplots, particularly since Ludmila has three more suitors who jump at a chance to rescue and win her after all.

The poem features the following tropes:

  • Bald of Evil: Chernomor is very evil and very bald.
  • Beard of Evil: Chernomor's beard can be the most triumphant example, as his magical power is actually in his very long beard.
  • Combat Breakdown: The aftermath of Rogday and Ruslan's battle. Good thing there was a battlefield full of loot nearby.
  • Create Your Own Villain: Finn puts a love spell on Naina only to dump her. Enraged and vengeful, she plots against Ruslan simply because Finn is aiding him.
  • Creepy High-Pitched Voice: Naina the witch is mentioned to have a "squeaky" voice.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: When he describes his pirate life, Finn mentions that he held feasts of friendship with the people he defeated.
  • Defiant Captive: Ludmila successfully trolls Chernomor and his servants during her time in captivity. It's partly thanks to Chernomor being so Laughably Evil that she can't get properly scared.
  • Dirty Coward: Farlaf is such a weakling that he quickly returns home after Naina assures him of her help in getting Ludmila.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Ratmir hurries to save Ludmila, until he sees a palace with twelve lovely sirens calling for him and promptly forgets where he was going.
  • Dress Hits Floor: In a description of a wedding night it says "On carpets of Byzantine splendour / The jealous covers fall" (падут ревнивые одежды на цареградские ковры).
  • Dude, She's Like in a Coma: Discussed when Ruslan is taking Ludmila home while she is in an enchanted sleep. Pushkin states that the narrator insisted Ruslan behaved honorably, and he believes that. Later, she is snatched by another guy who brings her home... not so clear about him, but considering he was in a hurry, it is entirely possible he behaved himself.
  • Easily Forgiven: Chernomor and Farlaf, despite their numerous crimes, are fully forgiven in the end amidst the general rejoicing.
  • Engagement Challenge: Prince Vladimir announces that whoever rescues Ludmila will get her hand in marriage.
  • Evil Sorcerer: Chernomor is a powerful wizard who kidnaps the Princess of Kiev.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: Subverted. Finn spends ten years as a pirate and brings Naina a magnificent hoard of treasure, and she coldly says "Hero, I don't love you!"
  • Happily Ever After: Even the Big Bad lives happily ever after.
  • Happily Married: The titular couple are already that in the beginning of the story, but since Chernomor kidnaps Ludmila in the beginning of the wedding night, the marriage can still be declared void.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Naina, an ugly old woman, used to be famous for her beauty. However, she doesn't seem to regret its loss too much, as she now has her magic powers instead.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: It is emphasized that despite all his powers, Chernomor is quite incapable of taking advantage of Ludmila.
  • Love at First Sight: Finn fell madly in love with Naina the first time he saw her and spent fifty years trying to win her love. Deconstructed, as he really saw nothing in her except her beauty.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Ludmila has five people vying for her hand ľ Ruslan (the lucky one), Ratmir, Rogday, Farlaf and Chernomor. Additionally, Ratmir is seduced by twelve sirens whom he ultimately spurns when he falls in love with a shepherdess.
  • Magic Hair: Chernomor's very long Wizard Beard is where his entire power is hidden.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Ruslan's villainous rivals are eager to get him out of the way.
    • Rogday attempts it, only to be killed by Ruslan himself.
    • Farlaf succeeds in it (while Ruslan is asleep), but Finn comes to the rescue and resurrects Ruslan.
  • Name and Name: "Ruslan" and "Ludmila".
  • Our Dwarves Are All the Same: averted with Chernomor. "Karla" was the standard Russian word for a fantasy dwarf before there was Tolkien. Chernomor is a wizard (a very non-standard class for a dwarf) as well as evil (a quite non-standard alignment for a dwarf).
  • Parody Displacement: Ruslan and Ludmila contain large parts that invoked referencing to and parodying Vasiliy Zhukovsky's ballad "The Twelve Sleeping Maidens" (Zhukovsky, apparently, loved the parody). One guess which is better known today.
  • Riches to Rags: Happens by the character's own wish. Khan Ratmir leaves his title and riches behind and chooses to live as a simple fisherman.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Whenever the scene gets too erotic for the 19th-century audience's liking, the Lemony Narrator suddenly decides to talk about something else.
  • Stealth Parody: Of chivalric romances and narrative poems.
  • Tiny Guy, Huge Girl: Attempted by the dwarf Chernomor with Ludmila. It's mentioned it's not the first time he tried to hit on human women.
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: Finn spent fifty years desperately pining after the gorgeous Naina, until, after finally casting a love spell over her, he discovered that she is no longer gorgeous.
  • Uptown Girl: Khan Ratmir ultimately falls in love with a shepherdess.
  • Villainous Valour: Rogday is one of Kiev's greatest and bravest fighters, but he is also insanely jealous after losing Ludmila to Ruslan.
  • Woman Scorned: Naina was spurned by Finn (after he himself cast a love spell over her), and she is absolutely furious and bent on revenge. She supports Farlaf just because the latter is the rival of Ruslan, who is helped by Finn.