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Literature / Viy

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"Viy" is a hair-raising Gothic Horror novella, written in 1835 by Russian-Ukrainian writer Nikolai Gogol and published in his short-story collection "Mirgorod". It is one of the author's best-known works.

The novella opens in Kiev, when the students of local seminaries are leaving for summer vacations. Three of them, a philosopher, a theologian and a demagogue, trail off the road, get lost in the middle of nowhere and stumble upon a small farm. There they meet an ugly old woman, who reluctantly allows them to spend the night inside, but in different parts of the farm.

In the middle of the night one of the students, the philosopher Khoma Brutus, receives a visit from the old crone. Initially he interprets his hostess' intentions as a come-on. Afterwards (and too late), Khoma realizes the old woman is a Wicked Witch. The witch (literally) mounts Khoma and forces him to carry her through the night around the countryside. Khoma manages to break the crone's influence by praying and then giving her a good ass-kicking. To his horror, the old witch transforms into a heavenly beautiful young girl. Scared out of his wits, Khoma runs back to Kiev and tries to forget the whole adventure.

But the next day a group of cossacks arrive. The rector of the seminary tells Khoma that the daughter of a wealthy old cossack lieutenant had recently returned home from a journey all beaten up and is currently on her deathbed. Thinking she'll die soon, the young lady told her father to send his men to Kiev after philosopher Khoma Brutus, who has to read prayers for her sinful soul for three nights in a row. Sensing this is not going to end well, Khoma attempts to talk himself out of it, but the rector threatens the philosopher with a severe punishment since he's been bribed.

The cossacks transport Khoma to a small village right before the pannochka (how the witch is always referred to, meaning "young lady/mistress" in Ukrainian) dies. The old lieutenant orders Khoma to read prayers over his daughter's corpse, just as she wished upon deathbed. If he does so, the cossack promises to have his efforts handsomely rewarded. The catch is that Khoma must perform praying rituals at night, while being locked inside a creepy old church with the body, which (surprise) is the sorceress that he inadvertently killed. Now Khoma must gather all of his courage, as the young witch is not going quietly, and hell-bent on avenging her death. There are three nights awaiting the philosopher, at the end of which he may meet something far more terrible and dangerous than the evil pannochka: a whole army of evil spirits from the Underworld along with their leader — Viy.

Gogol's novella had (and still has) enormous influence in Russia, but this influence is hardly limited to her borders. The 1909 movie adaptation is a Lost Film, considered by historians to be the first Russian horror movie. The most famous (and faithful) cinematic adaptation was made in the USSR in 1967, featuring Leonid Kuravlyov as Khoma and Natalia Varley as the witch; it is now considered to be the greatest Soviet horror film (not that there were many). Other adaptations include a 1990 Serbian film called "Sveto mesto", a 1996 Ukrainian cartoon and a 2006 Russian Setting Update adaptation called "The Witch". In 2014 came another Russian "Viy" flick (internationally known as Forbidden Empire, and in the UK as Forbidden Kingdom), which served as a direct sequel to Gogol's original story and uses a Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane approach towards its events. Mario Bava's 1960 film Black Sunday is said to be an adaptation of "Viy", though it's a very loose description. Some also argue that the plot of From Dusk Till Dawn bears more than a passing resemblance to "Viy". Viy makes an appearance in the mobile game Fate/Grand Order as a shadowy being at the beck and call of Grand Duchess Anastasia, who is something of a Composite Character with this story's witch, as Viy took revenge on the soldiers who killed Anastasia through the same methods it used to torment Khoma.

The novella provides examples of:

  • Ambiguous Time Period: It is never revealed when exactly the action takes place, although considering the fact that cossacks are running around and from some minor remarks it can be narrowed down from mid to late-18th century.
  • Animorphism: The pannochka was said to be able to transform into a black dog.
  • Badass Preacher: Downplayed. Khoma is definitely no hero material, nor does he see any serious action, but the way he reacts to the dark forces' antics (with drinking and dancing) can put him into this section.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Khoma dies, most likely being unable to battle with the forces of evil solely armed with his faith and willpower (of which he has little). On the other hand, the witch and the demons get defeated, though it is ambiguous whether Khoma's praying actually helped the pannochka's sinful soul.
  • Child Eater: In one of the stories told to Khoma the pannochka sucked an infant baby's blood.
  • Closed Circle: Khoma is trapped in the village, as the lieutenant wants him to finish the prayers, undead witches or not, and his cossack servants will do whatever it takes to ensure Khoma doesn't get away far.
  • Corrupt Church: Seminary students are depicted as being stupid, lazy and lecherous — basically old versions of Fratbros. The Reverend rector of the seminary is suggested to be so insistent upon Khoma traveling to read the prayers because the pannochka's father bribed him with gifts. Khoma himself is hardly a paradigm of a good Christian man, possibly having little actual faith.
  • Cue the Sun: The rooster's crying, which saves Khoma at the end of each night, signifies the raising sun. In Slavic (and many other folkloric traditions) the forces of evil and "unholy powers" are associated with the dark of the night, which makes the sun their mortal enemy. It is said that witches, vampires and evil spirits must hide before the third cry of the rooster, or they'll be in much trouble, as the novella's ending showed.
  • Daddy's Girl: the pannochka's mother is never mentioned, and, most likely, is dead. It seems like her father loved the daughter dearly- her death put him into deep depression and he holds her deathbed wish in the most high esteem. So high that he won't hestitate to finish Khoma off in case the seminarian refuses to read the prayers. It is also suggested the lieutenant knows his daughter is a witch, explaining why he wants to save her soul so strongly.
  • Deadly Gaze: Could be an aversion. Khoma dies not because he looks into Viy's eyes, but because this makes the other demons see him and attack him. It is suggested that the Viy is the representation of fear, which, once a human allows it to enter the soul, destroys the mentioned human from inside.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Viy is said to speak in a "subterranean voice".
  • Game Face: Something of a Subversion, as the old hag's true form is that of a beautiful young lady. It reaches a Double Subversion in the 1967 adaptation, where the witch turns into her old form after she and her demon minions miss the rooster's third cry and, as the result, sunrise.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Khoma manages to save himself from the grips of the witch by praying. When he draws an enchanted circle just as one old monk taught him, the witch is unable to cross the line. Strangely enough, the witch and the demons are completely free to roam the premises of the church, though it is supposed to be a sacred ground.
  • Hot Witch: The pannochka in her true form is stated to be hauntingly beautiful.
  • Idiot Ball: Khoma just couldn't resist the temptation of NOT looking into the Viy's eyes, though he fully realized that was a bad idea.
  • Inn of No Return: The sorceress' farmstead serves as this to Khoma, though, strangely, not his companions. The latter may be because Khoma managed to subdue her before she could do any harm.
  • The Legions of Hell: What the monsters, gathered in the church on the third night, most likely are.
  • Liquid Courage: Khoma gets severely drunk every time he has to go to the sinister church and pray over the witch. Not that it helps him very much, especially on the third night.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • "Khoma" is a Slavic transliteration of Latin name Thomas, which alludes to being a Doubting Thomas. Khoma's most defined characteristic is his lack of true Christian faith, which doesn't help him very much through the adventure.
    • Theologian Khaliava's name can roughly be translated as "free stuff". Khaliava is described as being a pathological, if harmless, cleptomaniac.
    • The name of demagogue Gorobets means "sparrow" in Ukrainian, which, combined with first name "Tiberius" creates a comical effect as well as alludes to the student's youth.
    • Viy's name most certainly comes from a Ukrainian word "viya", which means "eyelash". The creature is said to have enormous eyelids and long lashes, which reach the ground.
  • No Name Given: We never learn the names of neither the pannochka nor her father. In at least one adaptation the former's name is "Katerina".
  • Ominous Knocking: On the second night, the Witch, rising from her coffin, starts chanting magical spells and Khoma hears sinister noise- something surrounds the church and is beating and scratching at its door and windows.
  • Our Demons Are Different: From those small bits of description we get, the monsters gathered by the witch sure can give Lovecraft a run for his money. Then there is Viy, who is a humanoid figure made out of metal and tree roots, and whose eyelids reach the ground.
  • Prematurely Grey-Haired: Young philosopher Khoma gets permanently grey hair after the second night of praying and all the horror he was unfortunate to witness.
  • Rule of Three: There are three students at the beginning (Khoma, Khalyava, Gorobets), three cossack servants of the lieutenant (Yavtukh, Spirid, Dorosh), three nights Khoma must spend reading prayers and three cries of the rooster, which scare the evil spirits away. Khoma is also told three scary stories about the pannochka when she was still alive and full in her sorcerous glory.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: when Khoma makes an unsuccessful attempt to escape from the village before the third night he quickly gets tracked down and taken back by an old cossack Yavtukh. Apparently he managed to find Khoma solely from the shreds of the robe, which philosopher left on the thorn bush while running.
  • Spooky Animal Sounds: When Khoma goes to the church on the fateful third night the air is filled with loud howling. One of his companions notes that this howling does not belong to a wolf, and that "something else must be making the sound".
  • Stay on the Path: The students' troubles begin when they lose the track of the road under their feet.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Both the rector and the lieutenant threaten Khoma with this. The former simply regards it as a school penalty. The latter strongly implies Khoma won't survive after "his lads"(cossacks) perform the act.
  • The Undead: The pannochka, a witch, rises from her coffin every night and tries to attack Khoma. The oopyrs and vurdalaks are quiet likely to be among the monsters that gather in the church on the third night.
  • The Vamp: The pannochka when she was alive. Both figuratively and literally it seems...
  • Wicked Witch: The pannochka, of course. After Baba Yaga she is, arguably, a Trope Codifier for the Russian-speaking audience.

Alternative Title(s): The Viy