The Firebird

The Firebird

Synopsis of folktale by Yvonne Healy. ©Yvonne Healy 2004. All rights reserved.
Bare Bones for Storytellers: Russia, Volume II, Story-Lovers, CA 2004.

This version is inspired by the music of Igor Stravinsky, choreography of George Ballanchine, choreography of James Kudelka and folk art by an anonymous crafter purchased in 1998 at Moscow’s Izmailovsky Market. Other versions of the folktale predate these works.


The son of the Tsar is forbidden as a child to enter the dark forest beside the palace. Prince Ivan overhears servants regaling each other with tales of a wonderful treasure hidden deep in the forest. As soon as he grows old enough to order his guards away, Prince Ivan enters the forest.

Dark & darker it grows until Prince Ivan sees the shadow of a man. The Prince calls but hears no answer. When Prince Ivan moves closer, he realizes the man is a stone statue. The statue is incredibly lifelike; the figure is caught in the moment of patting a dog.

The Prince travels further into the forest where he spies more statues. As the darkness deepens, Prince Ivan feels overwhelming dread and fear. Suddenly brilliant light appears in the darkness. A beautiful shining bird flies over the Prince’s head. Ivan feels lighter and joyful. He moves again with ease.

Prince Ivan captures the Firebird in his strong arms. The Firebird struggles with all her might but collapses exhausted as the Prince holds her. The beautiful Firebird begs the Prince to free her. Prince Ivan releases the Firebird. In return, the Firebird gives Prince Ivan one of her brilliant feathers.

“Use this to summon my help in your moment of direst need.” Firebird says as she flies away.
Prince Ivan again journeys into the center of the forest. He discovers more statues of men. Behind them looms the great shadowy wall of the Castle Dread.

Suddenly beautiful music and light appear in the darkness. Maidens dance through a gate in the castle wall and gather in the forest. Prince Ivan hides behind a tree watching the maidens dance. Ivan falls in love with the most beautiful maiden, Elena, who wears the crown of a princess.
Overcome by love, Prince Ivan comes out from behind his tree and joins in the dance. Princess Elena falls in love with the Prince.

Unexpectedly, the earth begins to shake and quake. A horrible noise is heard. The Princess urges Prince Ivan to flee from the horrible ogre and sorcerer, Koshchei, owner of the Castle Dread. They reveal that they are his prisoners and that all of the statues are human men Koschei has turned to stone.

Prince Ivan refuses to flee. All are surrounded by shrieking, screaming goblins. The Prince attempts to protect Princess and maidens. But the goblins capture him and ensnare him with ropes. Then Koschei, the ogre, arrives and begins magically turning the Prince into stone. The Prince moves slower and slower. Each of his movements becomes more difficult as if his body is growing heavier and heavier.

When Prince Ivan can no longer move his legs, and one of his arms, he remembers the Firebird’s feather hidden in his pocket. Slowly he reaches for the feather and at last touches it.
Instantly the Firebird appears singing of light, beauty and love. Her magic song forces the goblins and ogre to dance faster and faster. At last the goblins dance themselves into a frenzy and collapse unconscious on the forest floor. Koschei, too, collapses. The sorcerer is paralyzed but conscious.
Prince Ivan raises his sword to kill the evildoer. The ogre laughs. “You cannot kill me,” Koschei sneers. “My heart does not lie in my body.”

Prince Ivan searches through the forest, seeking the hiding place of the ogre’s heart. With each failed attempt, the sorcerer regains more of his ability to move.

Finally, in a rotten twisted tree, the Prince finds a hole in the blackened trunk. Something within the hole emits an eerie glow. Prince Ivan realizes it is evil sorcerer’s heart. With great fortitude, the Prince overcomes his aversion to touching the slimy, revolting egg. He carries it back to hold over Koschei.

Prince Ivan squeezes the egg which holds horrible heart. Koschei dies. All the goblins and all the shadows disappear. A breeze moves the leaves of the trees. Sunlight returns to the forest. As light touches the statues, the men return to life.

The Prince and Princess lead the maidens and men out of the forest. They return to Prince Ivan’s castle where they all marry and live happily ever after.

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