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1001 The Firebird 2
Added on 23rd August 2020

Oral tradition Russian folktale

Tsarevitch Ivan must capture the firebird who is stealing his father's golden apples.


Prince Ivan’s father, the King, sets him and his two brothers the task of capturing the Firebird that has been stealing the golden apples from his orchard. To have any hope of success Ivan needs the help of a friendly wolf, a horse with a golden mane and a beautiful princess and even then his troublesome brothers continue to cause him grief…

Why we chose it

A story of magic and courage, made famous around the world by Stravinsky’s ballet.

Where it came from

A story told orally and passed down the generations, The Firebird was first written down by Alexander Afanasyev in Russian Fairy Tales (1855-64)

During the nineteenth century, when Alexander Afanasyev was collecting his stories, folktales were categorised in order to track where they came from. This tale could fit into the category of ‘skazka o zhivotnykh’ - a tale where the animals in the story are given human qualities in order to help the hero.

Where it went next

This story was adapted into a ballet by the composer Igot Stravinsky and choreographer Michel Fokine. In the ballet Prince Ivan tries to kill the Firebird but spares it and in return the bird helps Ivan free thirteen princesses. The ballet launched Stravinsky’s career, and he continued to make other famous ballets like The Rite of Spring (1913).

Associated stories

This tale inspired another Russian story, The Humpbacked Horse by Pyotr Pavlovich Yershov, however, this version of the story was banned in the mid nineteenth century as it made the Tsar seem silly. There are other Slavic folktales that include a Firebird; one is where a talented embroider is turned into a Firebird by an evil sorcerer who is jealous. Another describes the trouble an archer and his horse go through in order to capture a Firebird.

Added on 23rd August 2020

Oral tradition Russian folktale