I’ve always had a soft spot for eastern European folklore and mythology. I grew up on Norse and Greek myths, and later Egyptian and Celtic. But Slavic myths were harder to stumble upon (when I was young and you had to look in books at the library), so references to Baba Yaga and the original vampires were quite tantalizing.
Now I’ve read much more and discovered much more, and it only gets better and weirder. Koshchei is a wonderfully bizarre character, a traditional Russian villain known for his immortality and penchant for stealing young women from their lovers. While various tales differ, the main constant is that he has ensured his immortality by hiding his soul in an egg, which is inside various creatures and objects. The hero must then find his soul in order to defeat him.
But we’re not here for that today. Today we’re talking about the Hellboy story of Koshchei the Deathless. The character of Koshchei has appeared in Hellboy stories before, but in this standalone volume, Koshchei and Hellboy are sharing a friendly drink in Hell and Koshchei is sadly recounting the tragedies of his life, the loss of his friends and adoptive parents, and his enslavement to Baba Yaga.
In this telling, Koshchei was a man with relentless ambition who ensured his immortality and then found himself under the command of the great witch Baba Yaga, who had her own vendetta against Hellboy. Eventually she agrees to release Koshchei if he slays the last dragons, which he agrees to do in order to safeguard the world. But after solving obscure riddles, finding strange allies, and defeating terrible monsters, he finds himself no more free, no more enlightened, and ever more despairing of his strange and twisted existence.
It’s the quintessential type of Hellboy story that I love, dark and sad, a quiet little story about witches and dragons, love and loss, magic and family. I find it captivating, reading about monsters that are sad and introspective, fading from the world, losing their identity and purpose.