Friends in Life and Death in Belarusian, Russian and Estonian Folklore


Keywords: life after death, categories of time, travels in the land of the dead, religious tales

The article presents a comparative historical analysis of fairy tales of the Friends in Life and Death (ATU/SUS 470) plot type, their features and distribution among Belarusians, Russians and Estonians. In the Estonian and Belarusian material, stories of this type are in some cases contaminated with the ATU 470A and 471A types.

We examine differences in the flow of time in the real world and other worlds, and consider the features of the chronotope of fairy tales and the organization of artistic space within them, as well as ways of transition and communication between the worlds.

According to the most common plot of ATU/SUS 470 fairy tales, two friends promise to be guests at each other’s weddings. One of them dies and the living friend invites the dead one to his wedding; however, after receiving a counter-invitation, he finds himself in another world. There he either travels with the deceased friend through his world, where he sees various curiosities and paradoxes, or celebrates at the wedding of the deceased friend. It seems to the living person that he spent several hours with the deceased friend (or with his brother or father in some Estonian versions), but when he returns to his own world, he discovers that decades or centuries have passed on Earth. Most often, after this discovery, the hero dies and turns to dust, but there are some rare Estonian versions where he miraculously restores ­himself and his bride to their original state (and age), after which they get married again.


Alena Boganeva (b. 1964), PhD, Yakub Kolas Institute of Linguistics of the Center for the Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature Research of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus, Head of the Department of Ethnolinguistics (Surhanava 1, Corpus 2, 220072 Minsk, Belarus), elboganeva@gmail.com

Mare Kõiva (b. 1954), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Lead Research Fellow of the Department of Folkloristics, acting head of the Centre of Excellence in Estonian ­Studies (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu), mare@folklore.ee