When the Twin Brothers Rama and I were kids, we used to have an LP recording of some very disturbing Lithuanian folk tales. Not only were they read by a woman who sounded like the evil stepmother herself, but the stories always seemed to involve orphaned children, wolves or dragons, and someone who narrowly missed getting skinned alive.
Many of these tales also featured some variation of a sister with numerous brothers, and the sister was always being abandoned or getting herself into a pickle from which the brothers had to save her. One classic example is the story of “Devyni?brol?,” which literally translates to “Sister of Nine Brothers.”
That’s right, folks. The girl didn’t have a proper name, except in relation to the men in her life.
Anyway, one day Sister of Nine Brothers got married and went to live with her husband. But man, did she miss those brothers, who were probably subsisting on Spaghetti-os straight out of the can and wearing the same pair of pants as the day she had left them. So after obtaining permission from her husband, she rounded up nine skeins of linen from which she planned to make each brother a shirt, baked exactly nine buns, and set off for a visit.
But on the way she was intercepted by a NINE HEADED DRAGON, who upended her carriage and ate her horse and forced her up a tree. Sister of Nine Brothers pelted the nine headed dragon with her skeins of linen and her freshly baked buns, but to no avail. The dragon kept gnawing on the tree trunk and chanting that he was going to kill her.
Specifically, he said, “Devyni?brole! Devyni?brole! Aš tave pjausiu!” (Sister of Nine Brothers! Sister of Nine Brothers! I am going to slaughter you!”)
Helpless and afraid, the sister sent a message to the brothers via a cuckoo bird who happened to be nearby. Unfortunately, the brothers didn’t understand what the bird was trying to tell them even though it delivered some pretty explicit tweets. Each brother in turn told the cuckoo bird to scram, until finally Sister of Nine Bothers removed her wedding ring and sent it along as a last-ditch attempt to get through to them. This third and final time (a charm!) the cuckoo bird also mentioned that the dragon was seriously almost finished chewing through the tree trunk.
Well that got the brothers’ attention. They arrived to save their sister just as the nine-headed dragon was about to pounce.
This story has always stayed with me, and not just because of the terrifying nine-headed dragon. For example, what is up with the number nine? What is the significance of there being a nine-headed dragon to correspond to the nine brothers? Are they supposed to be opposites in the dichotomy of good and evil? Are they one and the same? Or was it simply that feelings were going to be hurt if each brother didn’t have a dragon head of his own to slay?
And how is it that the brothers didn’t “understand” the cuckoo bird’s message until the sister sent the wedding ring? I read one interpretation that suggested it meant the bros weren’t about to save sistah until she renounced the other man in her life and came home to them. (Insert emoticon of choice.)
Anyway, because of my fascination with this particular folk tale, I’ been wanting to do a linocut print depicting the nine-headed dragon scene for a long time, and I finally finished it!
. . . But in my interpretation, Sister of Nine Brothers happens to have exactly nine arrows and a bow with her, and she’s a very good shot.here) Subscribe to the blog. (It's free!)