Can Fairy Tales Save? A Lecture Given to St. Sophia Seminary

Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking to the seminarians at St. Sophia Ukrainian Orthodox Seminary. The talk, given via Skype, was a distillation of much of what I’ve been thinking about over the last year or so as I’ve begun to publish my novels. Here are some of the issues mentioned: What is the interplay between culture and Christianity? Why does a Christian have to have a poetic soul?…

Constantine the Great: Russia’s Secret Tsar

The problem of power and personality is one that has fascinated people from the beginning of history. We are going to through our own particular version of it right now in America. Everyone seems to be at war with the President and Congress. Then we have a strange, sometimes morbid, obsession with Vladimir Putin in Russia. I am fascinated by individuals in history who manage to reach an apex of power where…

The Rosetta Stone for Old Rus Was… a Piece of Birch Bark?

Have you read Evgenii Vodolazkin’s excellent novel Laurus? If you haven’t, you’ve deprived yourselves of a rare experience of serious, contemplative fiction in the grand tradition of Christian humanism. (See my review if you need an extra push). Those of you who read it will probably remember the main character’s most prized possession. It’s the thing that grounds him, that gives him meaning in a world of plague and chaos. Ultimately, it’s…

Mikhail Nesterov: Torn between Two Passions, Part II

Last week, we delved into the early life and work of Mikhail Nesterov , an artist who was, in many ways, a bridge. He bridged the 19th and 20th centuries, Tsarist and Soviet Russia, the traditional and the modern. This week, we continue exploring his art, in particular his attempts to portray explicitly biblical and iconographic topics. Two Passions Nesterov’s relationship with his parents was always full of trust. However, one time he…

Mikhail Nesterov: A Modern Artist with an Old Soul, Part I

The end of the 19th and turn of the 20th century was a period of rich cultural growth for Russia. As the empire expanded, the Russian soul turned inward. Artists, musicians, and writers were fascinated by their semi-legendary past, the age of Rus. This led to the growth of a new kind of culture—entirely Western in technique, but old Russian in inspiration. It also heralded the beginning of a short-lived, but brilliant, revival…

A Paragon of Wisdom? The Grotesque Brilliance of Ivan the Idiot

This week has been even more distressing than usual. And it’s been a pretty distressing year. Frequent terrorist attacks, a strange rise in nationalism, and the loss of any sort of civility in public and private discourse. And so much dourness. So much overwhelming seriousness. And yet, considering the disasters of past centuries, we seem to be living in a pretty good time. Russians especially know this, having experienced civil wars, bloody…

How to Become a Russian Epic Storyteller

Russian epic poetry (which is sung, not read) has produced some of the most memorable characters in world literature. Many of the scenes, episodes, and characters from these epic poems inspire my own writing. If you happen to notice something familiar in the characters or events of my novel The Song of the Sirin, that’s probably because you’ve read a Russian fairy tale or epic poem (called bylini in Russian). But maybe…

Thor and Prophet Elijah: a case of mistaken identity?

I’m pleased and honored to welcome you all to my new online home on the Ancient Faith blogging platform. I am Nicholas Kotar, and I write epic fantasy novels inspired by Russian fairy tales. For me, these fairy tales are fascinating in and of themselves. But they also come from a complex history and folk culture that most people have never heard of. I myself knew it only superficially. So I started…

The strange tale of how Napoleon’s soldiers became Cossacks

You know that scene in Godfather II where young Vito is given the last name “Corleone” by the American border guard, only because he’s from Corleone? Turns out that my own last name may have a similar kind of history. The story (a bit legendary) is that our Kotar ancestor was not a Kotar at all, but he was from Kotor (Montenegro). In the early 19th century, he had the unfortunate fate…

Don’t blame the Byzantines: Why does Russia have such problems?

One of the early readers of my first novel complained that I had too many adjectives in my writing. He was absolutely right; I was inordinately, extremely, excessively enamored of beautiful, excellent, fabulous adjectives (and, apparently, adverbs too). I have since purged many of them (poor things). But I have noticed a disturbing trend of denigrating adjectives, as if it would be enough to just “pick a more colorful noun.” I’m still…