Lyricised prose and its forms in film adaptations

Zuzana Michalovičová

In this brief reflection, we focus on film adaptations of literary works, where the selection is focused on three emblematic works of naturism:Tri gaštanové kone (Three Chestnut Horses), Drak sa vracia (Dragon’s Return) and Nevesta hôľ  (The Bride of the Mountains), whose film transformations belong to the highly acclaimed films in the history of Slovak cinematography. Our approach is simple and respects the autonomy of both the literary originals and film adaptations, i.e. in the case of each of the three films interpreted, we will first describe the literary work and then the interpretation of the film adaptation.

Three Chestnut Horses


The novella Three Chestnut Horses (1940) by Margita Figuli is characterised with its lyrical expression and ambiguity of meanings. The author made the village theme as something special under the influence of the artistic-literary naturist concept. Figuli uses the play of hidden meanings to intensify the charm of her storytelling. The fairytale tendency is fortified by the stylization of the narrative, especially statements of the protagonist, which he gives in an extensive, lyrically tuned sentences, with urgently repetitive words, offering a thumbnail sketch in the biblical style. The text is interwoven with allusions to the Bible, such as a paraphrase of The Hymn to Love ofthe Apostle Paul (1 COR. XIII.): “But I am not afraid of it, because my love is patient, my love is sacrificial, my love bears all things, believes all things and hopes all things.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 272) It includes folklore-magical symbols, the fairytale motif of the Good versus Evil conflict, bringing to the fore the biblical and numerical symbolism of the number 3 (number three representing the Holy Trinity, three chestnut horses as a sign of return, development of the syuzhet in a three-tier gradation). The symbolism of horses holds an important place in the lyrical stylisation. Horses appear in the first chapter as a symbol of strength and courage; in the second as a symbol of nobility; and in the third they are a symbol of loving life.

The author of the novella begins with an opening segment, from which the first sentence reads: “I do not desire the vanities of the world from the Lord, for riches, gains, and fame, with a momentary joy, ignite the heart of man, and I want my heart to be ignited with eternal joy.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 255) This text segment from Three Chestnut Horses, “pinpointed before the epic structure of the work as if its motto, surely was not a mere self-serving, ‘lyricizing’ linguistic-style element, but had primarily a function of an indicator of the basic semantic gesture with which the author approached the creation of her new, ‘aesthetic object’; at the same time it clearly pointed out the specific value context of the spiritual tradition in which Margita Figuli consciously placed this aesthetic object: the code of ethics of Christian religiosity and its source in the Bible.” (Šmatlák, 2007, p. 414) The work’s syuzhet is locked in the ideological framework of Christian worldview. “A fairy-tale novella – the récit Three Chestnut Horses returns to the harmonious postulates of truth, goodness and beauty, differentiated by an asymmetric element of personal tragedy that redeems the desired happiness.” (Čepan, 1984, p. 728) The work deals with a mythically serious and fateful test. The heroine’s name, Magdalena, already indicates her fate and allusion to the biblical figure. A fate that came to its true conclusion in the story. “Everything in this extensive novella, starting with the characterisation of the hero and ending with the naming, especially the comparisons, is marked by a tendency to hint – a stylistic element, adequately corresponding to the hero’s (and heroine’s) ability to respond internally according to moral principles.” (Števček, 1973, p. 158)

The narrator merges with the literary protagonist represented by Peter. Peter’s character is unconventional. He rebels against the customs of the village community, because he is not a farmer, but a “vagrant”, as the villagers call him. Figuli used a strong lyricisation procedure, namely a subjective statement that sounds like a confession and is characteristic of lyrical genres. The prose is monologised, linking all the motifs with the main character – the narrator.

Peter thinks of the girl Magdalena, whom he loves from an early age and wants to marry. The conflict of ideal and carnal love takes place on symbolic, fairytale planes. We can outline the novella’s syuzhet as follows. Peter is startled by a shot and deafening noise of hooves of the seven frightened horses galloping towards him. When the horses are crossing a stream, one slips and falls to the ground with its rider. Peter does not hesitate and runs to help. He recognises the rider who has fallen from a horse. He is Magdalena’s cousin Jožko Greguš. He tells Peter that Jano Zapotočný is going to Magdalena’s parents to ask for her hand in marriage; Peter doesn’t give away anything. “The bride theme is developed from a childishly ideal love in ‘Turec’, which becomes a mythical analogue of the ‘golden age’ and the ‘promised land’, through to the touch of erotic love in ‘Orava’, which in turn represents the outside world – reality. The intervention of reality manifested itself in the invasion of value criteria, favouring property and ownership.” (Šútovec, 2005, p. 59) Jožko guesses why Peter is returning to his hometown and tries to dissuade him from his intentions. When they finally arrive in the village where Magdalena lives, they immediately go to the Maliarik inn.

In contrast to Peter, the antagonist Jano Zápotočný is a rich man without a code of ethics who wants to win Magdalena into his possession in a violent and possessive manner. Magdalena and Peter are supposed to meet in the evening, but when Peter is waiting for her, he suddenly hears a scream from the stable and quickly runs there to see what is happening. He finds Magdalene lying under a horse, frees her, takes her home and revives her with wine, which in the biblical tradition represents the symbol of Christ’s blood. Angry Jano drives him from the house, takes a chance and asks Magdalena to marry him. During Midsummer’s night, Peter and Magdalene manage to sneak away. They agree that Peter will build a house and come to Magdalena with three chestnut horses. Magdalena promises to wait for him. Against the background of folklore tradition, known from folklore ceremonial poetry and customs, Midsummer’s night is a night of anticipation and decision-making about the future. However, Jano eavesdrops on their conversation from behind bushes and attacks Peter. Peter escapes him and returns to Turec to fulfil his promise. When he returns to Magdalena after more than a year, he learns the unfortunate news: “I have met now several people on this pilgrimage to my Magdalena, and all talked of pain, as if they conspired against me.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 333) The same time Magdalena and Peter made their promise, Jano raped her and she had to marry him. After returning to the village, Peter spots Magdalena in the field helping with ploughing. Jano is hitting the horse, even though he sees that the horse is tired and jeopardises Magdalena. Peter runs to them, knocks Jano over and carries Magdalena to the stream. Jano recovers consciousness and tries to kill Peter. Magdalena gets seriously ill, but Peter is not allowed to visit her at any cost. He stays in the village and hears Jano’s sister’s cry that her brother has gone crazy. He is branding one horse with the word “vagrant” on his hip, a gesture of hatred he feels against his rival Peter. Peter does not hesitate, breaks the window and gets to the yard, where he sees as Jano is getting ready to burn the horse’s eye. The horse goes blind and tears itself free from Magdalena’s hands, jumps on Jano who dies under the hooves of the maltreated horse. Eventually, nature turns out to be stronger than the tormentor. “God’s hand” serves love and punishes the antagonist. Three days later, Jano is buried.

At the end of the novella, Peter and Magdalena get married and leave together for Turec with three chestnut horses. “By going to ‘Turec’, the syuzhet of Three Chestnut Horses is culminated and exhausted in terms of its motif – though is not completed ideologically. The mentioned ceremonial act, which at the beginning of the work separated the profane past from the ‘sacred’ present, repeats itself in a minor scale in conclusion of the novella: the protagonist again asks for God’s help in the rest of his life, and the main thing he wants is to preserve status quo ante.” (Šútovec, 2005, p. 60) Let us recall Peter’s words at the end of the novella: “And I don’t wish for anything else, but that things stay between us unchanged forever. Let that what united us remain intact and sacred.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 60) These words are a parallel to the words at the beginning of the novella, where the requirement of “eternal joy” was formulated for the first time.


The film by Ivan Balaďa, Three Chestnut Horses, from 1966 is a dramatisation of the novella of the same name by Margita Figuli; the film develops the love drama against the social background, using a limited space. Jelena Paštéková (2016, p. 306), in History of Slovak Cinematography 1896 – 1969, writes that before Balaďa, Vladimír Bahna wanted to adapt this material into a film: “The Christian universalistic gesture of Margita Figuli in Three Chestnut Horses had not beenrehabilitated enough for this work to become a topic for a film that Vladimír Bahna intended to make. Even his second screenwriting attempt (the first one dates to 1954) was not met with understanding.”

Right at the start of our analysis of Balaďa’s film we must note that the narrative of the adaptation is not completely identical to its literary original. The major difference in the film is the absence of the narrator. This robs the film adaptation of subjectivity that is characteristic of the original due to the first-person narration of the protagonist.

The opening sequence of the film consists of several shots of trees in a dark forest. In the film, Balaďa deliberately uses poetic elements to complete the lyrical atmosphere and aestheticise the shots, as exemplified by the motifs of nature and the forest immersed in fog in the film’s opening scenes. It is accompanied by dramatic music by Ivan Parík with its variations appearing throughout the film. After the opening titles, we see Peter (Michal Dočolomanský) walking through the forest and meeting Jano (Juraj Kukura). The viewer perceives the established conflict between two diametrically different characters from the very first moment; we will analyse the differences in these two characters in more detail later. At this point there is a noticeable difference compared to the literary original, in which the opening features the character of Magdalena’s (Marta Terenová) cousin Jožko Greguš. Greguš does not appear in any of the scenes in the film. The same is true of Zápotočný’s mistress Eva. Their affair described in the first part of the novella is not captured in the film at all. The third character ommitted in Balaďa’s film is Jano’s sister. We can give an example from the end of the film, when Jano is raging and branding his horse with a fiery hot poke letters of the word “vagrant”. It is not Zápotočný’s sister calling for help, as is the case in the novella, but Magdalena’s mother (Hana Kováčiková).

After a brief digression concerning the omission of supporting characters, let us move on to the analysis of the main characters of the film. The affinity of Peter and Magdalena is expressed by their character traits, piety and moral values. Love as the dominant theme of the whole story is the driving force, thanks to which the heroes can overcome the most challenging obstacles. Peter is an active actor in achieving a common goal, while Magdalena’s activity is narrowed down to waiting and delaying the wedding with Jano. Her passivity can be perceived as a consequence of social norms determined by the stereotypes of the Slovak village. Balaďa placed emphasis on depicting the love of two young people with the aid of the most lyrical scenes in the entire film. These are scenes stylised in the form of memories: Peter and Magdalena in the field, Peter carrying Magdalena in his arms in the meadow, their running together among geese, or Magdalena bringing Peter water. These should be Peter’s childhood memories of his time spent with Magdalena. However, the memories are constructed in the film in the form of actions of adults, so we can rather call them to be Peter’s visions, giving the viewer the impression of memories.

The opposing contrast of Peter and Jano plays an important role in the film. On the one hand, there is their opposing physical appearance, on the other hand, there is the manner in which each of them expresses their affection for Magdalena. Jano uses his power, demonstrating it with his property, behaving violently and possessively, while Peter wins Magdalena’s love with tenderness and in accordance with her will. In the film, Balaďa pinpoints Maliarička’s negative attitude towards Peter. Maliarička presses upon Peter not to court Magdalena, arguing that he “has nothing to give her”. In contrast to the book, Maliarička’s motivation to get her daughter married to Jano is even more pronounced in the film, i.e. the motif of property. The screenwriter Miloslav Kubík puts words into Magdalena’s mother’s mouth, in which she encourages Peter to convince Magdalena that marrying Jano is the best option for her. Allegedly, Zápotočný would reward Peter well for this. The main character replies with these words: “I don’t sell my conscience and I don’t betray people!”

A significant theme of the film’s story is the clash between the “vagrant” and the village community. Evidence is displayed in the sequences when Peter is walking through the village. The village people watch him in unison with distrust, expressing their contempt with grimaces. People avoid him and close the windows on their houses as if to let him know that he is an undesirable guest in their community.

The imaginary second part of the film’s story takes place after the Midsummer Fire Festival, where Jano rapes Magdalena, and which begins with Peter’s return with three chestnut horses. The sequence of Peter’s return occurs after a longer period of time of the fabula, which is not represented in the film, unlike the literary original. Subsequent events are depicted in a way that respects the novella’s syuzhet. 

At the end of the comparison of both works, there is the last significant difference, namely that the film adaptation omits explicit and numerous references to the Bible, which play a key role in the novella. Also absent are Peter’s prayers to God framing the whole story. The film version integrated at least one important biblical analogy, Magdalena’s likening of Peter to the Apostle Peter, who denies Christ, in the forest during the Midsummer celebration. With regard to the references to Christian faith, on the visual plane, the film offers the images of a cross, a picture or a statue of Christ. Peter walks through the village and reveals Christian symbols correlating with his life story. The loss of his parents at an early age and the fear that Magdalena would marry Jano are all trials of a man carrying his cross. The heavy burden of carrying a cross is placed mainly on the suffering Magdalena, who, in her marriage to Jano, must bear cruel torments. She herself is aware of this merciless judgement. The statement is supported by the words from the novella, when after Peter’s  return with three chestnut horses, the main characters find themselves on the hill where the Zápotočnýs are ploughing a field. For the second time in the novella, Peter saves the helpless Magdalena from under the hooves of a horse. In the novella, they hold the following dialogue:

 “– He doesn’t deserve this. Just a moment ago I watched him torture you.

– Christ, too, was tortured by people, and did not cease to love mankind.

– But you’re not Christ, Magdalena, – I tried to bring her to her senses.

– I just follow him, Peter.” (Figuli, 2011, p. 337)

Magdalena’s martyrdom is not explicitly contained in the film in this way. Allusions to the Bible oscillate to a lesser extent in the film, essential analogies with the New Testament comparisons and Peter’s predestination as saviour are omitted. The suffering of the innocent, that of Magdalena and Peter, nevertheless has its meaning. Balaďa’s film Three Chestnut Horses expresses the physical and mental suffering more through events, action, and at the same time through the ascetic form of the film style.

Dragon’s Return


Chrobák classifies his long short story Dragon’s Return (1943) as a fairytale story and takes its introductory motto from the work Lord Jim by English novelist Joseph Conrad: “The search for lost honour, love and trust of people is a suitable substance for a heroic fairy tale.” (Conrad, 1900, quoted according to Chrobák, 2011, p. 139) Motto – a quote from Conrad’s novel is not accidental, because “the fate of extraordinary people who through their heroic deeds try to regain the lost trust of the collective, attracted Chrobák from his youth.” (Beňadik, 1988, p. 242). The predominant motif is the return, which deepens the atmosphere of tension and expectations. The fairy-tale syuzhet is a suitable narrative pattern of the path to reaching the goal by overcoming many obstacles. “The undoubtedly original creative performance of the prose author of Dragon’s Return can then be seen so that he succeeded, through the synthesis of two differently articulated forms of the ‘life truth’ of epic narrative (folklore and realistic), to implicitly, exclusively using  the means of artistic stylisation, but still in a manner comprehensible for the contemporary reader, also express his own life ‘truth’, as well as to achieve a new structural form of the artistic ‘truth’ of a prose work.” (Šmatlák, 2007, p. 408)

Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, nicknamed Dragon, is a symbol of the self-sacrificing Promethean effort to serve and help people, but he is also a man who did not belong to anyone. “He was always alone. Alone against all, … including his own self.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 146) The surname Madluš has its own prehistory in Chrobák’s work. The character named Madluš appears for the first time in the novella Kamarát Jašek (Friend Jašek), later on in the short story (Chlapská reč) Boy’s Speech, which is a model of several episodes in the work Dragon’s Return, and which shows us the character of Ondrej Madluš, and finally the character of Madluš is engaged in a short story Červený jarok (Red Stream). Šútovec (1982, p. 105) points out that “all the ‘Madlušes’ who preceded the character of Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, the so-called Dragon, in Chrobák’s work are more or less cut from the same cloth and have one trait in common: they are strangers in an epically relevant space.” Chrobák created the protagonist Martin Lepiš – Dragon in an original way. Behind the explanation of Martin’s nickname there is the symbolism with which the word dragon is associated. “A dragon in fairy tales comes from the outside, as if from another world. In such cases, the environment is described as unknown, unclear, dark, lying not only beyond the hero’s horizon, but also outside the circle of our world.” (Propp, 2008, p. 266)

The novella puts into forefront the conflict between the individual – the loner and the collective mass, represented by the inhabitants of the village. “The seclusion of Martin Lepiš Madlušovie away from the collective WE could only be carried out by selecting the optimal variant from the Chrobák’s literary invariant, which can be described as ‘Madluš’, and further by establishing the opposites that specify further the particular variant in its meaning. For this case, the specific semantics of the personal pronoun HE is built up by layering other semantic levels on the character thus determined. One of these levels is specifically mythical and is expressed by the predicative ‘Dragon’ and relevant attributes; the other level may be said to be socially defined and is expressed through the nature of the work carried out by the character.” (Šútovec, 1982, p. 109) Dragon from Chrobák’s novella is a negative character in people’s minds. He is mysterious, of an unknown origin, with a different appearance, clothes and an enchanting look. The villagers superstitiously reason that the drought and crop failure happened because of the presence of this man, who lives alone in a house on a hill, isolated from the rest of the village inhabitants, who digs clay from under Hell and makes a living from pottery. “Twice they wanted to set Dragon’s house on fire, and twice they would have succeeded if Dragon hadn’t procured a dog that gave him a warning. Then they poisoned his dog. And here was when he turned into a true dragon. … No one called him otherwise, and everyone believed that his presence in the village could only mean misfortune.” (Chrobák, 2011, pp. 147 – 148) Villagers even attribute magical abilities to him: “A bandit, he deceived us, by magic he turned flour into clay!” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 149) The nickname, not chosen by Martin himself, the name of the place where he got the clay, or even the dark colour of his clothes worn by Dragon, in all this the village recognizes something dark, even demonic, and is convinced that it has identified the cause of the evil that is happening in Leštiny.

The story takes place in an unidentified historical time in the rural and mountainous environment of the Liptov region, within reach of the Polish-Slovak border. “The Tatras countryside is enjoyed in this fairy tale in all its monumental beauty and force. Valleys, tarns, peaks, saddles and ridges have their exact names. … And there is a strong psychological moment in it: Chrobák’s protagonists are able to communicate with ease as they know every sport and eventually win their tough match.” (Bob, 1964, p. 101)

No one in the village knows where Dragon came from. As a small child, he was found by old Lepiš Madlušovie on his way from the fair and took him in. He raised him in a house without children, where he trained him bit by bit in pottery. One day old Lepiš died under mysterious circumstances. At that time, the young Martin Lepiš lived in an old pottery hut outside the village. The most beautiful girl from the village, Eva,  fell in love with him, they became closer from a human and intimate side. Dragon is unable to merge with the life of the villagers. They gradually start to hate him and attribute to him all the bad things that happen in the village. They are convinced that Dragon has magical powers and is the cause of all natural disasters in the village. His mystery, self-sufficiency, strength and loneliness provokes them. Their hatred goes so far that they decide to get rid of him. Eventually, Dragon does truly disappear one day. Eva gives birth to a child fathered by Martin. She is waiting for him to return for years, until she finally marries the jealous Šimon Jarjabek. The misfortunes in the village continue to occur also after Dragon’s return: “It is also conspicuous to everyone and all think so that it should be the second dry year in their memory. The first one ended with Dragon’s departure from the village. The second begins with his return.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 166) Fires are lit in the mountains and villagers are in danger of losing cattle driven to graze in the mountains. No one in the village wants to risk their life and go save the cattle. At that moment, Dragon returns: “He, Dragon, is standing over there, on the doorstep. With one eye he looks at everyone at the same time and at each one separately. His other eye is covered with a black ribbon tied over his ears.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 155) He stands in the doorway of the inn and offers the villagers to save their cattle and bring it from the mountains to the village. They agree that if he does not bring the cattle back to Leštiny within a week, his cottage will be burnt down.

Since Dragon is not “their man” and they cannot trust him, they send Šimon along with him. According to Josef Bob (1964, p. 97): “from an ideological and artistic-compositional point of view, the descriptions of Dragon’s and Šimon’s ascent to the mountains acquire crucial significance.” This is an important part of the novella, when Šimon gets to know Dragon and gradually loses his prejudice toward him. Bob (1964, p. 99) points out “the psychology of action, sensitive reaction, and mutual rapprochement of two opposing characters. … this is a very unusual and special procedure. One of the characters is always in “advantage” (usually Šimon), he can attack unexpectedly and get rid of his opponent. But crossing the Tatras peaks and valleys requires mutual cooperation. There are moments when the characters are grateful to one another for saving their life.” At the end of their successful rescue of the herd, Šimon misinterprets Dragon’s encounter with the Poles and thinks that he wants to sell the cattle to them. He rushes to the village, calls Dragon a traitor and sets fire to his cottage. Dragon fights to the last. He manages to return to the village and bring the herd with him in an honest way. After the arrival to the village with his Polish bride Zoška, he continues to long for acceptance in the village community. Dragon’s return turns into a triumph, when the mayor addresses him by his real name as Martin Lepiš Madlušovie, and thus restores his human identity. Relationships between the main characters regain harmony; Eva forgets about Dragon and begins to respect Šimon. Mutual wrongs are forgiven.

In the epilogue, we learn that the old woman narrating the story to a child is Eva, reminiscing about her youth. The novella ends with these words: “Then? Then nothing. They loved each other and lived happily ever after… Sleep, my son.” (Chrobák, 2011, p. 224) “Chrobák’s fairy tale uses the genre framework of modern récit. It is a form that evokes a past event through a retrospective view of a monologue-fairy-tale type of narration, while dealing mostly with predetermined attitudes of the participants of events. Syuzhet-compositional structure of the récit Dragon’s Return uses the ‘positive’ direction of the curve to return to the conflict’s starting points. It aims for reality, demystification of destiny, the vision of a socially full life.” (Čepan, 1984, p. 723)


The efforts to adapt the literary piece into a film form dates back to the late 1940s, when the Hungarian film theorist and screenwriter Béla Balázs tried to make the film with his own screenplay. He wrote a synopsis of a screenplay for the film in collaboration with writer Dobroslav Chrobák. The director of the film was to be Ján Jamnický. Eduard Grečner in his study Long-Term Obstacles and Problems with Screenplay Preparation and Filming of Dragon’s Return explains the reasons why the film did not get shot by this creative group. “A completely different cultural orientation of communist ideological domination branded this project as unsuitable for the building-era theme, which was imposed forcefully upon the culture via the new ideology, and the ballad story of the search for lost honour – as Chrobák himself defined it – simply did not fit in.” (Grečner, 2009, p. 78) Violent changes were proposed, when “Dragon, during his absence from the village somewhere in the world, were to be ‘made different’ in a working environment and return to the village now as a conscious individual, whose factory team rid him of his closed individualism.” (Grečner , 2009, pp. 78 – 79) Balázs and Jamnický ultimately rejected these changes and the film was never made according to Balázs’ script.

Chrobák’s novella was not filmed until 1967, with Eduard Grečner as its screenwriter and director in one. The main theme of the film is the revolt of an exceptional individualist against an anonymous crowd who unjustifiably condemns him. The film adaptation lacks the category of narrator that would explicitly express the ideas and internal mood of the characters, so they must be deduced from the action, but also from the fact that Grečner focused on the psychology of the three main characters: Dragon – Martin Lepiš (Radovan Lukavský), Šimon (Gustáv Valach) and Eva (Emília Vášáryová). In building the psychology of his characters, Grečner though does not rely on words; Eva does not utter a single word in the film. The dialogues are placed on a minimalist scale; this part of the soundtrack seems to have been deliberately suppressed by the director. The film contains relatively few words, their place is taken up by image and music. The music was composed especially for the film by the composer Ilja Zeljenka. Music is not only used to illustrate the current film image, but it highlights important moments and adds new meanings to the film. There is, for instance, a pagan pounding of drums, but also creative work involving whispering and distorted echoes of the voices of villagers used as a commentary on Dragon’s return to Leštiny at the beginning of the film.

Grečner’s innovation is considered to be his depiction of the protagonist who is placed into the role of a misunderstood artist. He is not a potter – a craftsman as in the novella, but an artist who creates anthropomorphic vessels made of clay with an original author’s touch. The villagers look at them incomprehensibly as the embodiment of Dragon’s ‘demonic nature’. The destruction of the vessels by the villagers symbolises their desire to destroy Dragon himself, who is hated by the entire village and especially Šimon. Grečner, using the language of film and poetic codes, managed to express the insurmountable barrier between the mysterious Dragon and the villagers. An example is the sequence in which an outcast walks through the village and is being observed. Instead of a direct confrontation with the villagers, it is rather the closing windows of the dwellings that metonymically represent the villagers, thus creating an atmosphere of mystery and tension. An instance of the use of the synecdoche is the scene where Šimon breaks a clay vessel created by Dragon because Eva refuses to kiss him, as her heart still belongs to Dragon. The vessel represents Dragon as such. In Šimon’s case, the hatred he feels towards Dragon is justified by jealousy of Eva’s feelings for Dragon. The reasons for the villagers’ extreme hostility lie in the suspicion that he is a mysterious force that causes dry weather and fire. They even try to alleviate their fear of Dragon in a pagan ritual. Compared to the film, the novella makes the theme of a greater number of reasons why the village decided to put Čierny Macek alias Dragon in the role of an outcast. For example, the film omits the motif of a fabricated version about Dragon’s alleged murder of old Lepiš Madlušovie.

Grečner’s adaptation leaves out certain moments, the film contains no mention of Martin’s origin or that he fathered a child with Eva. The film also deviates from the exact sequence that can be followed in the novella’s plot, while using retrospective features that make the plot more interesting to deliberately narrate certain events. These complicate the narration and at the same time serve to lyricise the syuzhet. The viewer can distinguish whether they see present or an event from the past, based on whether Dragon has a black tape over his injured eye. The tape serves as an indicator of the plot taking place in the present. The first two retrospectives capture Eva’s memories: a kiss with Dragon, a memory of her wedding to Šimon, another kiss with Dragon and her visit to Dragon’s house. The initiator of another retrospective is Dragon. The moment he offers his help with the herd at the committee, the viewer is moved into the past through Dragon’s memories. Only here do we learn about the causes of Dragon’s exile. We see him wounded in the head, his house set on fire and Dragon’s act of revenge and his exile from the village. In the film, these events are additionally rendered, using flashback. The last retrospective takes place in Šimon’s mind and expresses the contradictory relationship between the married couple of Eva and Šimon. He remembers Eva at their wedding, not wanting to take an apple from him, which symbolises her rejection of love. He then imagines her smiling and happy in his arms, which we interpret as Šimon’s wish. But the desire fades away when Eva rejects his kiss and runs away. Thus, the last retrospective connected with the indication of the desire for marital happiness vanishes.

The biggest difference between the literary work and its film adaptation lies in the conclusion of the works. In the film, Dragon indicates when talking to Zoška that he is aware that he will not be accepted in the village after saving the herd. Still, he tries. He comes to the village on horseback alone, unlike in the novella, where he arrives with Zoška, just to bring Šimon the oakum he forgot in Tomanová. Instead of the original ending used in the literary original, Grečner decided to prefer another concept, when the outsider Dragon leaves Leštiny for good and paradoxically does not return. An idea conceived in this way is in conflict with Chrobák’s idea.

In conclusion, we add that Grečner’s interpretation cancels out the author’s intention concerning Dragon’s return among the village’s inhabitants and sounds more tragic compared to the conclusion in the novella. Chrobák’s epilogue missing, bringing the literary work closer to the fairy tale in terms of genre. Due to these changes, the film adaptation can be perceived as a drama with ballad elements. According to Václav Macek (2016, p. 462), the “film Dragon’s Return in Grečner’s interpretation” is “a symbol of timeless loneliness, in which ‘hell are the others’.” The director made full use of the potential of the film medium. He created a work of demanding poetics, a mysterious and gloomy atmosphere, a specific visual stylization and a high artistic culture, in which the cinematographer Vincent Rosinec and the artist Milan Laluha also put in their significant artistic contribution.

The Bride of the Mountains


The Bride of the Mountains (1946) by František Švantner is a masterpiece of Slovak naturism. This view is held by a number of literary scholars. Šmatlák (2007, p. 454) speaks of Švantner’s work as follows: “In this novel, which emerged in the last years of World War II and is in a sense considered an extreme culmination of naturism as a literary-aesthetic concept, artistically articulated irrationalism becomes a constructive principle of semantic and syuzhet construction of a literary text.” A similar view is also held by Šútovec (1982, p. 149), who evaluates the work as one of the “most versatile and most commented Slovak prose works.” Concurrently he adds, based on the statement of Ján Števček, that The Bride of the Mountains “still evokes concern about the mystery contained therein and which has in fact remained unresolved to this day.” (Števček, quoted according to Šútovec, 1982, p. 149) Čepan, in his work Kontúry naturizmu (The Contours of Naturism), published in 1977, ranks the novel in the literary system of Slovak naturism as its final definitive work. History of Slovak Literature 5 evaluates this novel in the following words: “In the parabolic mirror of the imaginary, essentially expressionist exaggeration and deformation of the contours of reality, the author uses the constructive principles of naturism (anthropomorphism, mythicism and lyricism) in their most optimal constellation and in ideologically and aesthetically most authentic form.” (Čepan, 1984, page 739) An interesting fact is that Švantner originally wanted to name this work Werewolf, Tavo, White Weasel, or Cursed Youth. “The names changed along with the development of the author’s creative intent from idyll to drama and the related changes in genre starting points from a simple fairy tale celebrating the world of nature placed in contrast to the human world, to a mythical, intricately instrumented ballad about man in nature, nature in man and man in dispute with himself.” (Šútovec, 2005, pp. 227 – 228)

In The Bride of the Mountains “the syuzhet loses its plot and objective character, it essentially turns to only serve as a means of expressing the author’s subjective attitude towards the world. It is natural that this makes it even more fantastical, even more fairy-tale in nature.” (Števček, 1962, p. 101) The novelhas a fairy-tale-ballad character, giving us the realm of fantasy as well as tragic events. As indicated above, it can be considered a prototype work of naturism. According to Šútovec (1982, p. 227), “at the plane of the theme (the ideological-thematic plane), an important role is played by the ‘mythical paradigm’, the content of which is authentic archaic mythological material (mythologems, paganisms), as well as the Christianised mythological material (Christian cosmogony, Bible) and profanised mythological material (folklore). The common feature of these three sources is archaicness (archetypes) and fantasy.” In his work Novels and Myths, Šútovec (1982, p. 252) adds that for Švantner “myth is not just a thematic issue, but literally an organising energy”.

The theme of man, animals and nature is strongly manifested in Švantner’s work. Animals play an important role in the story, especially the horse Eguš, who represents not only a servant but also a faithful friend for the main character. The story takes place in a natural environment, in a village, in forests and mountain peaks unsullied by man, which create a mysterious atmosphere and change according to the plot’s dynamics in order that the author can capture the feelings of his protagonists. The work contains characters for whom it is difficult to determine whether they are really human due to their supernatural abilities. Zuna is mysterious, obscure, ever changing, sometimes to an animal. She is a child of nature, can perfectly imitate nature and its sounds. She understands mountains, trees, flowers and animals. Another similarly strange character is the figure of an ugly, neglected coal miner Tavo living alone in the mountains; the darkest mythical character is the werewolf – a creature that looks human, but does not belong to the human species; the whole village is afraid of him. Švantner emphasised the otherness of the characters and names, Zuna and Tavo are not typical Slovak names and the author used them to intensify their unique characteristics, unknown origin or unspecified age.

“Syuzhet of The Bride of the Mountains copies the almost regular oscillation of the hero’s consciousness between reality and fantasy.” (Kuzmíková, 2000, p. 104) The subjective narrator and the main character in one is the gamekeeper Libor. The mental struggles of the protagonist, as well as that of all the characters involved, are the basis of the whole text. There is little direct speech. Švantner prefers more poetic descriptions. The unrestrained text constantly shows man’s connection with nature. It reveals the human essence, to what degree man lives with nature in symbiosis. The reader remains uncertain about what is a dream, a vision or reality: “…that is why I had the impression that I was carried away by a fragrant cloud or a soft carpet into a magic castle, as, strangely, the surroundings, too, were transforming into an unreal, enchanted landscape.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 147)

Libor returns to his native village to take up the post of gamekeeper. He meets his old childhood love Zuna, who represents nature, vigour and the world outside reality. Libor longs for her, but she only causes him suffering. Libor “realises that the main obstacle to winning over Zuna is the force of sheer spaces, dizzying heights, the force of the loneliness of the mountain peaks, which is embodied in a predatory wolf to protect the hills from the intrusive man. He assumes that when he kills the wolf, he destroys the evil and liberates the enchanted country and Zuna.” (Kuzmíková, 2000, p. 79) Zuna changes her behaviour with every moment, constantly giving preference to someone else because there are many men around her. One of them is the coal miner Tavo, a wild man who has been claiming Zuna since her birth. At the same time, the mountains are haunted by the Unknown/He/Vagrant, a kind of mythical character who appears in various forms. Each of the male characters striving for Zuna’s hand in marriage views her differently. Tavo sees her as an innocent lily promised to him by her mother in the past. The innkeeper Weinhold perceives her as a frivolous lass and wants to potentionally marry her for greedy reasons. The gamekeeper wants to keep seeing in her a girl from his memories, the girl who promised him fidelity and her hand in marriage.

It is clear from the development of the syuzhet that Libor does not want to give up Zuna. But at the same time, he is not planning any specific pragmatic steps to make his desire come true. His desire has not turned into a goal, his actions are not led by Libor; his own desires and emotions stirred inside him are controlling him: “How should I understand that? What could suddenly stand against me when I gave no one any cause for anger. So far, I have lived in friendship with everything: with heaven and earth, with hills and valleys, with nights and days, with flowers, with trees, with animals and with people, yes, with everything that came to me to live with and deal with, so who has so suddenly become my enemy?” (Švantner, 2007, p. 222) Zuna escapes the young gamekeeper. The gamekeeper struggles, is jealous, does not want to lose Zuna, despite her causing him mental and physical suffering. In a dream, Zuna confides in the gamekeeper that she is held by the spirit of the mountains, who sometimes take on the form of a wolf, sometimes a form of a mysterious vagrant. The gamekeeper tracks down the mysterious wolf and kills it: “On the very same day, I decided to pull the main root of all dark forces out of the hills and to cleanse the hills of monsters. … I decided to vanquish the uncomfortable predator at all cost, believing that this would remove the main obstacle that arose between Zuna and me.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 236)

Zuna mysteriously disappears, and at the end of the novel, Libor meets Tavo, who takes him to his last meeting with Zuna. The gamekeeper, who neglected his duties for his love for Zuna, and as a result the village barn burned down, where his horse Eguš also perished, is dismissed from service. In the end, Zuna magically merges with nature, which Tavo concludes with these words: “Zuna grew up among the hills. She knew their strength and love, so she had been engaged to them a long time ago. Her choice wasn’t a bad one. Do you think she could be happy among people whose every option, even every passion is measured only by death? Eh, she didn’t deserve that fate. The peaks raised her, so they married her, as they, too, have their brides.” (Švantner, 2007, p. 294) According to Milan Šútovec (2005, p. 229), Libor’s struggle, which he constantly takes on, can be interpreted as a process of knowledge that “the adversary is not a specific figure, but the whole of mythically perceived, anthropomorphised nature, and his own deep, archaic psychic layers. Recognising the consonance of the deepest layers of the ‘I’ and the archaic-mythically conceived world reveals to the gamekeeper that his struggle is to a large extent a struggle with himself.”


Martin Ťapák’s ballad film from 1971 is made under the same name as the literary original, as was the case of the two films we examined above. The authors of the screenplay are Igor Rusnák and Martin Ťapák. The story takes place in the Slovak mountain area, in the bosom of wild nature full of traps in the form of wild beasts, and at the same time in places creating a mystic impression. The most mysterious place rich in myths, Peklisko [Huge Hell], where the “ogresses and werewolves” allegedly live; Ťapák substituted its name, as Švantner calls this place Kotlisko [Huge Couldron] in the novel.

The narrative of the film in brief is as follows: after some years the young gamekeeper Libor (Milan Kňažko) returns from the city to his native village. He meets his childhood love Zuna (Mária de Riggová), a girl – an element. She appears to the gamekeeper in his dreams, but in the real world she constantly eludes him. Libor constantly dreams, has reminiscences and revelations. Premonitions are also expressed by the villagers, for example, by the miller who at the beginning of the film tells the young gamekeeper that he knew he was coming, because the day before yesterday he heard the mountain roar. The gamekeeper decides he wants Zuna as his wife. Since he is not the only one who longs for her, he cannot avoid confrontation with other men, especially with the savage coal miner Tavo (Július Pántik) and the innkeeper Weinhold (Miloš Pietor).

Balladism appears as one aspect of a complex structure. From Libor’s point of view, one ballad element is the impossibility of obtaining Zuna. He has to come to terms with his pain. The key element of the film is the intertwining of the real and mysterious world. The film style is complex and the intelligibility of individual meanings is complicated. It was not easy to express the poetics of Švantner’s novel. Ťapák and Rusnák decided to use such dramaturgical structure, in which the dream and reality, past and present constantly alternate, thus achieving a dramatic atmosphere and a visually saturated film. History of Slovak Cinematography by Paštéková and Macek classifies this film as experimental. Paštéková (1997, pp. 324 – 325) is critical of the film adaptation made according to the novel: “The expressive film interpretation of the work is dominated by the fate, fantastical and fairy-tale quality of the plot. In the case of Švantner’s novel, the mythical happening is a manifestation of the psychological confusion of the main character of the young gamekeeper (the whole novella is stylised as a first-person narrative) and has existential dimensions. The film lacks this dimension. It loses significant support of the contrapuntal intertwining of internal and external action. The story of The Bride of the Mountains is turned into an unmotivated pictorial vision, unnecessarily complicated by an unclear author’s key to the use of individual means of expression (colour filters, wide lenses, camera angles). The resulting shape of the film is dominated by undifferentiated artistic decorativism, not anchored in the semantic structure of the work. Paradoxically, optical shocks resulted in monotony and pictorial mannerism. “The style may resemble ornamental mannerism. It is also true that the film often changes colour scale, which may cause a disturbing impression. On the other hand, the frequent change of colours can be explained as author’s deliberate intention with an thought-through artistic concept. The colours of yellow, orange, brown, blue and green alternate. Each of them is directly connected with some activity of characters in nature, proximity to fire, dance scenes or is effectively used in paranoid imaginations of the meeting with the werewolf, wolf and a vampire soldier. The black-and-white images illustrate Libor’s return to his childhood or Tavo’s reminiscing of the miller’s wife. It can be said that each colour is used analogously to the meaning to which it symbolically makes reference. The colour-intensified scenes express feelings, moods, desires, passions and memories of the characters. It is up to the viewer to decode the visual perceptions. The alternation of colouring in a way clarifies the flow of the plot and the intertwining of the story planes from the present and the past.

The film is remarkable in how the director expressed the intermingling of the real and mythical worlds, where rationality meets unrestrained vitality and where irrational phenomena are often not clarified and seem incomprehensible. The outcome of the film’s story is conceived in a contradictory manner, has an open end and opens up several possibilities for interpretation. Ťapák’s greatest focus in his film went to expressing the link between man and nature in accordance with Švantner’s feeling for expressing the symbiosis of man and nature in his prose of naturism. This connection with nature, as well as the connection with the past is expressed with the aid of the visual style in the framework of the expressive poetics full of irrationality and mysticism.


The concept ‘naturism’ is often mistakenly merged with the concept of ‘lyricized prose’. The prose of naturism falls into the category of multifaceted lyrical prose, but it is important to realise that it is only one of its numerous components, and therefore the two concepts cannot be combined into one. In Slovak literature, the prose of naturism is largely unrepresented, given the number of authors falling under this genre, but nevertheless represents the culmination of lyrical tendencies that appeared in post-war literature.

Representatives of naturism replaced the outwardly imitating method of realistic depiction of reality with more subjective literary fiction. The prose of naturism, as its name implies, reminds one of one’s ties to nature, points to the basic values in society such as love, belonging, understanding of ‘thy neighbour’ and nature through the characters who are the embodiment of these values. The dominant style of the prose of naturism is the fairy-tale mythical epic prose and the default genre is a ballad fairy tale. One of the main sources of inspiration for writers is the Slovak village, which they consider a real and healthy source of life. The prose of naturism combines the fantasy of a folk fairy tale, the realism of the village and lyricism as an achievement of modern literature at the time. The motifs of man’s relations to the nature that surrounds him and his love for it are deepened.

This paper is devoted to three important works of naturism prose. In the novella by Margita Figuli Three Chestnut Horses we find a story framed by invocation, where the postulates of Christian ethics are defined as the starting points of the narrator’s journey through life. Such an ideological framework determines the behaviour of the protagonist, who fights for the love of his chosen one. He undergoes a series of tests and shows his kindness, nobility, humility, and patient acceptance of injustice. Overcoming the trials of the male protagonist and enduring the bitter fate of the female protagonist, where both fall and redemption are present, determine the genre basis of the novella, i.e. a legend. The novella Dragon’s Return by Dobroslav Chrobák develops the motif of an outcast who is fighting for his acceptance into the community and endeavours to break down the villagers’ irrational prejudices. They see in him a mysterious force and a harmful element causing all evil, drought and crop failure. In its theme, the work focuses on overcoming the mistrust of the environment and the search for lost honour. In the end, the main character wins and gets his honour back. The novel by František Švantner The Bride of the Mountains presents a multifaceted picture of man’s struggle for knowledge of the world and pursuit of a harmonious being. This, seemingly simple, story incorporates a number of interconnected planes, to be decoded by the reader. Mythical elements play an important role in the formation of characters, the environment and the story’s construction.

Each of these works were transformed into a film adaptation. When analysing the feature films, bearing the same names as their literary originals, we focused our attention on directing procedures, means of expression, the special features used and particularly the differences from literary texts. We explored the narrative style of the individual works, the visual processing and the semantic level of the story. In accordance with the aim of our work, we detailed the differences between the originals and the adaptations in the way of showing the same fabula. We focused on whether the authors accomplished their efforts for approximating to the literary original or whether they made preference for certain changes that differentiate them from the original texts.


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Drak sa vracia [Dragon’s Return] (1967; Eduard Grečner)

Tri gaštanové kone [Three Chestnut Horses] (1966; Ivan Balaďa)Nevesta hôľ [The Bride of the Mountains] (1971; Martin Ťapák)