Lazar Lagin: The Old Genie Hottabych

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Lazar Lagin The Old Genie Hottabych
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    The Old Genie Hottabych
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    Fredonia Books
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    Сказка / на английском языке
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The Old Genie Hottabych: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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This amusing and fascinating children’s book is often called the Russian “Thousand and One Nights.” Who is the old Genie Hottabych? This is what the author has to say of him: “In one of Scheherazade’s tales I read of the Fisherman who found a copper vessel in his net. In the vessel was a mighty Genie — a magician who had been imprisoned in the bottle for nearly two thousand years. The Genie had sworn to make the one who freed him rich, powerful and happy. “But what if such a Genie suddenly came to life in the Soviet Union, in Moscow? I tried to imagine what would have happened if a very ordinary Russian boy had freed him from the vessel. “And imagine, I suddenly discovered that a schoolboy named Volka Kostylkov, the very same Volka who used to live on Three Ponds Street, you know, the best diver at summer camp last year… On second thought, I believe we had better begin from the beginning…”

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The Old Genie Hottabych

by Lazar Lagin


At 7:32 a.m. a merry sun-spot slipped through a hole in the curtain and settled on the nose of Volka Kostylkov, a 6th-grade pupil. Volka sneezed and woke up.

Just then, he heard his mother say in the next room:

“Don’t rush, Alyosha. Let the child sleep a bit longer, he has an exam today.”

Volka winced. When, oh when, would his mother stop calling him a child?

“Nonsense!” he could hear his father answer. “The boy’s nearly thirteen. He might as well get up and help us pack. Before you know it, this child of yours will be using a razor.”

How could he have forgotten about the packing!

Volka threw off the blankets and dressed hurriedly. How could he ever have forgotten such a day!

This was the day the Kostylkov family was moving to a different apartment in a new six-storey house. Most of their belongings had been packed the night before. Mother and Grandma had packed the dishes in a little tin tub that once, very long ago, they had bathed Volka in. His father had rolled up his sleeves and, with a mouthful of nails, just like a shoemaker, had spent the evening hammering down the lids on crates of books.

Then they had all argued as to the best place to put the things so as to have them handy when the truck arrived in the morning. Then they had their tea on an uncovered table — as on a march. Then they decided their heads would be clearer after a good night’s sleep and they all went to bed.

In a word, there was just no explaining how he could have ever forgotten that this was the morning they, were moving to a new apartment.

The movers barged in before breakfast was quite over. The first thing they did was to open wide both halves of the door and ask in loud voices, “Well, can we begin?”

“Yes, please do,” both Mother and Grandma answered and began to bustle about.

Volka marched downstairs, solemnly carrying the sofa pillows to the waiting truck.

“Are you moving?” a boy from next door asked.

“Yes,” Volka answered indifferently, as though he was used to moving from one apartment to another every week and there was nothing very special about it.

The janitor, Stepanych, walked over, slowly rolled a cigarette and began an unhurried conversation as one grown-up talk to another. The boy felt dizzy with pride and happiness. He gathered his courage and invited Stepanych to visit them at their new home. The janitor said, “With pleasure.” A serious, important, man-to-man conversation was beginning, when all at once Volka’s mother’s voice came through the open window:

“Volka! Volka! Where can that awful child be?” Volka raced up to the strangely large and empty apartment in which shreds of old newspapers and old medicine bottles were lying forlornly about the floor.

“At last!” his mother said. “Take your precious aquarium and get right into the truck. I want you to sit on the sofa and hold the aquarium on your lap. There’s no other place for it. But be sure the water doesn’t splash on the sofa.”

It’s really strange, the way parents worry when they’re moving to a new apartment.


Well, the truck finally choked exhaustedly and stopped at the attractive entrance of Volka’s new house. The movers quickly carried everything upstairs and soon were gone.

Volka’s father opened a few crates and said, “We’ll do the rest in the evening.” Then he left for the factory.

Mother and Grandma began unpacking the pots and pans, while Volka decided to run down to the river nearby. His father had warned him not to go swimming without him, because the river was very deep, but Volka soon found an excuse: “I have to go in for a dip to clear my head. How can I take an exam with a fuzzy brain!”

It’s wonderful, the way Volka was always able to think of an excuse when he was about to do something he was not allowed to do.

How convenient it is to have a river near your house! Volka told his mother he’d go sit on the bank and study his geography.

And he really and truly intended to spend about ten minutes leafing through the text-book. However, he got undressed and jumped into the water the minute he reached the river. It was still early, and there was not a soul on the bank. This had its good and bad points. It was nice, because no one could stop him from swimming as much as he liked. It was bad, because there was no one to admire what a good swimmer and especially what an extraordinary diver he was.

Volka swam and dived until he became blue. Finally, he realized he had had enough. He was ready to climb out when he suddenly changed his mind and decided to dive into the clear water one last time.

As he was about to come up for air, his hand hit a long hard object on the bottom. He grabbed it and surfaced near the shore, holding a strange-looking slippery, moss-covered clay vessel. It resembled an ancient type of Greek vase called an amphora. The neck was sealed tightly with a green substance and what looked like a seal was imprinted on top.

Volka weighed the vessel in his hand. It was very heavy. He caught his breath.

A treasure! An ancient treasure of great scientific value! How wonderful!

He dressed quickly and dashed home to open it in the privacy of his room.

As he ran along, he could visualize the notice which would certainly appear in all the papers the next morning. He even thought of a heading: “A Pioneer Aids Science.”

“Yesterday, a pioneer named Vladimir Kostylkov came to his district militia station and handed the officer on duty a treasure consisting of antique gold objects which he found on the bottom of the river, in a very deep place. The treasure has been handed over to the Historical Museum . According to reliable sources, Vladimir Kostylkov is an excellent diver.”

Volka slipped by the kitchen, where his mother was cooking dinner. He dashed into his room, nearly breaking his leg as he stumbled on a chandelier lying on the floor. It was Grandma’s famous chandelier. Very long ago, before the Revolution, his deceased grandfather had converted it from a hanging oil lamp. Grandma would not part with it for anything in the world, because it was a treasured memory of Grandfather. Since it was not elegant enough to be hung in the dining room, they decided to hang it in Volka’s room. That is why a huge iron hook had been screwed into the ceiling.

Volka rubbed his sore knee, locked the door, took his penknife from his pocket and, trembling from excitement, scraped the seal off the bottle.

The room immediately filled with choking black smoke, while a noiseless explosion of great force threw him up to the ceiling, where he remained suspended from the hook by the seat of his pants.


While Volka was swaying back and forth on the hook, trying to understand what had happened, the smoke began to clear. Suddenly, he realized there was someone else in the room besides himself. It was a skinny, sunburnt old man with a beard down to his waist and dressed in an elegant turban, a white coat of fine wool richly embroidered in silver and gold, gleaming white silk puffed trousers and petal pink morocco slippers with upturned toes.

“Hachoo!” the old man sneezed loudly and prostrated himself. “I greet you, O Wonderful and Wise Youth!”

Volka shut his eyes tight and then opened them again. No, he was not seeing things. The amazing old man was still there. Kneeling and rubbing his hands, he stared at the furnishings of Volka’s room with lively, shrewd eyes, as if it were all goodness-knows what sort of a miracle.

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