Stribor’s Forest can be found in not one but in many places—dreamed, remembered, real. It is the title of a Croatian fairytale (hrvatska bajka) interpreted countless times since Ivana Brlić-Mažuranić wrote it in 1916. She was born in 1874 to a distinguished Croatian family, home schooled and married at 19 in an arranged marriage. Stribor’s Forest is one of 6 (or 8 after 1926) stories in Brlić-Mažuranić’s collection, Croatian Tales of Long Ago (Priče iz davnine). She first wrote these stories for her own six children. A digital version of the 1922 publication with original illustrations by Valdimir Kirin can be found here https://publicdomainreview.org/collection/croatian-tales-of-long-ago-1922
Stribor is the lord of a forest likely inspired by forests near the town of Ogulin where Ivana was born. Ogulin is located in a valley in Karlovac County where Slavonian Oaks live. It is easy to imagine this fairytale setting inspiring storytelling. The Dobra river flows through the town into an ominious sounding pit called Đula’s Abyss. An imposing Frankopan castle and Klek mountain guard the town’s center and peripheries. In recent years guided and self-guided tourist experiences on A Fairytale Route and at fable festivals in Ogulin are based on Brlić-Mažuranić’s stories.
Across Croatia there are a remarkable number references to Croatian Tales of Long Ago—forested areas, parks, schools, streets, hiking trails, restaurants, a dining experience, festivals, films, performances, myriad tourist attractions and Ivana’s House of Fairy Tales are named for Brlič-Mažuranić and her stories. To commemorate the hundred year anniversary of Croatian Tales of Long Ago, multimedia artist Helena Buljaja led an international team from eight countries to create award-winning animated and interactive films released from 2002-2006. Brlić-Mažuranić’s folktales weave old Croatian mythology into modern narratives to teach children ethical values and to preserve Croatia’s cultural heritage. Brlić-Mažuranić’s literary invention earned comparisons to Hans Christian Anderson and Tolkien.
Like The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, Croatian Tales from Long Ago are about journeys—through forests and hardships. Stribor demands those who find themselves in his forest to explain who they are and why they are there. Anyone entering this community cannot take belonging for granted. In the forest, looking and listening carefully are important skills that can change everything.
The magic of Stribor’s Forest can be good or bad depending on the intentions of the person calling on it. Towards the end of Stribor’s Forest, an old woman travels to seek Stribor’s advice. While in the forest Stribor tempts her to trade her current troubles and memories of her son for a life of eternal youth and happiness. When Stribor objects to her decision to take his offer, she chooses her life as it is. A quote widely attributed to Brlić-Mažuranić speaks to this decision, ‘Draža je meni moja nesreća od sve sreće ovoga svijeta/ I prefer my misfortune to all the happiness of this world.’ Brlić-Mažuranić’s heroes and heroines accept responsibility for their lives. They refuse to deny who they are and who they love for personal gain. In Stribor’s Forest those who enter learn to recognize goodness and their true selves.
Children at Goldsmith’s College International School in 2019 performing Stribor’s Forest