Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rattle Tailed Zombie Marmot

Russian Cossacks have a number of sayings that they live by: Don't ride backwards over hilly terrain; don't drink vodka with angry gypsies; and most importantly, don't make a Rattle Tailed Zombie Marmot mad. They were wise to be cautious. The venom carried in the claws of the Rattle Tailed Zombie Marmot can kill a grown man in about 20 minutes.

Now virtually extinct, the Rattle Tailed Zombie Marmot once roamed the Russian steppes in vast numbers. In the 17th Century it was more closely associated with Russia than vodka or caviar. With highly poisonous claws and a supreme hatred of every living thing, the Zombie Marmot was feared and respected by Russian farmers for generations. No traveling carnival or zoo was complete without a Zombie Marmot, and it was not uncommon to find "Zombie Vodka", a potent drink created by mixing a minute amount of Zombie Marmot venom with handmade vodka. If a distiller got the mix wrong, people could and did die.

A number of Russian writers loved the potent and dangerous drink. Dostoyevski was addicted to Zombie Vodka and sipped at it frequently while writing both The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. Nikolai Gogol's short story The Nose was inspired by the author's hangover after a night out with 3 dancing girls and a bottle of Zombie Vodka. And it wasn't just the drink; the animal itself also appears in literature and art.

In The Overcoat, Gogol describes Arkaky as having "the face of a Rattle Tailed Zombie Marmot". Tolstoy's Anna Karenina features a memorable scene where the heroine comes upon a wounded Zombie Marmot dying in a barn and ruthlessly bludgeons it to death with a shovel. In Gorky's play The Lower Depths, the prisoners debate the proper ratio of venom to vodka - a metaphor for personal incentive versus collective good in the communist system. Stalin kept a stuffed Zombie Marmot sitting on his desk, to remind himself that the most seemingly harmless creatures are sometimes the most deadly. In music, Prokofiev's piece Peter and the Wolf was originally titled Peter and the Zombie Marmot - the theatre producers who had commissioned the piece thought that a wolf would be less scary for children. The author wanted it to be Zombie Marmot when Disney decided to make an animated version of the tale, but Walt Disney also thought that a wolf would be more accessible for an American audience and it stayed a wolf.

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