Untold Stories

Trapped in an enchanted forest

Would you dare to enter even if you "didn't know that the Forest was enchanted and that all manner of magic abode there? Some of its magic was good and some of it was bad - to each one according to his deserts. Now this Forest was to remain enchanted until it should be entered by someone who preferred his sorrows to all the joys of the world."

What a striking way to start an atmospheric fairytale! A tale that features an ancient guardian of the forest, a treacherous woman with a snake tongue, playful fire spirits, a confused young man, and a woman who prefers all her sorrows to all the joys of the world. Images of the little people appearing in the fireplace and the creeps as we enter the dark Stribor's Forest together with the characters, have marked the childhood of most Croats. 

Whenever I see the 500-year-old oak tree in Maksimir park, I remember the iconic Stribor’s Forest tale. Photo by Boška i Krešo/TZGZ


It was in the month of April 150 years ago, when a girl named Ivana was born in the small Croatian town of Ogulin. When she was just a kid, she wrote down in her journal: Dear God, if it’s not a sin to plead for such a thing, give me the talent to write books. Ivana grew up into a fine young lady, still in her late teen years as she got married and gave birth to her first child. 

Taking care of an army of children, as she once called them, was a woman’s duty, and loads of work. She was dedicated to the task. So dedicated, that she sometimes felt guilty for having aspirations that were mostly reserved for men. The aspirations were encapsulated in that sentence that she wrote down in her journal early on. A wish she just couldn’t let go - until a perfect excuse came knocking at her door. Her army of children reached that age when they got curious about reading (yes, that used to happen to children back in the day). So why not feed their desire by writing books of her own? Mom started writing for real. She wrote what is now an iconic children's novel that you might find in English as Lapitch - the Shoemaker’s Boy. I remember listening to the recorded story on vinyl as a kid - so atmospheric, dark, and uncertain at times, yet lively and hopeful at its core.

Pass by this statue and you’re passing by a part of her grandpa’s garden. This was originally in his garden in Jurjevska street. Photo by S. Carek/TZGZ


She then took her inspiration from the well of folklore and Slavic myths and turned it into the most famous Croatian children's book: Croatian Tales of Long Ago. The book earned her the nickname of Croatian Andersen or Tolkien. She was four times Nobel Prize nominee, and on one occasion, a group of her supporters even traveled to Sweden to lobby and explain her significance. 

Ivana was the first female member of Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts. Photo by J. Duval/TZGZ


If you wish to learn more about Ivana, visit her hometown of Ogulin, just an hour and a half drive from Zagreb. There is a lovely interpretation center called Ivana’s House of Fairytales. Go to Slavonski Brod, a town where she lived for a while and took care of her family estate. Or, simply stay here in Zagreb to follow her trail from her childhood to her last days. 

Ivana came here to Zagreb to live with her grandpa - who was also a writer - as a child. She lived in the house at the beginning of the beautiful Jurjevska Street in the Upper Town area. 

This is where Ivana lived in Zagreb.


She loved Zagreb and dreamt of living here later in life, but her wish only came true in her last years. When she passed away, thousands of people came to her funeral. Symbolically, her coffin was escorted by a great number of local children. Her grave has a special place at the gorgeous Mirogoj cemetery right here in Zagreb.

Yes, we have all had the privilege of growing up in Croatia. A privilege of a childhood wrapped in tales crafted by a phenomenal storyteller who forever trapped us in the enchanted forest... and who planted this simple thought in our minds: 


"When you're happy, even the Sun rushes to follow you."

Header image credit: J. Duval / TZGZ

Author: Iva Silla