Tuesday, February 12, 2008

what's wrong with me (not a question, thx)

I have a few of the children's books that I was given by my grandparents still on my bookshelf. My grandmother, ever the intellectual elitist (might I even say snob?) insisted on buying us books that could still be considered literature, despite the fact that they were written for children. The illustrations are without a doubt art, as well. I have a beautifully illustrated anthology of Hans Christian Andersen stories, a copy of Peter and the Wolf to accompany Sergei Prokofiev's musical composition, as well as the Jacqueline Onassis-edited The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales, with illustrations by the amazingly gifted Boris Zvorykin.

While I'm sure this childhood diet of incredible books has coloured my taste for the books I currently read (mainly dark and twisted things written by Eastern Europeans) I am also beginning to think they may have warped my 6 year old developing subconscious. I recently skimmed through The Firebird with a friend, who seemed somewhat horrified by the texts, and the fact that they were written for children. Here's why (accompanied by Zvorykin's beautiful drawings):

This is Snegurochka, the Snow Maiden. A child made from snow by an elderly couple who could never conceive. In this particular story, other women throw themselves into wells in jealous rages, she's dragged in front of various officiaries to defend herself against accusations of being the "other woman" and in the end, when she finally finds true love, she melts, and dies.

This is Tsarevich Ivan and Tsarevna Elena The Fair. Ivan has gone to fetch her on behalf of another Tsar, who is in love with her. Obviously and tragically, these two now fall in love (I also am easily smitten with boys who own flying grey wolves). Ivan gets stabbed by his own brother and is dead for thirty days. Elena gets kidnapped and god-knows-what by the very same brother. It ends up ok though.

This is Baba Yaga. When 8 year old Vassilissa's mother dies, her father remarries and the classic tale of the evil step mother ensues. Vassilissa is sent to ask the witch Baba Yaga for firewood. Baba Yaga eats humans and lives in a hut decorated with their bones and their fire-illuminated skulls. Vassilissa is made to be her slave with little hope of escape. I don't remember crying myself to sleep after story time but come on!

Finally, we have Maria Morevna. She gets chased back and forth across the continent by a certain Koschey the Deathless. Not an encouraging name for one's foe to have. It's basically because her boyfriend is a hapless idiot, too (he gets chopped into pieces at one point). Baba Yaga makes a cameo in this story as well, just in case your 6 year old self had managed to forget her/stop being plagued by nightmares.

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