Today’s tale. “The Tsarevna Frog,” comes from Russia and features a couple of the more famous Russian fairy tale characters, Baba Yaga and Kostshei the Deathless. It was retold in Folk Tales from the Russian by Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de Blumenthal, 1903.
At their father’s orders, Tsarevitch Ivan and his two older brothers shot arrows in different directions to find brides for themselves. The other brothers’ arrows landed in the houses of the daughters of an aristocratic and a wealthy merchant. Tsarevitch Ivan’s arrow landed in the mouth of a frog in a swamp and his father insisted that he marry the frog, that it was his destiny.
The father then gave the three brides two challenges, to bake a loaf of bread and to weave a rug. During the night of the challenges, Tsarevitch Ivan’s frog wife turns into a beautiful, wise young woman named Vassilissa, who called her servants to perform the tasks. In the morning, Tsarevitch Ivan was astounded and took them to his father and both the bread and rug outshined the others’.
The Tsar wanted to meet the three wives, but Tsarevitch Ivan was not happy to have to present his frog wife, but the frog told him not to worry and arrived at the party late, but as Vassilissa. She was the loveliest of the wives and during the dance turned a few drops of wine into a small lake and the bones from dinner into living swans.
Unfortunately, during the party Tsarevitch Ivan went home and burned the frog skin. Vassilissa was devastated, saying she had only had to wear the frog skin for a bit longer, but now she had to say good-bye and leave. He could only find her again at the palace of Kostshei the Deathless. She turned into a swan and flew away.
Tsarevith Ivan followed after her, journeying far, and met an old man who, after hearing his story, gave him a magical ball to follow. He continued on, sparing the life of a bear, a duck, and a rabbit along the way, and saving the life of a fish. He came to Baba Yaga’s hut and she was a helper this time, feeding him and telling him the secret to killing Kostshei the Deathless – a needle hidden within a hare hidden within an old oak tree watched by Kostshei. She also told him how to find the place.
When he got to the oak tree he was worried but the animals he had met along the way came to his aid and he recovered the needle. “At the same moment Kostshei lost his strength and power forever. Ivan Tsarevitch entered his vast dominions, killed him with the magic needle, and in one of the palaces found his own dear wife, his beautiful Vassilissa. He took her home and they were very happy ever after.”
It’s really a lovely story with so many fairy tale feature. Obviously the number three is important and the focus on the youngest of the brothers. Vassilissa spends part of her time as animal, at others shedding her skin to be her true self, an action we’ve seen before. We have animal helpers, a quest, even Baba Yaga in her cottage in the wood. It’s really an awesome story. You can read it serveral places, including at Sur la Lune.
The Penguin Classics edition of Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov edited by Robert Chandler was released yesterday. It’s available on Amazon and I imagine a version of this story is probably included.
Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.