Friday, December 10, 2021

Fairy Tale Fridays

What's that you say? You've never heard of Fairy Tale Fridays? If you're new to the neighborhood in the past five years, you probably haven't. But I used to post something about fairy tales at least twice a month on Fridays. And then it started to feel like a job, like extra homework I was being required to do on top of my regular reading. I decided it was time for a break. And now it's been over four years since I last posted. Will this be the start of the return of regular Fairy Tale Fridays? Probably not. But maybe often enough it won't be a complete surprise. 

Recently I read and reviewed Eowyn Ivey's The Snow Child, the story of a couple desperate for a child who one day build a snow child who comes to life. The story is based on the Russian fairy tale of Snegurochka in which the child built by the couple returns every winter. Ivey's story most closely resembles Arthur Ransome's version of the tale, which he called The Little Daughter of the Snow. In Ransome's version, the little girl attaches herself to a red fox, as she does in Ivey's adaptation, and is very much attuned to the forest. In Andrew Lang's version, Snowflake (from The Pink Fairy Book), the little girl becomes friends with the village children and melts suddenly when one spring while playing with the children around a bonfire. 

If you search for fairy tales about a snow child, however, you'll also find another iteration of the story which has many variations as well and seems to have been told in many countries. In it, a merchant (or sailor, or farmer) is often away on travels for months on end. One day he arrives home after a year (or years) to find a young child his wife claims is hers. Clearly the child cannot be his but the wife explains that away by saying that some time back she had fallen on ice (or played with snowballs or she swallowed a snowflake) and she became pregnant. In most of those stories, when the husband again heads off on his travels, he says he will take the boy along to teach him his ways. When he returns, the boy is not with him. When the mother asks what has become of her son, the husband answers, "he melted." Which we can be pretty sure, in this version of the story, he did not. 

One of the things that has always interested me is how fairy tales seem so universal, how the same stories appear in many different countries in their own interpretations. But this one seems unique to me in that it seems to have developed from one idea into two entirely different stories and then morphed into each countries own version. The wonder of oral story telling!

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