“Tsarevna Frog” is a frog princess story, which means there’s some serious shape-shifting going on. There’s also a husband who makes a terrible mistake and has to pay for it by journeying the world over (we saw this same motif in “The Enchanted Pig” a few weeks ago), plus an appearance by my favorite fairy-tale character of all time: Baba Yaga. Not to mention the fellow who inspired this week’s selection: Koshchei the Deathless.*
Speaking of which, have you read the book Deathless by Catherynne Valente? Holy crackers, it’s so good. It’s a delectable fairy tale novel set in Stalinist Russia, just after the Revolution, and one of the main characters is the terrifying Koshchei the Deathless. (I posted “The Death of Koshchei the Deathless” around Halloween of last year, you might remember.)
Let’s see what Koshchei is up to this week, shall we?
IN olden time, in a time long before present days, in a certain Tsardom of an Empire far across the blue seas and behind high mountains, there lived a Tsar and his Tsaritsa. The Tsar had lived long in the white world, and through long living had become old. He had three sons, Tsarevitches, all of them young, brave and unmarried, and altogether of such a sort that they could not be described by words spoken in a tale or written down with a pen. During the long white days they flew about on their fiery, beautiful horses, like bright hawks under the blue sky. All three were handsome and clever, but the handsomest and cleverest was the youngest, and he was Tsarevitch Ivan.
One day the Tsar summoned his three sons to his presence and said: “My dear children, ye have now arrived at man’s estate and it is time for you to think of marriage. I desire you to select maidens to beloving wives to you and to me dutiful daughters-in-law. Take, therefore, your well- arched bows and arrows which have been hardened in the fire. Go into the untrodden field wherein no one is permitted to hunt, draw the bows tight and shoot in different directions, and in whatsoever courts the arrows fall, there demand your wives-to-be. She who brings to each his arrow shall be his bride.”
So the Tsarevitches made arrows, hardened them in the fire, and going into the untrodden field, shot them in different directions. The eldest brother shot to the east, the second to the west, and the youngest, Tsarevitch Ivan, drew his bow with all his strength and shot his arrow straight before him.
On making search, the eldest brother found that his arrow had fallen in the courtyard of a Boyar, where it lay before the tower in which were the apartments of the maidens. The second brother’s arrow had fallen in the courtyard of a rich merchant who traded with foreign countries, and pierced a window at which the merchant’s daughter-a lovely girl soul-was standing. But the arrow of Tsarevitch Ivan could not be found at all.
Tsarevitch Ivan searched in deep sorrow and grief. For two whole days he wandered in the woods and fields, and on the third day he came by chance to a boggy swamp, where the black soil gave way under the foot, and in the middle of the swamp he came upon a great Frog which held in her mouth the arrow he had shot.
When he saw this he turned to run away, leaving his arrow behind him, but the Frog cried: “Kwa! Kwa! Tsarevitch Ivan, come to me and take thine arrow. If thou wilt not take me for thy wife, thou wilt never get out of this marsh.”
Poor Tsarevitch Ivan. It’s like Fear Factor. Will he do what it takes to get out of the marsh?
*If you love Russian tales, SurLaLune has a section called “Russian Wonder Tales,” where you can happily wander through a hand-picked assortment of Russia’s finest.