Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ivan Tsarevich and the Firebird

Ivan plucks a feather from the Firebird.

We should all live in a Russian folk tale. Why? Read on.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there lived a man who had three sons.

Now in a European fairy tale, that would be enough, but this is a Russian tale—and so the three sons have names: Peter Tsarevich, Vasily Tsarevich, and Ivan Tsarevich.

The man was Tsar Demyan, and he had a garden with many trees. But the most beautiful was an apple tree that bore golden apples.

Alas, Tsar Demyan had a problem. Someone was stealing the golden apples. Every morning, Tsar Demyan would count his apples and find another apple was missing. "...Nine...Ten...Eleven...Dang!"

The sons took turns guarding the tree, but only Ivan stayed awake and discovered that the thief was the Firebird, although he could grasp but one golden feather.

Brave Ivan on his quest
Peter and Vasily set out to find the bird and reclaim the apples. But it was Ivan who—with the help of Grey Wolf—completed the long and perilous quest and returned with the Firebird and his diamond-studded cage, a horse and his golden bridle—and, oh yes, a girl, Elyena the Beautiful.

Ivan and Elyena were nearly home, when Peter and Vasily found them sleeping. (And then I'm afraid it gets sort of yucky.) The older brothers cut off Ivan’s head and took the booty and the bride for themselves. Poor Elyena had to buck up and adjust to a change in plans.

Sad story. Boo-hoo. The End.

No, not quite. Thank God, this is a Russian tale. The Grey Wolf gave Ivan the water of life, and Ivan returned home just as Peter was about to wed Elyena. Tsar Demyan banished the two bad boys, and Ivan and Elyena lived happily for many years. And that’s how the story really ends.

You see, in Russian folk tales, the dead have trouble staying that way! Stories like this challenge our ideas about life and death. Is death really the end? Can it be undone? Is there a force stronger than death?

The Grey Wolf

Absurd, says Entropy.  

Ridiculous, says Experience.

But something deep inside me knows that death is a fake, a masquerade. Death is not the end of my personality, my memory, my quirky sense of humor. 

Jesus spoke these words at the graveside of a friend: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies." And then he spoke some other death-defying words: "Lazarus, come forth."

Ivan's story doesn't end at the grave, and neither does mine. There's something more.

With faith, life trumps death. And that's no fairy tale.

EPILOGUE: The Stark Raving Mythopath recommends Russian folk tales to my readers--especially if you can find a collection illustrated by the artist Ivan I. Bilibin. Wonderful stories. Luscious art. A lovely way to spend a winter's afternoon by the fireplace. Note to self: get a fireplace.

1 comment:

  1. Whether or not I will go on I cannot say. But may it be that by my life others are helped, and in turn can help others. Then it will be true that I continue.

    If that doesn't work out though, there's a good chance they will learn how to download human consciousness within my life time, and then I can have a new life as the new microsoft office assistant.

    "It looks like you are trying to be sarcastic. Notice how I emphasized trying. Yes, I'm saying you suck at sarcasm."

    Se mom, your quirky humor lives on... be careful what you wish for!