Tuesday, September 15, 2015

What happened to the Firebird. Legend of Maryushka. Russian variations.

 What was a nation's golden age. Was it ever. What values are transmitted, and why.

1.  Legend of Maryushka, The Firebird; and
2.  Plot in Stravinsky's score (and ballet) Firebird

Overview. Cultures all seem to look back for a version of a golden age of simple, solid values, but do little to change current mores to make a return to it possible. Stories change as values change, to reflect what the culture wants to pass on.  Look up The Firebird, and find French and other versions, all available easily online and in anthologies.  Many present the usual love-and-quest story, a phoenix with twists.

Then examine an early Russian Firebird:  it exemplifies different values from the male-oriented quest and overcoming obstacles -- a girl's meekness and humility, acceptance of suffering, and as in some of the lives of saints of the day, "peaceful nonresistance to injustice," see Maryushka, the Firebird: Russian legend found in Land of the Firebird, the Beauty of Old Russia, by Suzanne Massie, 1980, reprintings through 2004 so far. Humble aspects in religion suggested through tales, lived out, see page 23.

Fast forward, then, to Stravinsky's The Firebird, and its plot synopsis, see Stravinsky, the Composer and his Works. at page 185.  There is the later form, the quests, and a Firebird separate from the victims of the evil one, here an Ogre.  Or did the forms coexist? speaking to different populations in the culture?

1.  Russian Legend of Maryushka, the Firebird, at Land of the Firebird by Suzanne Massey, above, at pages 18-19.

 Download the story.  Buy. Go to the library. Read it. It is unusual in emphasis on beauty for its own sake, not to be sold for one's own glory.

Summary of the legend in Land of the Firebird:
An orphaned village girl, Maryushka, was a gifted embroiderer who had no interest in the riches she could attain by selling her wares far and wide.  Instead, she wanted to stay in her village, selling to those who found her work to be beautiful, and charging only what was needed for her craft, and the buyer could afford. She would not leave her village. The merchants went away, year after year.  Then the evil sorcerer, Kaschei, learned of her skill, and shape-changed into a handsome youth who went to her cottage and asked her to leave with him, to embroider for him alone, so others could no see, and to be his Queen. She declined. Enraged, he turned her into a bird -- a Firebird. He himself became a black falcon who captured the Firebird in his claws and flew off. Maryushka, aware, sought to "leave a last memory of herself" and plucked her plumage, feather by feather as she was taken away, so each floated and wafted to the earth below. Then Maryushka, the Firebird, died in the claws of the Falcon. But her feathers, rainbows of light, each remained where it landed, never covered, and bright despite winds and rains, beautiful, where they had fallen. They were magic, though, and only those who loved beauty and dedicated themselves to making beauty for others could see them.
Maryushka, or Maryoshka, is also the name given the traditional nesting dolls, but is there any other connection?
  • Vetting the Maryushka-Firebird tale source:  Land of the Firebird cites, in the General bibliography, this Pantheon book, 1973, currently available through a British seller, at  http://www.abebooks.co.uk/book-search/title/russian-fairy-tales/author/afanasev-aleksandr/.  I have from the library another version from 1945, Pantheon, with copyright renewed 1973, the second edition, and do not see this Firebird and Maryushka in it.  Need to see the first edition; then again, not every tale is specifically annotated to the bibliography, and the Maryushka also is not specifically attributed.  Am still looking.

2. Stravinsky.  Another version of the tale is in the Stravinsky score, Firebird, and ballet. Read about the Stravinsky score, The Firebird, and its plot synopsis, see Stravinsky, the Composer and his Works. at page 185:  there, magic, a prince, a fairy, evil, spells, princesses, the whole schmear.

Summary of the Stravinsky Firebird:

The Firebird is a good fairy; immortal Kashchei is an ogre with talons of green, evil incarnate.  He holds innocent girls captive, and turns men into stone. He is vulnerable, however, in that his soul is within an egg, within a casket. Find them, smash the egg, and he must die.  Young Prince Ivan slips into the enchanted garden and sees the Firebird eating apples. He reaches for her, grasping the tail but the Firebird escapes upon forfeiting a single feather, left in the hand of the Prince. Exit Firebird. Prince meanders farther in the Garden, meets enchanted maidens, loves one! learns their plight and follows them into the Palace at dawn. But he is caught by Kashchei's monsters and remembers the feather just in time.  No stone-fellow he. Wave the thing! He does, the Firebird, summoned, appears and tells of the mortality of Kashchei.  Prince finds casket, and egg, smashes egg and Kashchei dies. All spells waste away, all captives are liberated, and Prince Ivan and his Chosen now- un-enchanted lady are betrothed. 

Why read old tales?  Tales are important to a culture, in shaping how a child hearing the story thinks and sees his world.  Find broad categories of plots touching on real-life situations and how the culture sees them, as well as the fabulous, at http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html

3. Similarities

a. A beautiful maiden, one with skills and identity; another without.
b. A dark force, Kashchei: one a shape-changer protagonist but with specific goals of power and greed, another a mere ogre capturing and enchanting young girls, but with a vulnerable immortality.
c. No Prince at all in one, but a developed Protagonist with personality in the other.
d. A Firebird that is the unplanned result of Dark Force Kashchei transforming the beautiful girl into a shape he can dominate but without immortality for it so she can and does die, in the one; in the other a separate Firebird, a fairy in her own right, and separate from captive maidens, and aiding the Prince, in the other;

And then...   and then...

e.  The message of the one is conflict of a non-questing sort, just an overpowering by cheating. The other is a common-theme quest that glorifies the young man who successfully overcomes, even with the Firebird's help. Maryushka:  values creation of beauty for its own sake, autonomy to follow one's own dedications.  Inspirational.  Stravinsky: just another fabulous, dreamy scary lovely story, but nothing to inspire.  Little girls, you have no identity of your own, and should stay inside so Ogres cannot get you.

Conclusion:  Time to go back to legends that represent that idea of beauty for its own sake, that foster following an individual calling, no compulsion to fit in others' ideas and consent to exploitation that only they benefit from.  Do your calling. If you need no others, that is your choice.

Here's to the legend of the Firebird that Massie found.

4.  National, regional differences.

Russia.  The source of this Land of the Firebird version may be part of its Selected Bibliography: It lists Afanas'ev, Aleksandr, comp., Russian Fairy Tales. New York, Pantheon Books, 1973.  Found: at http://www.abebooks.com/book-search/isbn/9780394730905/

In process of checking it out.

Why is it an apparently rare version?  Is it because the values in this version of the Firebird legend run counter to today's focus on achievement, rising on rungs of glory, quest, overcoming obstacles.  This legendary Firebird-maiden who dies for her love of beauty and for her unwillingness for beauty to be exploited, is subsumed in power-cultures anywhere.

5. Where but in these few tales of valuing one's own gifts and choices can a child turn in the fairy tale world.  Without them, where does a child go for support in wanting a simple life of service among those who appreciate the work.  Working without focus on profit and glory? Up go the cultural crossed index fingers, is that so.

6.  Extrapolating.  Russia, to a casual visitor (like me recently), seems to approach the childhoods of its citizens in a way that fosters their enjoyment of a golden age, if the family has reasonable means to do so.
For many adults anywhere, memory and the content of childhood tales do intermingle, with the idea that things precious can be and will be lost.  We get that.  How to foster the simple idea of beauty for its own sake, in these days.  Does that have a value for humans in itself?
Despite the loss coming in adulthood, for children of some reasonable means (the very poor may not be included?), their adults do foster childhood. How long?
Childhood as a golden age is not a consistent theme in the West. Our fairy tales pit children against evils and quests, movement to every higher rungs of meeting challenge, but seldom rest at the delight-in-life stage.

Humble house. Maryushka? Her own golden age? from high speed train, Moscow to St. Petersburg, Russia

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