Mythical Monday: The Snow Maiden by Mae Clair

I’m cheating today by reblogging a Mythical Monday post I ran in December of 2012, although I think this will be new to most of my readers. Given the craziness of the holidays and the writing projects I’ve been juggling (final edits for my publisher on MYTH AND MAGIC (releasing June of 2015) and trying to wrap up my Mothman mystery so I can submit it), I neglected to come up with a Mythical Monday post today. I hope you don’t mind this trip down memory lane . . .

~ooOOoo~

As much as I love warm weather (and wouldn’t mind living somewhere tropical year round), I’ve always held a fascination for stories set in cold climates. A few of my all-time favorite novels have earned that distinction because the author employed a winter backdrop. Snow settings can be beautiful and magical, but also claustrophobic. THE RINGED CASTLE by Dorothy Dunnett (book 5 of the Lymond Chronicles) is an amazing read set in 16th Century Russia that conjures all three of those feelings.

Beautiful young woman in dressed in old fashioned winter furs and pearlsRussian folklore is also where I found the legend of The Snow Maiden, a short poignant fairy tale.  There are several variations but all agree on the basics—a woodcutter and his wife, lonely and childless, decide to amuse themselves one day by fashioning a snegurochka, a maiden from snow. Taken with their creation, they fervently wish her to be a daughter they can love and cherish. Their desire is so strong it weaves an enchantment that brings the snow maiden to life. She appears in a robe and cap of pale ivory that is embellished by pearls and trimmed in white fur. Overjoyed, they take her into their home as their own child.

All is well until the first sign of spring when the snow maiden tells them she must head north to lands where winter still reigns. Upset at the thought of losing her, the woodcutter barricades the door as his wife wraps the girl in her arms to prevent her from fleeing. As she holds her, the snow maiden slowly melts into nothingness. Overcome by grief, the couple mourns throughout the year. The next winter their daughter returns and their sadness becomes joy. The snow maiden promises to stay the season and return each year after that.

Young women standing in forest as sun breaks through the treesIn another version of the tale, the snow maiden falls in love with a young man from the village. One day they wander into a birch wood where the last vestiges of winter are fading and green shoots struggle to push up from the ground. The snow maiden turns her face to the sun, and with its touch, dwindles into an icy mist that is whisked away by the wind. And so winter must always yield to light and life as winter yields to spring.

I love these old fairy tales. What about you? Are there any special ones that come to mind? Any favorites from childhood that still resonate with you the way snow and winter resonate with magic?

Mythical Monday: White Cat Castle by May Clair

It’s been a while since I’ve shared a fairy tale on Mythical Monday. Although somewhat obscure, I think you’ll find the theme of White Cat Castle familiar.

According to legend, there was once a greedy king who clung tenaciously to his throne despite having three able sons. One day – perhaps goaded by his subjects who saw an aging ruler – the king announced he would surrender his crown to the son who brought him the tiniest dog in the world. If the task could not be completed within one year, he would maintain his throne.

The youngest son searched tirelessly. Eventually, after many long weeks, he found himself in a strange land, battered by a ferocious thunderstorm. Seeking shelter, he came upon a magnificent castle. Light streamed from the windows as brilliantly as the sun, and gentle music soothed the storm into silence.

When the prince sought entrance, invisible hands ushered him into the castle. There, he was given richly embroidered clothes and guided to a seat at a table where a lavish banquet awaited. All of these ministrations were performed by the same invisible hands.

Famished, the prince ate hungrily. He was about to drink from a goblet filled with wine when a regal cat strolled into the chamber. The feline was exquisitely beautiful with fur as white as newly fallen snow, and a gracefulness any high-born woman would envy. The prince was so overcome by her poise he immediately stood to greet her.

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The white cat positioned herself on a golden stool and listened as he shared his tale. When he was through she bade him to drink the wine in his goblet. Upon tasting the sweet libation, the prince instantly forgot all about this father’s quest. He stayed with the cat for almost a year, attended by the invisible hands. During the day he and his feline companion rode through verdant meadows and green hillsides, the prince on his horse, the cat on a white monkey. When the sun dipped below the horizon, the cat sang to him, her voice the sweetest he’d ever heard.

When the year was nearly through she reminded him of his quest, handing him an acorn to present to his father. “Give this to your father, the king, and you will have his throne.”

The prince returned to his own land and offered the prize as instructed. But when a tiny dog stepped from the acorn, the selfish king immediately devised another task.

“This dog is not enough. I will surrender my throne to the son who brings me muslin so fine it will slip through the eye of a needle.”

Once more the three sons set out on a seemingly impossible quest. The young prince returned to the white cat’s castle and drank her wine. Once more he forgot his quest and was attended by invisible hands. This time, when the year was nearly through, the white cat gave him a walnut. Tucked inside was a hazelnut, and inside the hazelnut was a grain of wheat. Within the grain of wheat was a grain of millet, and inside the millet, a length of muslin so fine it would easily pass through the eye of a needle.

“Give this to your father, the king, and you will have his throne.”

Prize in hand, the prince returned to his own land. But unwilling to surrender his throne, the king set a third and final task.

“I must know my kingdom is secure, and will have an heir to continue my lineage. For that reason, I will surrender my throne to the son who returns with the most beautiful bride in the land.”

The prince rode back to the white cat’s castle to share his news. As he relayed the story, his heart quickened. The cat was lovelier than ever, graceful and kind. She had come to mean so very much to him.

“You will take a bride?” She seemed sad, but urged him to drink her wine.

Again, he spent nearly a year with her, more content than he had ever been. When it was almost time for him to leave, the white cat asked for a favor of her choosing.

“Anything.”  It was a promise he made freely for he’d come to cherish her above all else in his life.

“You must take your sword and chop off my head.”

“No. Never!” The prince was horrified. “I have come to love you as deeply as any bride. Do not ask this of me.”

But she insisted, holding him to his vow. Filled with sorrow that he was bound to such a loathsome deed, the prince drew his sword and sliced the head from her body.  Before his eyes, the cat transformed into a bride more beautiful than any on earth. The invisible servants that had tended him through the years instantly became human.

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Stunned, the prince listened as the beautiful woman told him how she had been placed under a spell by an evil magician. With the curse broken, she could resume her rightful place as queen of her country. Already deeply in love, the prince needed no coaxing to remain at her side. He never returned to his father’s country. Together, he ruled with the woman he loved, and they became king and queen of White Cat’s Castle.

Can you hear the happily-ever-after in that ending? Don’t you just love fairy tales? 😀