Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: The Snow Maiden

It’s December, and in a good portion of the U.S., that generally means cold temperatures, icy roads and the chance of snow. Usually.

This year is different. Could be because the Mayan calendar predicts the world is going to end in under two weeks or because the polar ice caps are melting at record rates. Whatever the cause, the weather has been curiously mild. I live in the northeast where we’ve had temperatures climb into the 60s during the day. Lovely, but not fitting with our normal attire of heavy coats, boots and gloves (just for the record, I love heeled boots with long skirts so I’m suffering a mini fashion crisis here). We’ve seen one snowfall, pretty while it lasted, but not enough to amount to anything.

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.

presentRussian 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.

In another version of the tale, the snow maiden falls in love with a young man fromIn the Forest 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? Tell me about them. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Mae Clair: The Booker Award ~ Five Fab Reads

I’ve been nominated by the talented Kate Meader to participate in the Booker Award.  Kate is one of my Six Sentence Sunday buddies whose excerpts always amaze me. Be sure to check out her blog for lively and engaging writing!

So exactly how does the Booker Award work? It targets literary and book-centered blogs.
The rules are simple:

Post your five favorite books of all time
Post the booker award icon
Nominate other bloggers to do the same

Here are mine:

CHECKMATE by Dorothy Dunnett
This is the last novel in THE LYMOND CHRONICLES a six book series detailing the life of Sir Francis Crawford of Lymond from 1547 through 1558. Lymond is undoubtedly the most aggravating yet mesmerizing character I’ve encountered in literature. I was never certain if I wanted to hit the man, applaud him or marry him!

The historical detail of the series is amazing. I’m singling out CHECKMATE because it’s the culmination of a massive read. I also love THE RINGED CASTLE, (second to last book) which takes place in the court of Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible. The only book I didn’t particularly care for was the second in the series, QUEEN’S PLAY, and that’s because I was so incredibly ticked by Lymond’s actions. Despite the gargantuan size of the series (each book is in the 600-700 page range) I’ve read it several times and am gearing up to read it again.

How to put this in highbrow literary prose? IT ROCKS! 😀

THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING
by T.H. White
I’ve been in love with King Arthur since I was a teen, completely enamored of Camelot’s king. I first read THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING in junior high and have gone back several times since. Not only was it a compelling and lyrical read, but it left me with an amazing impression of chivalry, justice and ‘might vs. right.’ Although I’ve never been a Lancelot fan it was an adjustment getting used to him in this adaption as he is portrayed as ugly, even hideous. I can still vividly recall sitting in the library in eighth grade and giggling over the Questing Beast.  Hmm…there might be a Mythical Monday post in that! 😀

THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING by J.R.R. Tolkien
My tenth grade English teacher introduced me to Frodo, Gandalf and the group. Up until that point I was reading mainly science-fiction. I had no idea the world of fantasy existed. Unlike most readers who started with THE HOBBIT and went on to read THE LORD OF THE RINGS, I read them in reverse. That’s probably why the FELLOWSHIP resonates so strongly with me. It was my first exposure to the fantasy genre and it was pure magic.  I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it.

A TALE OF TWO CITIES by Charles Dickens
This was a book I was assigned to read in junior high. Ugh!  Remember those? Despite the fact I’ve always been an avid reader, most of the have-to-read-books I was assigned in school made my eyes glaze over. That included a lot of classics (although I loved anything by Jack London and Mark Twain). Keep in mind, my reading of choice revolved around space creatures, monsters and anything ‘weird.’ Shockingly, I fell in love with this novel. Maybe it was the budding romantic in me. From the first page, I was sucked into the story and still love it today–not only for the emotional element but the historical detail as well.

THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr
I loved the setting of this novel (1896 New York) and its blend of history, psychology and Sherlock Holmes-like detective work. It’s an historical crime novel but richly layered on multiple levels. There’s also an amazing sequel, THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS, which is every bit as compelling. I’m only sorry the author didn’t write a third with the same set of characters, particularly Dr. Laszlo Kreizler.

Another book I have to mention is THE TERROR by Dan Simmons. If you’re a frequent visitor to my blog, you’ve probably heard me talk about it before. The only reason it’s not at the top of my list is that I’m not sure it qualifies as a ‘literary’ read. The book is a richly detailed fictional account of Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1845. It combines elements of history, myth, horror and the supernatural and is by turns beautiful, lyrical, brutal and terrifying. The HMS Terror was one of two ships Franklin led into the artic, the other, the HMS Erebus.  The ships became trapped in the ice and the crews were never seen again. Simmons novel is a fictional accounting of what may have happened to the men after their vessels became trapped. If I had to name a single book as my favorite read of all time, it’s unquestionably this one.

And now, I’m pleased to nominate the following bloggers:

Sheri de Grom
Stephanie Ingram
L.J. Kentowski
Loni Flowers
Christina McKnight

What are your five faves?