Friday, December 25, 2009

Stories for the Season: The Months/Strawberries In the Snow

"The Enchanted Princess"
Photo-manipulation by Krysta (a.k.a. GettysGirl on Flickr

I think of the Russian tale "Strawberries in the Snow" (also known as "The Months", "The Twelve Months", "The Tale of the Kind and the Unkind Girls") as basically a Winter/Yule form of "Diamonds and Toads" and again, this tale seemed commonly known when I was a girl but it's now hard to find any 'regular' tale collections that include it or any picture book retellings, which is a shame because this tale should be an illustrator's dream.
Russian Fairy Tale "Twelve Months"
by M. Pichugina

Basically a girl (with a good heart) is sent out by either her evil/just-plain-mean mother or stepmother to find strawberries in the dead of Winter (sometimes it's strawberries, sometimes apples). On her futile trip through the snow drifts she sees a campfire in the woods and approaches in the hopes of a little warmth. It turns out the twelve men around the fire are the months of the year and it's not long before the girl, through her manners and selflessness, is helped by the Months to find whatever it is, she's been sent to collect (a patch of snow melts, sweet and large strawberries grow before her eyes and ripen/a tree shakes the ice off it's branches, buds, blooms then grows bright red apples etc). Often The Winter King or December is involved in providing warmth/curbing the frost as the pertinent months do their part in helping the plant grow. Of course, you know what happens. The girl joyfully returns home without even taking one bite herself. Sometimes she's sent back out on multiple trips to get different things but ultimately the other sister (or stepsister) with the selfish heart is sent out to find more of the same or something better but her rudeness to the men around the fire causes her to end up lost and frozen in the snow.

There are, of course, many variants on this (you can read a version in which the girl must look for snowdrops HERE) and it's very possible I've mashed a few of them together in my own summary but the basic idea of being aided by The Winter King and his brothers/comrades and gifting the good girl is very much a Christmas/Yule scene.

Those interested in this tale in a scholarly fashion may find this link interesting: a book discussing the conundrum in fairy tale studies of "The tale of the kind and the unkind girls", or "Strawberries in the Snow", published in 1994. You can read a few of the pages if you do a Google book search. The link to the whole book is HERE and though out of print still seems available if you search for it. (No lovely cover sorry - I gather it's just purple with type.)
S. Marshak wrote several plays for kids based on Russian fairy tales in the late 1800's and The Twelve Months is one of them. The book I'm linking to is an illustrated version and is described as "light and witty". Need I say 'it's on my wishlist'? You can find it HERE.

* The artist who did this photo-manipulation said the fairy tale she was illustrated is called "The Enchanted Princess". She includes a summary and although parts of it are familiar from different tales I've never read all these elements in a tale called "The Enchanted Princess" before. The beginning is similar so I'll include it here:
Evil stepmother, ugly and mean stepsister; the girl is sent into the woods in a paper dress and shoeless to find strawberries in mid-winter. Magic elves enchant her - she'll grow more beautiful every day, gold coins will fall from her mouth when she speaks, and she'll lead a long and wonderful life.
I've read 'sent out in rags' before but not the paper dress. It's a nice touch. You can read the rest HERE.
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