Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

COMPLETE! Entered into SurLaLune Database in October 2018 with all known ATU Classifications.


From these vocal rivers we will now turn to that elementary force by which in winter they are often rendered mute. In the story which is now about to be quoted will be found a striking personification of Frost. As a general rule, Winter plays by no means so important a part as might have been expected in Northern tales. As in other European countries, so in Russia, the romantic stories of the people are full of pictures bathed in warm sunlight, but they do not often represent the aspect of the land when the sky is grey, and the earth is a sheet of white, and outdoor life is sombre and still. Here and there, it is true, glimpses of snowy landscapes are offered by the skazkas. But it is seldom that a wintry effect is so deliberately produced in them as is the case in the following remarkable version of a well-known tale.

FROST. [1]

THERE was once an old man who had a wife and three daughters. The wife had no love for the eldest of the three, who was her stepdaughter, but was always scolding her. Moreover, she used to make her get up ever so early in the morning, and gave her all the work of the house to do. Before daybreak the girl would feed the cattle and give them to drink, fetch wood and water indoors, light the fire in the stove, give the room a wash, mend the dresses, and set everything in order. Even then her stepmother was never satisfied, but would grumble away at Marfa, exclaiming:--

                 "What a lazybones! what a slut! Why here's a brush not in its place, and there's something put wrong, and she's left the muck inside the house!"

                 The girl held her peace, and wept; she tried in every way to accommodate herself to her stepmother, and to be of service to her stepsisters. But they, taking pattern by their mother, were always insulting Marfa, quarrelling with her, and making her cry: that was even a pleasure to them! As for them, they lay in bed late, washed themselves in water got ready for them, dried themselves with a clean towel, and didn't sit down to work till after dinner.

                 Well, our girls grew and grew, until they grew up and were old enough to be married. The old man felt sorry for his eldest daughter, whom he loved because she was industrious and obedient, never was obstinate, always did as she was bid, and never uttered a word of contradiction. But he didn't know how he was to help her in her trouble. He was feeble, his wife was a scold, and her daughters were as obstinate as they were indolent.

                 Well, the old folks set to work to consider--the husband how he could get his daughters settled, the wife how she could get rid of the eldest one. One day she says to him:--

                 "I say, old man! let's get Marfa married."

                 "Gladly," says he, slinking off (to the sleeping-place) above the stove. But his wife called after him:--

                 "Get up early to-morrow, old man, harness the mare to the sledge, and drive away with Marfa. And, Marfa, get your things together in a basket, and put on a clean shift; you're going away to-morrow on a visit."

                 Poor Marfa was delighted to hear of such a piece of good luck as being invited on a visit, and she slept comfortably all night. Early next morning she got up, washed herself, prayed to God, got all her things together, packed them away in proper order, dressed herself (in her best things), and looked something like a lass!--a bride fit for any place whatsoever!

                 Now it was winter time, and out of doors was a rattling frost. Early in the morning, between daybreak and sunrise, the old man harnessed the mare to the sledge, and led it up to the steps. Then he went indoors, sat down on the window-sill, and said:--

                 "Now then! I've got everything ready."

                 "Sit down to table and swallow your victuals!" replied the old woman.

                 The old man sat down to table, and made his daughter sit by his side. On the table stood a pannier; he took out a loaf, [2] and cut bread for himself and his daughter. Meantime his wife served up a dish of old cabbage soup, and said:--

                 "There, my pigeon, eat and be off; I've looked at you quite enough! Drive Marfa to her bridegroom, old man. And look here, old greybeard! drive straight along the road at first, and then turn off from the road to the right, you know, into the forest--right up to the big pine that stands on the hill, and there hand Marfa over to Morozko (Frost)."

                 The old man opened his eyes wide, also his mouth, and stopped eating, and the girl began lamenting.

                 "Now then, what are you hanging your chaps and squealing about?" said her stepmother. "Surely your bridegroom is a beauty, and he's that rich! Why, just see what a lot of things belong to him, the firs, the pine-tops, and the birches, all in their robes of down--ways and means that any one might envy; and he himself a bogatir!" [3]

                 The old man silently placed the things on the sledge, made his daughter put on a warm pelisse, and set off on the journey. After a time, he reached the forest, turned off from the road; and drove across the frozen snow. [4] When he got into the depths of the forest, he stopped, made his daughter get out, laid her basket under the tall pine, and said:--

                 "Sit here, and await the bridegroom. And mind you receive him as pleasantly as you can."

                 Then he turned his horse round and drove off homewards.

                 The girl sat and shivered. The cold had pierced her through. She would fain have cried aloud, but she had not strength enough; only her teeth chattered. Suddenly she heard a sound. Not far off, Frost was cracking away on a fir. From fir to fir was he leaping, and snapping his fingers. Presently he appeared on that very pine under which the maiden was sitting and from above her head he cried:--

                 "Art thou warm, maiden?"

                 "Warm, warm am I, dear Father Frost," she replied.

                 Frost began to descend lower, all the more cracking and snapping his fingers. To the maiden said Frost:--

                 "Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, fair one?"

                 The girl could scarcely draw her breath, but still she replied:

                 "Warm am I, Frost dear: warm am I, father dear!"

                 Frost began cracking more than ever, and more loudly did he snap his fingers, and to the maiden he said:--

                 "Art thou warm, maiden? Art thou warm, pretty one? Art thou warm, my darling?"

                 The girl was by this time numb with cold, and she could scarcely make herself heard as she replied:--

                 "Oh! quite warm, Frost dearest!"

                 Then Frost took pity on the girl, wrapped her up in furs, and warmed her with blankets.

                 Next morning the old woman said to her husband:--

                 "Drive out, old greybeard, and wake the young couple!"

                 The old man harnessed his horse and drove off. When he came to where his daughter was, he found she was alive and had got a good pelisse, a costly bridal veil, and a pannier with rich gifts. He stowed everything away on the sledge without saying a word, took his seat on it with his daughter, and drove back. They reached home, and the daughter fell at her stepmother's feet. The old woman was thunderstruck when she saw the girl alive, and the new pelisse and the basket of linen.

                 "Ah, you wretch!" she cries. "But you shan't trick me!"

                 Well, a little later the old woman says to her husband:--

                 "Take my daughters, too, to their bridegroom. The presents he's made are nothing to what he'll give them."

                 Well, early next morning the old woman gave her girls their breakfast, dressed them as befitted brides, and sent them off on their journey. In the same way as before the old man left the girls under the pine.

                 There the girls sat, and kept laughing and saying:

                 "Whatever is mother thinking of! All of a sudden to marry both of us off! As if there were no lads in our village, forsooth! Some rubbishy fellow may come, and goodness knows who he may be!"

                 The girls were wrapped up in pelisses, but for all that they felt the cold.

                 "I say, Prascovia! the frost's skinning me alive. Well, if our bridegroom [5] doesn't come quick, we shall be frozen to death here!"

                 "Don't go talking nonsense, Mashka; as if suitors [6] generally turned up in the forenoon. Why it's hardly dinner-time yet!"

                 "But I say, Prascovia! if only one comes, which of us will he take?"

                 "Not you, you stupid goose!"

                 "Then it will be you, I suppose!"

                 "Of course it will be me!"

                 "You, indeed! there now, have done talking stuff and treating people like fools!"

                 Meanwhile, Frost had numbed the girl's hands, so our damsels folded them under their dress, and then went on quarrelling as before.

                 "What, you fright! you sleepy-face! you abominable shrew! why, you don't know so much as how to begin weaving: and as to going on with it, you haven't an idea!"

                 "Aha, boaster! and what is it you know? Why, nothing at all except to go out to merry-makings and lick your lips there. We'll soon see which he'll take first!"

                 While the girls went on scolding like that, they began to freeze in downright earnest. Suddenly they both cried out at once:

                 "Whyever is he so long coming. Do you know, you've turned quite blue!"

                 Now, a good way off, Frost had begun cracking, snapping his fingers, and leaping from fir to fir. To the girls it sounded as if some one was coming.

                 "Listen, Prascovia! He's coming at last, and with bells, too!"

                 "Get along with you! I won't listen; my skin is peeling with cold."

                 "And yet you're still expecting to get married!"

                 Then they began blowing on their fingers.

                 Nearer and nearer came Frost. At length he appeared on the pine, above the heads of the girls, and said to them:

                 "Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones? Are ye warm, my darlings?"

                 "Oh, Frost, it's awfully cold! we're utterly perished! We're expecting a bridegroom, but the confounded fellow has disappeared."

                 Frost slid lower down the tree, cracked away more, snapped his fingers oftener than before.

                 "Are ye warm, maidens? Are ye warm, pretty ones?"

                 "Get along with you! Are you blind that you can't see our hands and feet are quite dead?"

                 Still lower descended Frost, still more put forth his might, [7] and said:

                 "Are ye warm, maidens?"

                 "Into the bottomless pit with you! Out of sight, accursed one!" cried the girls--and became lifeless forms. [8]

                 Next morning the old woman said to her husband:

                 "Old man, go and get the sledge harnessed; put an armful of hay in it, and take some sheep-skin wraps. I daresay the girls are half-dead with cold. There's a terrible frost outside! And, mind you, old greybeard, do it quickly!"

                 Before the old man could manage to get a bite he was out of doors and on his way. When he came to where his daughters were, he found them dead. So he lifted the girls on to the sledge, wrapped a blanket round them, and covered them up with a bark mat. The old woman saw him from afar, ran out to meet him, and called out ever so loud:

                 "Where are the girls?"

                 "In the sledge."

                 The old woman lifted the mat, undid the blanket, and found the girls both dead.

                 Then, like a thunderstorm, she broke out against her husband, abusing him saying:

                 "What have you done, you old wretch? You have destroyed my daughters, the children of my own flesh and blood, my never-enough-to-be-gazed-on seedlings, my beautiful berries! I will thrash you with the tongs; I will give it you with the stove-rake."

                 "That's enough, you old goose! You flattered yourself you were going to get riches, but your daughters were too stiff-necked. How was I to blame? it was you yourself would have it."

                 The old woman was in a rage at first, and used bad language; but afterwards she made it up with her stepdaughter, and they all lived together peaceably, and thrived, and bore no malice. A neighbor made an offer of marriage, the wedding was celebrated, and Marfa is now living happily. The old man frightens his grandchildren with (stories about) Frost, and doesn't let them have their own way.

               In a variant from the Kursk Government (Afanasief IV. No. 42. b), the stepdaughter is left by her father "in the open plain." There she sits, "trembling and silently offering up a prayer." Frost draws near, intending "to smite her and to freeze her to death." But when he says to her, "Maiden, maiden, I am Frost the Red-Nosed," she replies "Welcome, Frost; doubtless God has sent you for my sinful soul." Pleased by her "wise words," Frost throws a warm cloak over her, and afterwards presents her with "robes embroidered with silver and gold, and a chest containing rich dowry." The girl puts on the robes, and appears "such a beauty!" Then she sits on the chest and sings songs. Meantime her stepmother is baking cakes and preparing for her funeral. After a time her father sets out in search of her dead body. But the dog beneath the table barks--"Taff! Taff! The master's daughter in silver and gold by the wedding party is borne along, but the mistress's daughter is wooed by none!" In vain does its mistress throw it a cake, and order it to modify its remarks. It eats the cake, but it repeats its offensive observations, until the stepdaughter appears in all her glory. Then the old woman's own daughter is sent afield. Frost comes to have a look at his new guest, expecting "wise words" from her too. But as none are forthcoming, he waxes wroth, and kills her. When the old man goes to fetch her, the dog barks--"Taff! Taff! The master's daughter will be borne along by the bridal train, but the bones of the mistress's daughter are being carried in a bag," and continues to bark in the same strain until the yard-gates open. The old woman runs out to greet her daughter, and "instead of her embraces a cold corpse."

               To the Russian peasants, it should be observed, Moroz, our own Jack Frost, is a living personage. On Christmas Eve it is customary for the oldest man in each family to take a spoonful of kissel, a sort of pudding, and then, having put his head through the window, to cry:

               "Frost, Frost, come and eat kissel! Frost, Frost, do not kill our oats! drive our flax and hemp deep into the ground."

               The Tcheremisses have similar ideas, and are afraid of knocking the icicles off their houses, thinking that, if they do so, Frost will wax wroth and freeze them to death. In one of the Skazkas, a peasant goes out one day to a field of buckwheat, and finds it all broken down. He goes home, and tells the bad news to his wife, who says, "It is Frost who has done this. Go and find him, and make him pay for the damage!" So the peasant goes into the forest and, after wandering about for some time, lights upon a path which leads him to a cottage made of ice, covered with snow, and hung with icicles. He knocks at the door, and out comes an old man--"all white." This is Frost, who presents him with the magic cudgel and table-cloth which work wonders in so many of the tales. [9] In another story, a peasant meets the Sun, the Wind, and the Frost. He bows to all three, but adds an extra salutation to the Wind. This enrages the two others, and the Sun cries out that he will burn up the peasant. But the Wind says, "I will blow cold, and temper the heat." Then the Frost threatens to freeze the peasant to death, but the Wind comforts him, saying, "I will blow warm, and will not let you be hurt." [10]

               Sometimes the Frost is described by the people as a mighty smith who forges strong chains with which to bind the earth and the waters--as in the saying "The Old One has built a bridge without axe and without knife," i.e., the river is frozen over. Sometimes Moroz-Treskun, the Crackling Frost, is spoken of without disguise as the preserver of the hero who is ordered to enter a bath which has been heated red-hot. Frost goes into the bath, and breathes with so icy a breath that the heat of the building turns at once to cold. [11]

               The story in which Frost so singularly figures is one which is known in many lands, and of which many variants are current in Russia. The jealous hatred of a stepmother, who exposes her stepdaughter to some great peril, has been made the theme of countless tales. What gives its special importance, as well as its poetical charm, to the skazka which has been quoted, is the introduction of Frost as the power to which the stepmother has recourse for the furtherance of her murderous plans, and by which she, in the persons of her own daughters, is ultimately punished. We have already dealt with one specimen of the skazkas of this class, the story of Vasilissa, who is sent to the Baba Yaga's for a light. Another, still more closely connected with that of "Frost," occurs in Khudyakof's collection. [12]

               A certain woman ordered her husband (says the story) to make away with his daughter by a previous marriage. So he took the girl into the forest, and left her in a kind of hut, telling her to prepare some soup while he was cutting wood. "At that time there was a gale blowing. The old man tied a log to a tree; when the wind blew, the log rattled. She thought the old man was going on cutting wood, but in reality he had gone away home."

               When the soup was ready, she called out to her father to come to dinner. No reply came from him, "but there was a human head in the forest, and it replied, 'I'm coming immediately!' And when the Head arrived, it cried, 'Maiden, open the door!' She opened it. 'Maiden, Maiden! lift me over the threshold!' She lifted it over. 'Maiden, Maiden! put the dinner on the table!' She did so, and she and the Head sat down to dinner. When they had dined, 'Maiden, Maiden!' said the Head, 'take me off the bench!' She took it off the bench, and cleared the table. It lay down to sleep on the bare floor; she lay on the bench. She fell asleep, but it went into the forest after its servants. The house became bigger; servants, horses, everything one could think of suddenly appeared. The servants came to the maiden, and said, 'Get up! it's time to go for a drive!' So she got into a carriage with the Head, but she took a cock along with her. She told the cock to crow; it crowed. Again she told it to crow; it crowed again. And a third time she told it to crow. When it had crowed for the third time, the Head fell to pieces, and became a heap of golden coins." [13]

               Then the stepmother sent her own daughter into the forest. Everything occurred as before, until the Head arrived. Then she was so frightened that she tried to hide herself, and she would do nothing for the Head, which had to dish up its own dinner, and eat it by itself. And so "when she lay down to sleep, it ate her up."

               In a story in Chudinsky's collection, the stepdaughter is sent by night to watch the rye in an ovin, [14] or corn-kiln. Presently a stranger appears and asks her to marry him. She replies that she has no wedding-clothes, upon which he brings her everything she asks for. But she is very careful not to ask for more than one thing at a time, and so the cock crows before her list of indispensable necessaries is exhausted. The stranger immediately disappears, and she carries off her presents in triumph.

               The next night her stepsister is sent to the ovin, and the stranger appears as before, and asks her to marry him. She, also, replies that she has no wedding-clothes, and he offers to supply her with what she wants. Whereupon, instead of asking for a number of things one after the other, she demands them all at once--"Stockings, garters, a petticoat, a dress, a comb, earrings, a mirror, soap, white paint and rouge, and everything which her stepsister had got." Then follows the catastrophe.

                 The stranger brought her everything, all at once.

                 "Now then," says he, "will you marry me now?"

                 "Wait a bit," said the stepmother's daughter, "I'll wash and dress, and whiten myself and rouge myself, and then I'll marry you." And straightway she set to work washing and dressing--and she hastened and hurried to get all that done--she wanted so awfully to see herself decked out as a bride. By-and-by she was quite dressed--but the cock had not yet crowed.

                 "Well, maiden!" says he, "will you marry me now?"

                 "I'm quite ready," says she.

                 Thereupon he tore her to pieces. [15]

               There is one other of those personifications of natural forces which play an active part in the Russian tales, about which a few words may be said. It often happens that the heroine-stealer whom the hero of the story has to overcome is called, not Koshchei nor the Snake, but Vikhor, [16] the whirlwind. Here is a brief analysis of part of one of the tales in which this elementary abducer figures. There was a certain king, whose wife went out one day to walk in the garden. "Suddenly a gale (vyeter) sprang up. In the gale was the Vikhor-bird. Vikhor seized the Queen, and carried her off." She left three sons, and they, when they came to man's estate, said to their father--"Where is our mother? If she be dead, show us her grave; if she be living, tell us where to find her."

               "I myself know not where your mother is," replied the King. "Vikhor carried her off."

               "Well then," they said, "since Vikhor carried her off, and she is alive, give us your blessing. We will go in search of our mother."

               All three set out, but only the youngest, Prince Vasily, succeeded in climbing the steep hill, whereon stood the palace in which his mother and Vikhor lived. Entering it during Vikhor's absence, the Prince made himself known to his mother, "who straightway gave him to eat, and concealed him in a distant apartment, hiding him behind a number of cushions, so that Vikhor might not easily discover him." And she gave him these instructions. "If Vikhor comes, and begins quarrelling, don't come forth, but if he takes to chatting, come forth and say, 'Hail father!' and seize hold of the little finger of his right hand, and wherever he flies do you go with him."

               Presently Vikhor came flying in, and addressed the Queen angrily. Prince Vasily remained concealed until his mother gave him a hint to come forth. This he did, and then greeted Vikhor, and caught hold of his right little finger. Vikhor tried to shake him off, flying first about the house and then out of it, but all in vain. At last Vikhor, after soaring on high, struck the ground, and fell to pieces, becoming a fine yellow sand. "But the little finger remained in the possession of Prince Vasily, who scraped together the sand and burnt it in the stove." [17]

               With a mention of two other singular beings who occur in the Skazkas, the present chapter may be brought to a close. The first is a certain Morfei (Morpheus?) who figures in the following variant of a well-known tale.

               There was a king, and he had a daughter with whom a general who lived over the way fell in love. But the king would not let him marry her unless he went where none had been, and brought back thence what none had seen. After much consideration the general set out and travelled "over swamps, hill, and rivers." At last he reached a wood in which was a hut, and inside the hut was an old crone. To her he told his story, after hearing which, she cried out, "Ho, there! Morfei, dish up the meal!" and immediately a dinner appeared of which the old crone made the general partake. And next day "she presented that cook to the general, ordering him to serve the general honorably, as he had served her. The general took the cook and departed." By-and-by he came to a river and was appealed to for food by a shipwrecked crew. "Morfei, give them to eat!" he cried, and immediately excellent viands appeared, with which the mariners were so pleased that they gave the general a magic volume in exchange for his cook--who, however, did not stay with them but secretly followed his master. A little later the general found another shipwrecked crew, who gave him, in exchange for his cook, a sabre and a towel, each of magic power. Then the general returned to his own city, and his magic properties enabled him to convince the king that he was an eligible suitor for the hand of the Princess. [18]

               The other is a mysterious personage whose name is "Oh!" The story in which he appears is one with which many countries are familiar, and of which numerous versions are to be found in Russia. A father sets out with his boy for "the bazaar," hoping to find a teacher there who will instruct the child in such science as enables people "to work little, and feed delicately, and dress well." After walking a long way the man becomes weary and exclaims, "Oh! I'm so tired!" Immediately there appears "an old magician," who says--

               "Why do you call me?"

               "I didn't call you," replies the old man. "I don't even know who you are."

               "My name is Oh," says the magician, "and you cried 'Oh!' Where are you taking that boy?"

               The father explains what it is he wants, and the magician undertakes to give the boy the requisite education, charging "one assignat rouble" for a year's tuition. [19]

               The teacher, in this story, is merely called a magician; but as in other Russian versions of it his counterpart is always described as being demoniacal, and is often openly styled a devil, it may be assumed that Oh belongs to the supernatural order of beings. It is often very difficult, however, to distinguish magicians from fiends in storyland, the same powers being generally wielded, and that for the same purposes, by the one set of beings as by the other. Of those powers, and of the end to which the stories represent them as being turned, some mention will be made in the next chapter.



[1] Afanasief, iv. No. 42. From the Vologda Government.

[2] Chelpan, a sort of dough cake, or pie without stuffing.

[3] Bogatir is the regular term for a Russian "hero of romance." Its origin is disputed, but it appears to be of Tartar extraction.

[4] Nast, snow that has thawed and frozen again.

[5] Suzhenoi-ryazhenoi.

[6] Zhenikhi.

[7] Sil'no priudaril, mightily smote harder.

[8] Okostenyeli, were petrified.

[9] Afanasief, P.V.S. i. 318-19.

[10] Ibid. i. 312.

[11] As with Der Frostige in the German story of "Die sechs Diener," KM., No. 134, p. 519, and "The Man with the White Hat," in that of "Sechse kommen durch die ganze Welt," No. 71, p. 295, and their variants in different lands. See Grimm, iii. p. 122.

[12] No. 13, "The Stepmother's Daughter and the Stepdaughter," written down in Kazan.

[13] This is a thoroughly Buddhistic idea. According to Buddhist belief, the treasure which has belonged to anyone in a former existence may come to him in the shape of a man who, when killed, turns to gold. The first story of the fifth book of the "Panchatantra," is based upon an idea of this kind. A man is told in a vision to kill a monk. He does so, and the monk becomes a heap of gold. A barber, seeing this, kills several monks, but to no purpose. See Benfey's Introduction, pp. 477-8.

[14] For an account of the ovin, and the respect paid to it or to the demons supposed to haunt it see "The Songs of the Russian People," p. 257.

[15] Chudinsky, No. 13. "The Daughter and the Stepdaughter." From the Nijegorod Government.

[16] Vikhr' or Vikhor' from vit', to whirl or twist.

[17] Khudyakof, No. 82. The story ends in the same way as that of Norka. See supra, p. 73.

[18] Khudyakof, No. 86. Morfei the Cook is merely a development of the magic cudgel which in so many stories (e.g. the sixth of the Calmuck tales) is often exchanged for other treasures by its master, to whom it soon returns--it being itself a degraded form of the hammer of Thor, the lance of Indra, which always came back to the divine hand that had hurled it.

[19] Khudyakof, No. 19. The rest of the story is that of "Der Gaudief un sin Meester," Grimm's KM. No. 68. (See also vol. iii. p. 118 of that work, where a long list is given of similar stories in various languages.)

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Frost
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: ATU 480: The Kind and the Unkind Girls

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