After giving much attention to Ded Moroz, it’s only fair to cast a little light on his glamorous compatriot, Snegurochka. As a character, she is somewhat overshadowed by the sheer volume that is Ded Moroz, but she does have a story of her own, albeit one more recently derived.
Her fictional home is Kostroma, one of the renowned Golden Ring cities, and the farthest on the circuit from Moscow. Ded Moroz’s home on the other hand is located in Veliky Ustyug, which is situated within Vologda Oblast.
There is a discrepancy here as some sources do to locate her at Ded Moroz’s home town – for convenience perhaps? The ‘truth’ can be blurred however, even in fantasy.
In any case, just looking at images of distant Kostroma evokes an air of ancient, far-away mystique. The city looks beautiful when seen nestled in the snow amongst the frosted winter trees and with mist-clouds billowing off the Volga, on which the city resides. In style, it leans towards the European Renaissance architecture representative of St. Petersburg, but it still retains its authentic Russian aspect, in the form of medieval high-walls, towers, minarets and ornate wood-worked houses which resemble exiled Decemberist abodes.
And yes; there are some potholed roads and tattered blocks with satellite dishes too. At its best however, the (largely) other-worldly combination makes it the ideal winter location for a fantastical Snow Maiden. Summer’s clarity may be less forgiving.
As with her locale, Snegurochka’s origins are somewhat blurred – but vagary adds mystery: a principal ingredient of the fantastic. She appears born of a three-way split between myth, fairy-tale and out-and-out fiction. Maybe I’m just splitting hairs.
Myth would have her born of Father Frost (aka Grandfather Frost, aka Ded Moroz) and the Snow Queen – a character from a Hans Christian Anderson tale that was embraced by Russian audiences when released in its 1957 cinematic form and enjoyed ever since.
Her poignant fairy-tale origins centre around a story from 1869 by Alexander Afanasyev which was based upon a folk tale-called Snegurka. The tale describes a childless peasant couple who built a girl from snow who subsequently comes to life. After quickly reaching adolescence she (in one version of the story) builds a fire whilst playing with some human girls, and upon jumping over it, evaporates into a cloud.
The story was modified and reworked by playwright Alexander Ostrovsky, whose expanded interpretation features a version of the tale where Snegurochka’s parents are Spring the Beauty and Father Frost. Here Snegurohka finds herself drawn to the companionship of a human boy but her frosty heart is unable to express love. Her mother, taking pity upon her; grants her this ability, but sadly the warmth of her love-imbued heart is her undoing and she melts away.
Ostrovsky’s 1873 play featured music by the great Tchaikovsky. A ballet (1878) and opera (1880 by Rimsky Korsakov) and two Soviet films followed (animated in 1959 and live-action in 1962 respectively). American author Ruth Sanderson’s 2004 retelling of the story as The Snow Princess further modified the tale by granting her the ability to love, in return for the loss of her immortality. She may love, but the price is that in time she will ultimately die.
There have been other dramatic realisations that relate the tale rather than modify it. Either way her story endures as a perennial (immortal) favourite.
Next time: The Snow Maiden #2 Snegurochka the Snow Maiden
[Painting “Snegurochka” by Vasnetsov]