This book contains four stories, but we should probably start with the story about the author / translator / illustrator.
Boris Zvorykin (1872-1942) was born in Moscow and is today considered as one of the best representatives of old-fashioned Russian ornamental painting, inspired by traditional icons. Born in an affluent family (father was a merchant) he attended the best schools in Moscow and got a job in St. Petersburg as an illustrator of magazines and designer of calendars, postcards and even menus for the Tsar's court. He also designed murals and patriarch's robe.
Fairy tales made him famous across all the Russia. He understood them as a folk treasure and as a patriot, he illustrated many of them. When a revolution came, he moved to Paris where he died. But before that, he executed many interesting projects, including designing ceramic tiles for today's Villeroy & Boch. He stayed closely connected to his homeland and fairy tales from Russia in many ways.
The most famous is definitely a translation of four fairy tales in French accompanied with their illustration. They were published only posthumously when Jacqueline Onassis discovered originals, edited the stories and published them in the book presented in this post.
The story is similar to Grimms' Gold Bird. It starts with Tsar who has three sons and a beautiful orchard, from which every night golden apples were stolen. All sons tried to guard the orchard, yet only the youngest, Prince Ivan, managed to discover a thief. It was a beautiful bird. When the bird escapes, leaving only a feather as a proof of its existence, Tsar wants to have it.
Sons departed each in other direction and after a while, Ivan got a magical helper, a wolf. The wolf helped to get himself a firebird, a horse with a golden mane and a beautiful princess. He also helped when his older brothers betrayed Ivan before the prince returned home with a bride and precious bird and horse.
In this fairy tale, we have a prince with three sisters and dead parent who asked him to marry the girls to the suitors when they ask for their hands. So he married them to a falcon, an eagle, and a raven. After that, he meets Maria Morevna, a mighty queen with magical powers. They marry but he makes one of the most typical mistakes - opens the forbidden doors what activates Koschei the Deathless who kidnaps the queen.
Ivan went after his wife and with a lot of love and magical help from his three brothers-in-law got his wife back. He also had to trick Baba Yaga, to get a splendid horse able to escape Koschei, who is finally defeated and destroyed.
Once upon a time, there was a woodcutter who loved his wife very much but they didn't have any children. They finally made a doll of snow and a miracle happened - it became alive. This snow maiden became the most beautiful girl in the country and brought a lot of happiness to her parents until the winter came near its end. Snegurochka, as they named her, joined a festival where the arrival of spring was celebrated and met a boy Lel, whom she liked a lot.
She also met a girl Kupava, who became her friend. Kupava was engaged to merchant Mizgir who immediately when met Snegurochka felt in love with her. While Snegurochka didn't like him, Kupava was still mad at her friend. She went to Tsar and asked for punishment. Tsar arranged a meeting with the snow maiden and decided not to punish her, what made Kupava even angrier. She jumped in the well and dies.
Snegurochka didn't find happiness either. When the weather became warmer, Lel convinced her to join him outside of the house and she eventually melted into the water until she completely vanished.
Vassilissa the Beautiful
This is one of many versions of Cinderella. The tale starts with a mother who gives her daughter a doll just before she dies. When father remarries and a stepmother with two wicked daughters on her own starts gnawing Vassilissa, a doll helps her. Things became even more dangerous when Vassilissa is sent to Yaga Baba to get some light. The girl became a prisoner, is forced to work very hard for only a crust of bread, has to sort bad seed from good one under the threat of death, but her doll helps her to get through all the perils.
Despite following all the orders given by the witch it became apparent Yaga Baba will eat her, so the doll helped Vassilissa to escape together with a skull with glowing eye holes. When she returned home, the light coming from the skull burnt the step-mother and her daughters. After that Vassilissa decided to move out of the house, started living with an old woman, where she made some linen so fine only a prince could wear it. When prince finds out about the skillful girl, marries her and they lived happily ever after.
Please note - Boris Zvorykin is often compared to Ivan Bilibin, also presented in this blog. You can read more about him at:
Have a great time!