March 9, 2011

Ivan and the Firebird

From the Firebird Stories...

Once upon a time, there was a Czar who had a wonderful garden. In the garden there was a magical tree that grew apples made of solid gold. This tree was the most prized of all of the Czars possessions, and he guarded it jealously. He liked to walk through his garden every morning, and each day he looked upon the tree with joy and pride.

A.Glazunov "Firebird"
Box. 1929   Palekh
One morning the Czar took his morning walk, only to find that some golden apples from the tree had been stolen. He asked the guards what had happened, and they told him that they had fallen asleep and did not know. The Czar sent them to the gallows and posted more guards to watch the tree.  Still, the next morning more apples had disappeared. Again the guards said that they had fallen asleep, and again the Czar sent them to the gallows. For ten days this went on, with the Czar condemning to death any guard who failed him. Finally he confronted his three sons with the charge. He told his sons that whichever of them caught the thief would be named heir to his throne.

The eldest son tried first. He sat at the base of the tree with his sword in his hand and waited for the thief. Shortly after midnight, he heard curious music that seemed to be coming from the air itself.  It was so sweet and beautiful that he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, yet more of the apples had been stolen.

The middle son tried next. He went across the path and watched the tree from a distance, but shortly after midnight he began to hear a strange and beautiful music, and listening to it he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, even more of the apples had been stolen. Now there were only a few left.

Finally the last son, Ivan, went to guard the Czar's magical tree. He climbed into its branches, and waited. A little after midnight, he heard strange and beautiful music in the air. As his eyes became heavy, he washed his face with dew to revive himself, and covered his ears with his hands to block the enchanting sound out. A moment later the garden was lit up as though the sun had risen. A bright, golden glow was coming over the horizon, moving closer to the Czar's garden. After a few minutes, the Firebird appeared. Its feathers aflame, it illuminated the trees and flowers as it landed in the Czar's favorite tree, and began to eat the last of the golden apples.

Ivan lunged for the Firebird. He did not catch it, but he plucked one of its fearsomely bright tail feathers. He went running into the palace, shouting for all to come and see. The feather alone lighted the castle as he made his way through.

When the Czar learned what had happened, he was outraged that his youngest son had not caught the thief. He told his sons that until the Firebird was brought to him, he had no heir. The Czar sent his sons out in quest of the Firebird.

The three sons walked away from their father's palace in the direction from which Ivan had seen the Firebird fly, until they came to a vast forest. Once in its shadows, they decided that Ivan had shamed them. As the older brothers, it should have been they who discovered the Firebird. They therefore decided to leave their brother to be eaten by wolves. They took his weapons and left him only one day's ration of food and water. They abandoned Ivan and went on in search of the Firebird.

Before long, a wolf came through the trees to the clearing in which Ivan sat, alone and defenseless. Ivan looked at the wolf and said, " I suppose you have come to eat me."  "I am afraid I cannot eat anyone," replied the wolf.  "I am old, and all of my teeth have fallen out. I have not eaten in days, and came to this clearing to lay down and die."

"Firebird" - Ted Kierscey Animation
"Wolf, I have some bread in my satchel. I too am going to be dead soon, so if you would like you can eat my bread."

As the wolf ate the bread, Ivan told him about the Firebird, and his quest. The wolf laughed.

"I know where the Firebird is. Because you have helped me, I will take you there and tell you how to capture it."

As they walked, the wolf explained that the Firebird was a captive of the Emperor of a nearby land. She was kept in a magical cage in the Emperor's garden, and if anyone but the Emperor touched this cage the guards would come running at once.  However, each night the Firebird escaped to fly about the countryside. By scaling the garden wall and waiting for the Firebird to return, Ivan could capture her and return in glory to his Czar. But he must remember not to touch the cage.

At long last, Ivan and the wolf reached the Emperor's garden wall.  Ivan crept into the gardens and waited for the Firebird's return. When she arrived, the garden was lit up as though by the sun. Ivan grabbed her, and began to run back to the garden wall. Only it was so hard to carry her against all of her struggling, and he was blinded by the bright flames of her feathers. Forgetting what the wolf had said, Ivan went back to retrieve the cage and carry her more easily. The moment that he touched it, guards came running from every direction. Ivan was brought before the Emperor in chains, charged with the theft of royal property.

When the Emperor asked why he should show mercy on such a criminal, Ivan explained that he was the son of the Czar, who had charged him with a quest.  The Emperor replied, "If you had come to me and told me of your purpose, an arrangement could have been made. But now you have stolen, and by the law I must kill you.  However, if you would be wiling to quest for me, I would spare your life and give you the Firebird as your reward.  My daughter is the captive of a wicked sorcerer in a nearby kingdom. If you rescue her for me, you may have the Firebird and leave here in safety."

Ivan agreed at once, and went off in search of the Emperor's daughter. On his way he met up with his friend the wolf, who knew all the secrets of this land.  The wolf told him that the Emperor's daughter was under two enchantments. The first was that her heart had been replaced with one of wood, so that she could not love. The second was that a curse had been placed on her face, and anyone that gazed upon her would fall instantly and irrevocably in love with her. The wolf said that Ivan must rescue the Emperor's daughter, but never look upon her face.

"The Firebird" by Edmund Dulac
Finally they reached the evil sorcerer's castle.  Ivan caught the girl as she walked through the lawns, but he forgot the wolf's words and looked upon her face. Instantly, Ivan was in love. As she had no heart, the girl could not love him in return.  Ivan's unrequited love was horrible.  He knew that he must return her heart to her, so that he might be loved as well as love, and have some hope for happiness in his life.  "Where does the evil sorcerer keep your real heart?" asked Ivan. "Under the floor in his bedroom," she replied.

Ivan came up with a plan. That night, he dropped the feather he had stolen from the Firebird into the evil sorcerer's garden. As he expected, the evil sorcerer came running down, looking for the Firebird. Ivan ran to the sorcerer's room, stole the girl's heart, and fled with her into the night. 

As soon as she had her heart again, she fell as much in love with Ivan as he was with her. When they returned to the Emperor, they asked that they be allowed to marry. The delighted Emperor gave them his permission, and sent them back with the Firebird to claim Ivan's throne.

Ivan became a great Czar, and he and his bride lived happily ever after.

1 comment:

  1. I like the magical imagery. This is an engaging story that would be a fabulous backdrop to some cool artwork.



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