Monday, February 14, 2011

Nesting Dolls, Mermaids, Lacquer Boxes, Crazy Witches and Guys Who Just Can't Die Part 1

Above is a cover we didn't use for Dreaming Anastasia, which uses the matryoshka metaphor

Happy Valentine's all! My creative writing class wrote love poems today using candy conversation hearts. I LOVE doing that on Valentine's Day. Plus we get candy. Although, don't tell anyone, but those conversation hearts taste like chalk. One step down from those orange circus peanuts...

But today's topic is Russian folklore. Lots of it in the Dreaming Anastasia series: Baba Yaga, the witch with iron teeth and removable hands, who lives in a hut that runs around on chicken legs; rusalkas - who play a pivotal role in Haunted, and are malevolent mermaids who died in or near a body of water and are doomed to haunt it and often - like a Siren - tempt men to drown; the fairy tale of Vasilisa the Brave - who's sent into Baba Yaga's forest to get fire and who's helped by her enchanted matryoshka doll her mother gave her; and a dude named Koschei the Deathless who very much pre-dates Harry Potter's Voldemort, but who has also hidden his life force away and thus can't die. (the concept of a soul jar is a very, very old one, btw!)

In Haunted, the rusalka tells Anne what Baba Yaga has already told her before - that nothing is as it seems. "Stories within stories. Secrets within secrets." It is one of the controlling metaphors for the novels. Matryoshka dolls are nesting dolls - the figure repeats itself, smaller and smaller, each doll (as you can see in the cover for DA above that we didn't use) tucked inside the other. Supposedly, the doll maker say a little spell of enchantment on the littlest doll - enabling it to hear and keep the secrets of the child who receives the doll as a gift. In Vasilisa the Brave - which I use in DA as Anastasia's story - Vasilisa's mother gives her a doll (it's not specified as a matryoshka in the folklore but I chose to make it so in my stories) and tells her the doll will keep her safe. And indeed it does; it tells her how to satisfy Baba Yaga's requests. She lives and returns home with fire and does indeed live happily ever after. Like Vasilisa, Anastasia's doll talks to her; or rather, she talks to the doll and hears it talk to her. It's the doll that Anne uses to help send her back in the end... but if you haven't read, I won't say any more about that.

Let's just say that I'm not done with these nesting dolls quite yet. Secrets within secrets within secrets.

And you know what? Two different people gave me matryoshka dolls in the past week: a former student - who gifted me with a traditional doll wearing a babushka - and my husband, who found nesting dolls of the Romanov family! Seriously cool Valentine's gift for a geek girl like me.
til next time...
when we talk to Crystal Allen


Carrie said...

cool. My mom has a collection of nesting dolls and my little niece loves them. Just finished Haunted and loved it.

Joy said...

glad you enjoyed! And how cool to have a whole collection of nesting dolls! I now have two - not quite a collection!

elizabethcbunce said...

I have a set of nesting dolls of the Soviet Premiers!

ChihuahuaCharms said...

that cover is very pretty, but I DEFINITELY prefer the one you did use, its beautiful!!!!! That's my favourite shade of blue xxx