Snegurochka: Background information when reading The Snow Child

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The Snow Child

A Novel

by Eowyn Ivey

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey X
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2012, 400 pages
    Nov 2012, 416 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lucia Silva

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Beyond the Book:

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The Snow Child is based on a Russian fairy tale, Snegurochka. As told in the English versions (Arthur Ransome's "Little Daughter of the Snow," from Old Peter's Russian Tales and Andrew Lang's "Snowflake," from The Pink Fairy Book), a childless couple builds a girl out of the snow in a fit of playfulness, and she comes to life.

Snow Maiden Ivey's book more closely follows Ransome's version, which also plays a part in the novel. After Faina appears, Mabel recalls a fairytale that her father, a professor of literature, used to read to her from a Russian text. When she recovers the book, she returns to it again and again in both fear and hope, mining it for clues and answers to Faina's fate. If you don't want to find out what happens to Faina, don't read the fairy tales first - the novel reveals details of the fairytales at key points as Mabel discovers them, and the parallels are quite magical.

The original Russian version of Snegurochka inspired a play by Ostrovsky in 1873, with music by Tchaikovsky. The play in turn inspired many works, including: a ballet by Petipa for the Imperial Ballet that premiered in 1879, an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov (1881), an animated film (1952) and a live-action film (1969). In Otrovsky's play, which also served as inspiration for Ivey's novel, Snegurochka is the daughter of the Frost and the Spring, and her fate hinges on her desire to experience mortal love.

In modern incarnations, Snegurochka appears as a companion to Father Frost (the Russian Santa Claus), and is a key figure in Russian New Year's celebrations. Little girls often dress up as Snegurochka in blue and silver wintry costumes for the season's festivals and plays.

Click on the video below to hear Russian soprano Valeria Barsova (1892-1967) sing from the prologue of Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Snegurochka".

Snow Maiden painted by Viktor Vasnetsov (1899)

Article by Lucia Silva

This article was originally published in February 2012, and has been updated for the November 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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