Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Poop: A Russian Fairy Tale

We're working on potty training our 3-year-old. She has informed us that unlike people, animals and princesses don't poop. We thought the classic Everyone Poops could help. This reminded me of one of my favorite Russian Fairy tales. Pooping plays a very critical part in the plot. So today I'd like to share it with you. So take an intriguing gaze into the Russian psyche and enjoy the random craziness of a favorite:

King Bear

     Once there lived a tsar and a tsarina who had no children. One day the tsar went out to hunt fur-bearing animals and migratory birds. It was hot and he wanted to drink some water. He saw a well off to one side, approached it, bent over it, and was about to drink when King Bear seized him by the beard. "Let me go," begged the tsar. "Not unless you give me the thing in your own home that you do not know is there." "What is there in my own home that I don't know is there?" thought the tsar. "I think I know everything. I'd rather give you a herd of cows," he said. "No, I do not want even two herds." "Well, take a herd of horses." "Not even two herds; but give me the thing that you do not know is there in your own home."
     The tsar agreed, released his beard, and rode home. As he entered the palace he was informed that his wife had given birth to twins, Prince Ivan and Princess Maria; they were what he had not known was in his own home. The tsar wrung his hands and wept bitterly. "Why are you so distressed?" the tsarina asked him. "How can I help weeping? I have given my own children to King Bear." "How did that happen?" "In such and such a manner," answered the tsar. "But we won't give them away!" "Oh, there is no way out of it! In the end he would destroy the whole kingdom, and take them none the less."
     They thought and thought about what they should do and at last hit upon a plan. They dug a very deep ditch, furnished it, adorned it like a palace, and stored it with supplies of every sort and sufficient food and drink for a long sojourn. Then they put their children into the ditch, built a ceiling on top of it, threw earth over it, and leveled off the ground around it very smoothly.
     Soon afterward the tsar and tsarina died. Their children grew bigger and bigger. Finally King Bear came for them. He looked everywhere--but no one was there! The palace was deserted. He walked and walked, went all over the house, and thought to himself: "Who will tell me where the tsar's children are?" Lo and behold, there was a chisel stuck in the wall. "Chisel, chisel," said King Bear, "tell me, where are the tsar's children?" "Take me out into the yard and cast me on the ground; where I stick, do you dig." King Bear took the chisel, went out into the yard, and cast it on the ground; the chisel turned, whirled, and stuck fast right above the place where Prince Ivan and Princess Maria were hidden. The bear dug up the earth with his paws, broke the ceiling, and said: "Ah, Prince Ivan, ah, Princess Maria. So there you are! So you were hiding from me! Your father and mother tried to cheat me, and in revenge I will eat you!" "Ah, King Bear, do not eat us! Many chickens and geese and other goods and chattels were left to us by our father; there is enough to satisfy you." "Well, so be it! Sit upon me; I will take you to be my servants."
     They sat upon him, and King Bear carried them to such steep and high mountains that they seemed to be going up to the very sky; the place was utterly deserted, no one lived there. "We are hungry and thirsty," said Prince Ivan and Princess Maria. "I will run and get you something to eat and drink," answered the bear. "Meanwhile, you stay here and rest." The bear ran off to get food and the prince and princess stood there and wept. Out of nowhere, a bright falcon appeared, shook hi wings, and said these words: "Ah, Prince Ivan and Princess Maria, what fate has brought you here?" They told him. "Why has the bear taken you?" "To serve him in various ways." "Do you want me to carry you away? Sit upon my wings." They seated themselves upon him; the bright falcon rose higher than standing trees, lower only than moving clouds, and set out for distant lands. At that moment King Bear came back, sighted the falcon in the skies, struck his head against the damp earth, and sent a flame straight to the falcon's wings. The falcon's wings were singed and he dropped the prince and princess on the ground. "Ah," said the bear, "so you wanted to flee from me; for that I will eat you up with all your little bones." Do not eat us, King Bear; we shall serve you faithfully." The bear forgave them and took them to his own kingdom; there the mountains were even higher and steeper.
     Some time, a short time or a long time, went by. "Ah," said Prince Ivan, "I am hungry." "I too," said Princess Maria. King Bear went off to get food and told them sternly to stay where they were. They sat on the green grass and wept bitter tears. From nowhere an eagle appeared; he dropped from behind the clouds and asked them: "Ah, Prince Ivan and Princess Maria, what fate has brought you here?" The told him. "Do you want me to carry you away?" "Impossible! The bright falcon tried to carry us away, but he could not, and you can't either!" "The falcon is a small bird; I will fly higher than he. Sit upon my wings." The prince and princess seated themselves upon him; the eagle spread his wings and soared higher than the falcon. The bear came back, sighted the eagle int he skies, struck his head against the damp earth, and singed the eagle's wings with a flame. The eagle dropped Prince Ivan and Princess Maria to the ground. "Ah, so you again tried to run away!" said the bear. "Now I will really eat you." "Do not eat us, please; the eagle lured us with false promises. We shall serve you in faith and in truth." King Bear forgave them for the last time, gave them food and drink, and took them farther away.
     Some time, a short time or a long time, went by. "Ah," said Prince Ivan, "I am hungry." "I too," said Princess Maria. King Bear went off to get them some food. They sat on the green grass and wept. Out of nowhere appeared a bullock who waved his head and asked: "Prince Ivan, Princess Maria, what fate has brought you here?" They told him. "Do you want me to carry you away?" "Impossible! The falcon and the eagle tried to carry us away but could not; you can do it even less than they." And they were so drowned in tears that they could hardly speak. "The birds couldn't carry you away, but I will! Sit on my back." They mounted the bullock and he ran off at a not very fast pace. The bear saw that the prince and princess were trying to get away from him and rushed to pursue them. "Ah, bullock, bullock," cried the tsar's children, "the bear is after us." "Is he far behind us?" "No, quite close."
     The bear jumped close to them and was about to seize them, but the bullock strained, and pasted the bear's eyes shut with dung. The bear rushed to the blue sea to wash his eyes, while the bullock ran on and on. After the bear had washed himself he again pursued them. "Ah, bullock, bullock! The bear is after us." "Is he far behind us?" "Oh no, quite close!" The bear jumped close to them, and again the bullock strained, and pasted the bear's eyes with dung. While the bear ran to wash them, the bullock kept on and on. He plastered the bear's eyes for the third time, and then gave Prince Ivan a comb and a towel and said: "When the bear comes close to us again, the first time cast the comb behind you and the second time wave the towel."
     The bullock ran on, farther and farther. Prince Ivan looked back and saw that King Bear was pursuing them and was about to catch them! He took the comb and cast it behind him, and suddenly such a thick forest sprang up that through it bird could not fly nor beast crawl nor man walk nor horse gallop. The bear gnawed and gnawed; with great effort he gnawed out a very narrow path for himself, got through the thick forest, and rushed on in pursuit of the tsar's children; but they were far, far off! Finally the bear began to overtake them. Ivan Tsarevich looked back, waved the towel behind him, and suddenly a lake of fire spread out, immensely wide! The waves surged from one end to the other King Bear stood some time on the shore, then turned back home. Soon the bullock and Prince Ivan and Princess Maria came to a glade.
     In that glade stood a large and magnificent house. "Here is a house for you," said the bullock. "Live here without care. And  now prepare a woodpile in the yard, slaughter me on it, and then burn me." "Ah," said the tsar's children, "why should we slaughter you? Rather, live with us; we will take care of you, feed you fresh grass, and bring you spring water to drink." "No, burn me and plant the ashed on three beds: from the first a horse will jump out, from the second a dog, and on the third an apple tree will grow. You, Prince Ivan, will ride on this horse, and with this dog go hunting." They did as he commanded.
     One day Prince Ivan decided to go hunting; he said farewell to his sister, mounted his horse, and went to the woods. He killed a goose and a duck and caught a live wolf cub and brought it home. The young prince saw that he was lucky at hunting, so he went again, shot all kinds of game birds, and caught a live bear cub. The third time Prince Ivan went hunting, he forgot to take his dog with him. Meanwhile Princess Maria went to the lake to wash clothes. As she washed, a six-headed dragon came flying to the other shore of the lake of fire, changed into a handsome man, saw the princess, and said to her in a sweet voice: "Greetings, lovely maiden!" "Greetings, good youth!" "The old wives say that in former times this lake did not exist; if a high bridge spanned it, I would come to the other side and marry you." "Wait! A bridge will be here in a trice!" answered Princess Maria and waved her towel. In that instant the towel spread out in an arc and hung above the lake like a high and beautiful bridge. The dragon crossed it, changed into his former shape, put Prince Ivan's dog under lock and key, and cast the key into the lake; then he seized the princess and carried her off.
     Prince Ivan came back from the hunt and found his sister gone, and the imprisoned dog howling; he saw the bridge across the lake and said: "A dragon must have carried Maria away!" He went to seek her. He walked and walked until, in an open field, he found a hut on chicken legs and dog's heels. "Little hut, little hut," he said, "turn your back to the woods and your front to me!" The hut turned around; Prince Ivan entered, and in it, stretched from corner to corner, lay Baba Yaga the Bony-legged, with her nose grown into the ceiling "Fie, fie!" she said. "Hitherto one never heard a Russian breath, and now a Russian breath has come into view and thrusts itself under one's very nose! Why have you come Prince Ivan?" "To ask your help in my misfortune." "And what is your misfortune?" The prince told her. "Well," she said, "go home. In your yard there is an apple tree. Break three green twigs from it, wave them together, and strike the lock where the dog is locked up; the lock will at once break into little pieces. Then go boldly forth to fight the dragon; he won't be able to resist you."
     Prince Ivan returned home and freed his dog, who ran out in great anger. He also took the wold cub and bear cub with him and set out against the dragon. When they found the dragon, the beasts threw themselves upon him and tore him to shreds. And Prince Ivan took Princess Maria home and they began to live happily together and to prosper.

This story is an excerpt from: