“Eva of the Elements” by Nayantara Nelson

In a certain province, in a certain village, there lived an old peasant with his three daughters. Eva, the youngest daughter, loved nothing more than to be amidst nature and its elements. Eva left for the fields, as that was where she spent her time day in and day out, weaving a crown out of three blades of grass and singing old tales.

f4f9039758136b57659d427c4d4b5554Back in the village, came a whirlwind tornado sent by Koschei the Deathless. It tore through the village, capturing and carrying off all the women that resided there, except for Eva who was playing off in the fields.

When Eva came back, she found her sisters missing! “They have been stolen!” cried her father, “you must go and bring them home, little daughter.” Her father had shed his tears and off she went and left their hut.

She passed through the village where the men were weeping, “Our wives and mothers and daughters have been stolen!” The men wept and wept. “You must go and bring them home, little Eva,” so off she went and left their village.

Eva followed the direction in which the wind was pulling her. She suspected it was Koschei the Deathless’ wind that was carrying off the women.

She walked on and on for a long time or a short time and came upon a sea maiden, sitting on her reef a little ways out into the sea, and by her side stood a mangy horse.

“Oh little Eva, fetch some fresh water for my horse, for the only water I can offer is filled with salt.”tumblr_n83xokEtA51t9ypv8o1_500

Eva did as she was asked and ran off until she came across a well. She took a bucket and some rope and cast it down; she filled the bucket with water, ran back over and poured it out into the sea.

The sea maiden took a small drop of that fresh water and let it fall onto the shore. The small drop then turned into the same horse, which was then stronger than all the horses in the land. “Take him; he will carry you far and fast.”

Eva rode on for a long time or a short time and came upon a crooked tree.

“Oh Eva, strip the bark from my back, for it is throwing me off balance and it is the only place I cannot reach.”

Eva did as she was asked and stripped the bark from the back of the crooked tree. He then stripped a piece of bark from his highest branch and let it fall to the ground, where it turned into a suit of armor, equipped with a sword. “Though this is only made of my bark, it can crush even the mightiest of stones.”

arthur-rackham_the-ring-of-the-niblung_the-valkyrie_08_med  tumblr_l2d0q0sote1qb4xu4o1_1280  Arthur-Rackham-Illustration-033

The wind which was guiding Eva began to die down. Eva rode on for a long time or a short time and eventually came upon a firebird, locked away in a golden cage.

“Oh sweet Eva, set me free from this cage, use your sword to cut through the lock.”

Eva did as she was asked and cut through the golden lock. The firebird flew up into the sky and Eva asked if he noticed any wind. The firebird felt the wind on his wings and pointed Eva in the direction it was pulling. He then took a burning ember from his feathers and let it fall onto Eva’s hand. From there the firebird flew off.

Eva rode on in the direction she was pointed and she then came upon Koschei the Deathless, guarding his cave where he kept all the women from the village. Eva was ready and well equipped for the fight.

“I’ll return your women if you can answer my riddle, no need to bother with a battle,” said Koschei the Deathless. “Here it is. What is Koschei the Deathless most afraid of?”

Eva thought for many moments or just a few. “Koschei the Deathless must be most afraid of death!”

“Death by what exactly?” he asked, she did not know. While Eva answered correctly, she failed to answer completely so Koschei the Deathless lifted her up in his whirlwind, dropped her in the cave along with the other women, and sealed it off with a mighty boulder.

With a running start, she plunged into the boulder, which then turned to dust at the touch of her armor. Eva helped her sisters up on the horse and then the rest of the women too, before getting up herself and riding off.

Koschei the Deathless returned to find his captives gone and flew after them. hesperides_rackham_small

The horse ran and ran, carrying all the women on its back, until they came upon the crooked tree, who now stood straight as an arrow.

“Please crooked tree, hide us!” they cried. With his bark he made a shield around them to protect and hide them. Koschei flew by in his search.

The horse ran a long time more, with all of the women, until they came upon the sea maiden.

“Please sea maiden, help us!” they cried. The horse jumped into the sea, along with the women. With her waves, the sea maiden opened up around them to protect and hide them. Koschei the Deathless flew right over.

The horse ran only a short time or so after, with all of the women on his back, until they came to the edge of the village with Koschei the Deathless still close behind. With nothing left to defend or hide them, Eva just then remembered the burning ember. As she held it in her hand, the wind that was carrying Koschei the Deathless blew it into an uncontrollable fire that set him ablaze as he turned and flew away terrified.

The women all returned home to their husbands and sons and fathers, as did Eva and her sisters to their father and all was right again.

Arthur Rackham - ''The Dance in Cupid's Alley'' (600)

Eva left for the fields where she weaved a crown out of three blades of grass and sang, “Koschei the Deathless is most afraid of death. Koschei’s afraid he may expire. Koschei the Deathless is most afraid of death, especial death by fire.”

Comments

            In my fairy tale, “Eva of the Elements,” I made a few decisions in the way I present certain details, which would not classically fit with the tales we have read in class. I modeled only the structure of my piece on the tale “The Magic Swan Geese,” but in order to bring across my own themes, I included a few differences which I thought were necessary.

The title, “Eva of the Elements,” refers to the elements of nature; wind, water, earth, and fire. I got the idea for the title from tales like “Ivan the Peasant’s Son” and “Vasilisa the Fair,” but while these examples refer to attributes of the characters themselves, my title refers to my character’s connection with nature and the element-theme I present throughout the tale. I wanted to subtly connect each of the elements to specific characters; Koschei as the wind, the sea maiden as water, the crooked tree as earth, the firebird as fire, and Eva as nature itself. In the tale the heroine is only known as Eva, rather than her full title. I chose to do this since I wanted Eva to discover these elements along her journey, instead of initially being seen as “of the elements.” Her journey is a growing process and each of the elements adds to Eva as a representation of nature; as she encounters the villain and each of the donors she encounters a piece of herself, in this sense. Where I have strayed from Luthi’s functions of a fairy tale, is where I describe Eva’s connection to nature. This connection gives her character depth, and while I don’t bluntly display it throughout my tale, it is still a major theme in itself and acts to separate Eva from all the other women in her village.

Another, more modernized, feature I included for my hero was to have her as a women, capable of going into battle. The village asks her to save the women, rather than asking a man, because I wanted to place my tale in a world where a woman would be just as capable as the traditional hero, while maintaining the same skills as a traditional heroine. The horse, armor, and fire are given to Eva by the donors to help her in her battle just as they would be given to a man in the tales we’ve read in class, but, instead of putting her completely in a hero’s role, I kept the tests similar to that which would be seen in a heroine’s quest (stripping the crooked tree’s bark was based on the little girl picking the apples off the tree in “The Magic Swan Geese”). Also, while Eva intends to use the magical agents in a battle, she uses most of them in everything but that. Instead of a battle, I incorporated a riddle to be used in her encounter with the villain; I did this to give the opportunity for Eva to show that she could also use her head to face her foe, even though in the end she ultimately defeats Koschei the Deathless with the fire. I wrote it in this way to prove her every bit as capable as both the hero and heroine in traditional Russian fairy tales. I chose Koschei the Deathless as the villain in my tale because of his traditional role as a womanizer and my untraditional description of the heroine being a strong warrior-type; I thought this presented a nice contrast between the villain and the hero. Also, in my research on Koschei the Deathless, I found that he is sometimes seen using a whirlwind tornado in his villainy, thus fitting in with the nature-element theme. Despite the classic illustration of the needle in the egg being his soul and source of immortality, I chose to leave that part out and instead substitute fire as a means of killing him to also better fit my theme.

The last line in my tale is not a final formula in the perspective of the narrator, but it is a rhyme that I included to tie up the story. The rhyme that Eva sings is the complete answer to the riddle that she was given when confronting Koschei the Deathless. I wanted to end my tale with this line as a final detail, evident of the heroine’s capabilities. In the end, Eva not only physically defeats her enemy, but is also able to outwit him by discovering on her own, the answer to his riddle. Having Eva be the one who sings this rhyme, it acts as the self-realization of her own potential, which I thought had a stronger impact than it would if the narrator had sang it. Through her journey I wanted to show, Eva, as nature, gaining the pieces (elements) that make up the whole of nature and thus gaining the stepping stones to her own maturity.

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