Monday, November 22, 2010

How To Capture A Firebird

Ah yes, the Firebird. You may know this mythological creature from the Stravinsky ballet The Firebird, or from the short subject in Fantasia 2000. If you don't know, you clearly don't spend your Sunday afternoons watching ballet clips on YouTube, or reading about Disney movies on Wikipedia.

Which is fine, really. It just means you have a life.

I, however, have been decidedly lacking in a life lately. I recently got really into classical fairy tales, in particular some more obscure ones from Hans Christian Anderson, and of course, some of the really bizarre ones from Russia. After spending several hours raiding the depths of the Hofstra University library, I came home with a giant book of Russian fairy tales which turned out to be a really interesting look at a decidedly different kind of folklore than what I'm used to. There are no little mermaids making deals with evil sea witches for a chance to sleep with a hot prince and gain an immortal soul. Instead we get Baba Yaga, a witch-like demi-god who hangs out in a house built on chicken legs and occasionally likes to eat small children. We also get Koshchei the Immortal, a skeletal sorcerer who keeps his "death" concealed in a needle which is inside an egg, which is inside a bird, which is inside a chest, which is high in a tree that grows on a magical island that you can only find if you already know where it is. Good luck trying to murder him.

But the most well known character in Russian folklore is probably the firebird, a beautiful bird which traditionally spells both good luck and doom to whoever sees it. It's famous for being slightly similar to a peacock, with feathers that glow red, orange, and yellow. The typical firebird related fairytale consists of someone deciding to go on a quest to capture it, initially enchanted by it's glowing feather but eventually turning on it and blaming it for all it's troubles. Most people who capture it seem to go onto eternal glory or end up being asked to go save a princess by some king. Either way, it's a typical hero's journey type saga that's required to capture the damn thing.

And so, as I honestly have nothing better to do with my time right now other than homework, I've decided to compile a list, or rather, a guide of sorts, for those of you adventurous enough to want to go after the firebird.

Do you feel your life needs a little excitement? Is battling a sea witch while trying to find the owner of a ridiculously small glass slipper someone left at your party simply not doing it for you? Well then, you're in luck! Here at The World Is Very Strange, we have the perfect solution to your problems; go find the freaking Firebird! Yes, it's a perilous journey full of insurmountable obstacles and obnoxious Tsars who want you to marry their daughters, but hey, in the end you'll never have to pay for electricity!

So how does one do this? Well, there are several steps on the way to eternal Russian glory, some trickier than others, but chances are, if you follow this simple instructional guide, you'll probably make it sometime before the monarchy falls and you suddenly find yourself a communist.

Step One: Be Male
Are you a rebellious princess who occasionally likes to experiment with sorcery? Or perhaps a wife who'd like to run for some sort of local political office? Or even just a woman who's sick of doing nothing but cooking and cleaning up after the latest people's revolution? Well then, get back in the kitchen, woman. This story's not for you, what are you thinking?! Yes, if it's one thing that Russian fairy tales are extremely good at, it's rampant and outspoken sexism. Nearly every instance of a woman acting like anything other than a submissive servant girl, or really nearly every instance of a woman speaking at all, is met with horrific disaster for the woman involved. The sorceress princess? Staked in the heart lying face down in a coffin by her father and then buried in the ground. The woman who ran for mayor? Tied into a bag of grain and whipped until she obeyed her husband. The woman who simply got sick of being a dutiful wife? Thrown into a hole and buried there along with anyone who happened to annoy her husband on the way to work. Basically, it's generally a good idea not to be female in Russian fairy tales unless you happen to be a beautiful, mute princess willing to slaughter your children and spread their blood on a statue in order to bring your husband's dead best friend back to life.

Step Two: Be Young
Although being old is clearly not quite as bad as being a woman, a vast majority of the guys who go after the firebird and actually succeed appear to be young, naive youths trying to win the heart of the Tsar's beautiful and submissive daughter. Old men rarely go questing in these tales, probably because they're old enough to know what a pain it is going after a frustratingly rare mythical bird only to be rewarded with a girl you don't even know the name of and is probably no older than my eleven year old sister. That being said though, if you really want to go after the thing, make sure you're only at most somewhere in your twenties.

Step Three: Have Connections
When going after the Firebird, it's generally a good idea to be friends with an especially powerful Tsar, or a sorcerer, or a mysterious stranger who just happens to know everything you could possibly need to know along the way. This is a somewhat vital step, as without this you'll probably find yourself lost somewhere in Siberia with nothing but a golden apple and the coat on your back. Tsars are good because if you ask they'll usually give you meat and drinks to bring along with you, as well as some ridiculously ornate tents to sleep in while you're scaling that traitorous mountain. Sorcerers are nice if you need that extra bit of deus ex machina to keep you going, but have the unfortunate side effect of being a Russian Orthodox sin. Your best bet is probably the mysterious stranger as he'll usually help you out in the best way possible and then mysteriously vanish as soon you're done needing him. There's none of the annoying royal baggage that comes with the Tsar, you won't have to worry about him asking you to do something else as soon as you're done, and generally, he's not a servant of Beelzebub.

Step Four: Corn
As we all know, firebirds absolutely adore corn. I know I'm always having to watch over my expansive cornfield to make sure none of it gets picked off by those obnoxious firebirds. Go to your Tsar/Sorcerer/Mysterious Stranger and ask that one hundred measures of corn be strewn on the nearest open field. It may seem bizarre that a legendary mythical bird with glowing feathers is attracted to something as mundane as corn, but hey, it's no weirder than vampires being compelled to stop and count every grain of rice you throw at them.

Step Five: Obtain a Valiant Horse
This one's a bit harder than it looks. It can't be just any old horse, or Baba Yaga will come and chop it's head off to marinate in her latest batch of dead baby paella. It has to be one you can count on to not spook or make noise or do anything that horses normally do when faced with a giant, glowing peacock. The horse has to be able to, when let free, not run away, but approach the firebird, step his hoof on it's wing, and press it hard to the ground. It's probably a good idea if you can talk to the horse as well, bonus points if the horse is actually a human who was cursed by an evil witch.

Step Six: Don't Get Distracted
That's right. I saw you stop and wonder if maybe you should go after Koshchei the Immortal's death needle before you finished your quest to find the firebird. Stick with the program, people. The firebird provides lifetimes of good luck and prosperity, killing Koshchei just forces you to slaughter your children and spread their blood on the statue that was once your best friend in the hopes that he'll come back to life and stop being made of stone.

Step Seven: Invest In Some Cords
Once you've fought off your raging ADD and your noble steed has the firebird pinned to the ground with his valiant hooves, take out some particularly strong cords and tie that bird up. None of the stories specify what kind of cords you should be using, might I suggest bungee cords? Whatever you need, I'm sure you can find them at your local Ace Hardware.

And with that, you're done! Strap that tied up bird to your back, mount your horse, take it back to the Tsar, and get ready to make out with his beautiful daughter. You'll probably get promoted to some sort of noble rank, if you're not there already, and will probably be given riches far beyond your wildest dreams. If you were doing this just for the sense of adventure rather than for the service of a monarch, then congratulations, you now have your own personal table lamp that squawks at you and gets poop on your floor. Make sure you buy it a nibble bar every so often, and try not to get it near your cat.

Also, when you do capture the firebird and gain the fortune and glory that that entails, make sure to give me some credit. I'd go after it myself but I am, of course, female and thus have to stay here and do my nonexistent husband's bidding while learning how to cook and sew and be silent. God help the guy who kidnaps me to make me his wife. Seriously.

Do svidaniya,