Dancing Bears and Other Things

This little post, like my Norse Praise one, is just another somewhat culturally based book recommendation section. Here, we shall delve into a few books set in and around Romania and Russia. And I didn’t choose these two places because they were near each other and similarly cultured; I know they’re different. I chose them because they evoke the same feelings in me. So let’s begin.

Romania. Made famous to me growing up for the terrifying Vlad the Impaler. It’s a little country, bordered by the Black Sea, and actually the homeland of one of my best friends, the Fish.

I was watching Top Gear the other day and apparently there is a set of tunnels under the Palace of Parliament which they were allowed to drive through, in the dark, at super fast speeds in their awesome cars. It was pretty entertaining and I was surprised that they didn’t die. The building is massive, by the way. Like, seriously, one of the biggest things I’ve ever seen.

Anyways….

I won’t pretend to know much about this country’s culture, most of my knowledge is from the Fish herself. But I can say honestly that there is something that fascinates me about this country. I don’t know what it is, but there is something kind of magical about it. Maybe it’s the fact that Romania has one of the largest bits of undisturbed forest in all of Europe. Maybe it’s the gypsies (though I’ve heard they don’t like ’em there).

For me personally, it’s not just Romania that evokes that kind of wonderous feeling. Russia’s like that too, with something special brewing under the surface, like a thin veil, that you can just brush aside with your fingers and look into an ancient forest and see what mankind saw there a thousand years ago, when all imaginings were permissable.

 That probably comes from my ignorance concerning both countries.

Point is, Romania and Russia are fantastic places for a fantasy. . The folklore of each place is different than the regular fairy tales I had growing up, and I suppose that’s part of the reason why I find them so entrancing.

And so for younger readers, I highly recommend a giant book of fairy tales, and it is an absolute must that it includes Baba Yaga, so that all children may be scared out of their wits by her as I was. My  story collection was called An International Collection of Fairy Tales and had stories from all over the world (including the Baba Yaga). It’s a great read and a simple way to ease children into cultural experiences.

 That’s lovely Vasilisa from the Russian fairy tale Vasilisa the Beautiful. She’s in front of Ms. Yaga’s house. Lovely, right?

I’m shuddering even thinking about her.

For the older readers (about twelve and up) I highly recommend the story Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier. It’s set in Romania and weaves much of the local folklore into the story. I absolutely loved it and have read it several times. Actually, I’ve reviewed it before, which you find by visiting the Reviewed Books page tab up at the top.

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card is another book I really enjoyed. This time, Russian folklore is spun into the story. Card is certainly an author you can trust and I had a great time reading this book. However, it’s rated a strict PG-13. If you’re unsure whether you (or perhaps your child) should be reading it,  leave a comment, and I’ll give you the low down.

For someone who wants a bit more contemporary reading, I suggest the Royal Diaries book Anastasia which is by all means fascinating, and though aimed at younger readers (about twelve), can be enjoyed by anyone. It is historical, but I find that the magic of Russia carries over into the real world quite nicely.

And for my final suggestion, I shall recommend the novel the Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, which is what I am reading right now. It’s got all the wonder of Romania (and dear old Vlad the Impaler) inside it and it’s rather enjoyable.

From fairy tales to real life mysteries, I hope you guys will snag one of these recomendations and let it whisk you away, and then I think you’ll understand how I feel when I say that these two countries provide the perfect background for all things fantastical.  

Now enjoy this picture of Baba Yaga. Isn’t she a looker? 

–RI

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