May 27, 2018

FAIRY TALE FLASH - The Song by E.L. Bates

A song called to her 
that no one else could hear...

“Can’t you hear it? Can’t you hear the song? It’s calling to me, and I must answer.”

“We’ve been through this before, Marina Alexandrovna. There is no song!”

Marina looked at the carrots she was supposed to be scraping for dinner. No song? How could her mother not hear it? She could hear almost nothing else.

It was a melody like none she’d heard before. Wilder, deeper, richer, purer than the gusli or the svirel played by the Wanderers who often came to the village fair.

Marina’s feet danced in response. Duty told her to stay; the passion burning in her chest urged toward a higher calling.

Leaving carrots, dinner, a startled mother, and her home behind, Marina followed the song.

Through the darkest forests, over the steepest mountains, across the frozen steppes, until her shoes wore through and fell from her feet and her clothes were nothing more than rags, Marina followed the song.

Despite the people who thought her mad, who told her to stay, who tried to hold her back, Marina followed the song.

Through times of despair when the notes were faint on the wind, when she was ready to abandon all hope, when it seemed her quest was nothing but a dream, Marina followed the song.

Until the day she found the singer, in a tree of silver apples beyond the world’s end.

The golden firebird trilled one final note and vanished in a cloud of sweet-smelling smoke, leaving behind a single golden feather in Marina’s hand.

She looked at it and smiled, at last understanding why she had been called.

Feather in hand, she set off once more, this time to carry the song to all who could not hear it for themselves.

E.L. Bates is the author of the fantasy-mystery novel "Magic Most Deadly" and the space opera "From the Shadows." She lives outside Boston, MA, where she spends her days homeschooling her children and dreaming of other worlds.

You can find out more about her at
or follow her on Twitter @E_L_Bates

Cover: Amanda Bergloff


AMOffenwanger said...

Love this - as per usual... :) Such great imagery; I can "hear" the song through the pictures.

Guy S. Ricketts said...

My senses of sight, sound, and smell all got a pleasant work out as I happily followed the visuals in the story play out. Loved it.

Anonymous said...

Umm, I have this cultural thing about this story. Why on earth does the main character's mother address her by her full name with a patronym? It's totally inappropriate and jarring for anyone who actually knows Russian language and culture. Moreover, in the times when gusli and reedpipes (no need to transliterate the Russian word "svirel" when there is a legitimate translation available) were played at the fairs, the name Marina did not exist at all - it is much more modern. Sorry for the criticism, but I strongly believe that writers should do better research (and, perhaps, contact native beta readers) when writing about cultures other than their own.

Stella Dorthwany said...

A charming mini-allegory about the importance of artists to the world. It made me think a little of Coleridge's theory about poetry reaching out to try and grasp that which cannot be understood in any other way. Maybe artists themselves are a bit like their art.

The above comment made me curious about the specific cultural references made in the story, so I did a little research.

1) The name Marina did, in fact, exist when gusli and svirel were played at fairs (and probably earlier). One example is Marina the Great Martyr, a saint venerated by the Orthodox church, who was martyred in the 4th century.

2)"Svirel" can be translated as "reedpipe," and is sometimes (not always) made from a reed. However, in English, "reedpipes" is most often used to refer to the instrument we also think of as "panpipes," which is quite different from the Russian svirel. I think the author made the right choice in transliterating the Russian word, especially since the best English for gusli is "lyre" which apears to be even further from the actual instrument, and you would want both instruments to be in either English or Russian.

3) In terms of the personal name + patronymic from a mother to a daughter, I agree it is a little odd. That particular name formula seems to be exclusively for formal, respectful address between adults or from a subordinate to a superior. I suspect the author slipped into a English language habit of adding a second name to a child's personal name when one is exasperated with the child. I was unable to discover what the Russian equivalent would be, but probably the family name would have been a better choice.

Thanks to this story, I have now learned several bits about Russian culture that I didn't know before. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Hello Stella,

the previous comment was mine and I happen to be Russian. Thank you for taking time to look into Russian culture; however, let me point out (can I do it as a member of the culture we are discussing?)that you are not entirely correct in your research on the name Marina. It is indeed an old name and apparently originates in ancient Rome. However, it was not in use in Russia until at least 17th century. So, no it was not in use when gusli were played.

Stella said...

So you piqued my curiosity again and I went digging some more. The example of the saint I gave previously is not a good one, since it turns she's venerated by the Greek Othrodox but the Russian Orthodox (at least on the list I saw). The earliest recorded instance of the name Marina that I could find is mid-sixteenth century: Marina Grigor'eva doch' Iarygina (1568) ( So I suppose the other question I have is, when do minstrels stop wandering the countryside with gusli? Gusli in some form are apparently around at least until the early nineteenth century when composers start notating folk songs composed for the instrument. In most of Europe, I believe the tradition of the traveling minstrel fades away during the fifteenth century. Do you know if it's the same in Russia?

Stella said...

Edit for the above comment: Marina the Great is NOT venerated by the Russian Orthodox, and the example I gave is the earliest recorded instance I could find of a RUSSIAN woman named Marina.

Unknown said...

Incredibly vivid. I love the phrase ‘leaving the carrots.’