I don’t know how in the world I didn’t know about this story before…
Back in February I bought myself a book at Barnes & Noble, The Snow Queen and other winter tales, a collection of 100 short stories. I’ve been working my way through the book and really enjoying it. There are some amazing stories in there, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit overshadowed them all. I was blown away! It’s amazing! Not only is the plot flawless, the writing is amazing as well. It’s an incredible story. Obviously, I’m very excited about it! I had very high hopes for The Snow Queen and other winter tales, but still I was very surprised by Ripple, the Water-Spirit, it definitely exceeded my expectations. Even more surprising was the author- Louisa May Alcott. I did not expect a fantasy story from the author of Little Women.
All I knew of Louisa May Alcott was Little Women, I did not know that she also wrote and published a small book of fairytales. Little Women is one of my favorite novels and is definitely on my ‘books-that-saved-my-life’ list. I was very influenced by its innocence and wholesomeness. I had never read anything like it, it was so tame, so sweet, so domestic and down-to-earth, but Ripple, the Water-Spirit is almost the complete opposite. It’s just as smart, sweet, and inspiring as Little Women, but far less tame, and definitely not at all domestic or down-to-earth.
“So farewell to the pleasant earth, until we come again. And now away, up to the sun!”
The story is about Ripple and the journey she undertakes to bring a little boy back to life because his mother is so bereft. Ripple is, as the title states, a water-spirit. In the story “spirit” and “Fairy” are used somewhat interchangeably so I gathered that a water-spirit is a sort of fairy.
In order to bring the little boy back to life, Ripple must get a flame from the fire-spirits. The problem is that the fire-spirits live next to the sun!
“It is far, far away, high up above the sun, where no Spirit ever dared to venture yet…”
Even though some try to dissuade her, Ripple is still determined to keep her promise to the grieving mother. She leaves the sea and comes to dry land in search of someone who can tell her the way to the fire-spirits’ home. One by one, Ripple encounters the four Seasons of the year- first Spring, then Summer, Autumn, and Winter. The personification of the seasons is some of Alcott’s best work in the story.
Soon she saw Spring come smiling over the earth; sunbeams and breezes floated before, and then, with her white garments covered with flowers, with wreaths in her hair, and dewdrops and seeds falling fast from her hands, the beautiful season came singing by.
“Now I must seek for summer,” said Ripple…
“I am here, what would you with me, little Spirit?” said a musical voice in her ear; and, floating by her side, she saw a graceful form, with green robes fluttering in the air, whose pleasant face looked kindly on her from beneath a crown of golden sunbeams that cast a warm, bright glow on all beneath.
…with bright wreaths of crimson leaves and golden wheat-ears in her hair and on her purple mantle, stately Autumn passed, with a happy smile on her calm face, as she went scattering generous gifts from her full arms.
…Winter, riding on the strong North-Wind, came rushing by, with a sparkling ice-crown in his streaming hair, while from beneath his crimson cloak, where glittering frost-work shone like silver threads, he scattered snow-flakes far and wide…
“Do not fear me; I am warm at heart, though rude and cold without,” said Winter, looking kindly on her, while a bright smile shone like sunlight on his pleasant face, as it glowed and glistened in the frosty air.
Each Season gives Ripple a gift to help her on her journey. From Spring she receives a breeze that will “never tire nor fail”, from Summer a sunbeam, from Autumn a yellow leaf, and from Winter a snowflake that will never melt.
“Now, dear Breeze,” said Ripple, “fly straight upward through the air, until we reach the place we have so long been seeking; Sunbeam shall go before to light the way, Yellow-leaf shall shelter me from heat and rain, while Snow-flake shall lie here beside me till it comes of use.”
Each of the first three gifts has an obvious use- the breeze is her means of transportation, the sunbeam is to light the way, the leaf is for shelter and comfort, but what about the snowflake?
At this point in the story I was both very excited and on the verge of being a little disappointed. I was thrilled that Winter gave her an eternal, never melt snowflake- I love the idea of a magic snowflake! But I was disappointed because it didn’t seem to have much use. You see, I have a thing for snow. Some people have a thing for hearts or roses, dolphins or sea turtles, tigers or butterflies- I like snow. I even have a snowflake tattoo on my wrist. So, I wanted the snowflake to be special. I wanted it to be the best of all the gifts that Ripple received. Snow never gets to be the best! It’s always the sun! And for a minute there it looked like that was going to happen again. When Ripple laid the snowflake to the side I got concerned that it was going to play only a minor role, or not appear again until as an after-thought in the end.
Well, in this story, snow got to be the hero for once. Finally!
That’s probably one of the main reasons I adore this story. There was just so much about it that was unexpected. In the end, it is the snowflake that saves Ripples life. Winter’s magic snowflake is the final and most important piece she needs in order to complete her quest. And I noticed something else interesting about that. Ripple is a water-spirit and she’s saved by a snowflake, i.e. frozen water. That detail wasn’t lost on me. I don’t really know what it means, if anything at all, but it does seem significant. Although, I will admit that because I have a thing for snow I might be focusing on the snowflake more than most people would.
In less the twenty pages Louisa May Alcott created multiple worlds and told one incredible story. The settings and plot are unique, and just when you think the story has come to its logical conclusion it takes another turn and surprises you yet again. The writing is excellent because the language and detail are rich but concise. I was, as I mentioned above, very impressed with Alcott’s description of the Seasons, but I was most impressed with her depiction of the fire-spirits, especially considering it was published in 1854! But maybe I’ve got it wrong, maybe these long-ago authors are exactly who I should expect such deeply imaginative stories from.
Check it out,
“…little Spirits glided, far and near, wearing crowns of fire, beneath which flashed their wild, bright eyes; and as they spoke, sparks dropped quickly from their lips…”
And, believe me, that is only a taste- only a fraction!- of what Alcott wrote about the fire-spirits. I don’t want to give it all away! I really want people to read this incredible story for themselves.