Story Cue Card
Bibliographic Information: Shepard, Aaron. The Sea King’s Daughter: a Russian Legend. New York: Athenum Books for Young Readers, 1997.
Ethnic Origin: Russian
Running Time: 13 minutes
Power Centers: pride, loneliness, love, struggle, loss, bittersweetness
Characters: Sadko, the Sea King, the Sea Queen, the Princess Volkhova
Scenes: 1. Sadko lives as a musician in his beloved city of Novgorod. 2. The Sea King hears Sadko playing by the river and invites him to his palace under the sea. 3. Sadko’s playing pleases the Sea King and he offers Sadko one of his daughters as his wife. 4. Sadko marries the Princess Volkhova but must choose between her and his beloved city. 5. After choosing his city, Sadko becomes a rich merchant and has many children.
Synopsis: A young musician lives in the great city of Novgorod. He earns his living by playing dancing music at rich men’s feasts. It is a meager life but he is satisfied. He loves his city and can’t think of any better place to live. But sometimes he is lonely and he plays his gusli down by the River Volhov. One night the Sea King hears him as he is visiting his daughter and he is pleased by the beautiful music. He rewards him with a gold fish and invites him to play at his palace under the sea. Sadko buys a passage on the ship and goes in search of the palace. When an unseen hand stops the ship, Sadko jumps off and finds the Sea King’s palace under the sea. Once more the King is very pleased with Sadko’s music and offers him one of his daughters as his wife. Sadko cannot choose until he is introduced to the Princess Volkova who has listened for many years to his music next to the River Volkhov. They are married but the Sea Queen tells him that if he kisses her or embraces her, he will never see his home of Novgorod. Sadko struggles with his decision that night, but he chooses not to embrace his wife. The next morning he wakes up next to the river outside Novgorod. He weeps, perhaps from the joy of returning home or perhaps at the loss of the Princess – maybe for both. After a time, he buys a ship and becomes a merchant. He marries, has many children and loves to play his gusli so he can watch his children dance. But sometimes on a quiet night he walks down to the river and plays his music. Sometimes a lovely golden head rises from the water to listen. But perhaps it is only moonlight on the River Volkhov.
Special Flavor: The use of names such as Sadko and Novgorod for the characters and places are the first indication that this story is from another place. Words such as gusli and feast also emphasize the Russian ethnicity.
Audience: The Sea King’s Daughter is appropriate for young adults because they are beginning to discover relationships with the opposite sex. Both Charlotte Huck and Erik Erikson discuss this in their child development scales. Sadko’s story is romantic, full of love and loss and it ends with a sense of bittersweetness. These are emotions that young adults are experiencing during this time in their lives.
Bibliographic Information on Versions and Variants: Chadwick, N. Kershaw. “Sadko, the Rich Merchant of Novgorod.” Russian Heroic Poetry. New York: Russell and Russell, 1964.
Ransome, Arthur. “Sadko.” Favorite Russian Fairy Tales. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1995.
Simonov, Pyotr. “Sadko, the Rich Merchant.” Essential Russian Mythology: Stories That Changed the World. London: Thorsons, 1997.
Comparison: The poem, “Sadko, the Rich Merchant of Novgorod,” recorded by Kirsha Danilov in Chadwick’s Russian Heroic Poetry is an example of byliny, a type of Russian heroic poetry that is spoken or sung. In this version of the story, Sadko is a rich merchant who has never paid tribute to the Tsar of the Sea during his twelve years of prosperity. When his ship becomes becalmed Sadko and his men draw lots to see who must be offered to the sea. Twice Sadko tries to escape judgment but in the end he lets himself down into the sea and he comes to the palace of the Sea Tsar. He stayed for twelve years and then played his gusli for the Tsar. But Saint Nikolai appeared to him and told him to break his gusli strings because the Sea Tsar’s dancing was destroying many ships. The Sea Tsar offered Sadko one of his daughters as his wife, but Saint Nikolai appeared to him and told him to pick the ugliest daughter. When Sadko did this, he found himself on the bank of the River Volkhov next to the city of Novgorod. He continued to prosper. This version is not as suitable for storytelling because its uniqueness comes from the poetry and it must be recited as a lyric poem to retain its special qualities of rhythm, rhyme and repetition.
The text of Arthur Ransome’s version is similar to that of Aaron Shephard’s but is different in some of the details. In Ransome’s tale Sadko plays a dulcimer and while he likes the city of Novgorod, he loves the River Volkov. When the Sea Tzar hears his lovely music he is rewarded with a casket of precious stones. Sadko became a merchant with his new wealth and for twelve years he prospered. During this time he never married but always loved the River Volkhov. Often he would play his dulcimer beside it and sometimes he would throw in a gift. After twelve years Sadko’s ship was caught in the sea and would not sail, so the sailor’s drew lots to see who was to blame. Sadko lost so he went overboard and came to the Sea Tzar’s palace. There he played his dulcimer and the Tzar danced until he was tired. He then offered Sadko one of his daughter’s as a bride. Sadko told him he loved his little river more than any girl and then the Tsar offered his daughter, the princess Volkhov who was wearing many of the gifts Sadko had thrown in to the river. They were married, but that night as he turned over in his bed, his foot touched the Princess’s foot and it was cold, cold, cold. He woke up and found himself lying next to the walls of Novgorod with one foot in the River Volkhov. The story offers several ending to Sadko’s story – he lives alone until he dies, he swims out to the river and sinks below it looking for his princess, he finds her and they live happily ever after and whenever there is a storm, Sadko is playing his dulcimer and the Sea Tzar is dancing. This version would be good for telling but might be better if told to adults because it is quite long. Otherwise, parts of it could be cut out so it could be told to young adults. It is a romantic story but it doesn’t have the bittersweetness of Shephard’s version. Sadko doesn’t make a choice between his wife and his city, so there isn’t quite the struggle or intensity.
Simonov’s retelling of Sadko’s story also has some similarities to Shephard’s version. However it focuses much more strongly on Sadko as a merchant and as a hero. In this version Sadko begins making his fortune by following the Sea Tsar’s directions in a wager with three merchants. He wins the wager and the merchant’s goods, and soon became know as Sadko, the rich merchant of Novgorod. Then he held a feast where he boasted of his wealth and wagered a great sum that he could buy up all the trading goods available in the city. He lost the wager and went on a sea voyage. Here as in the other versions, the Sea Tsar held the boat until Sadko leapt over the side. Sadko played his zither for three days and nights until the Tsar’s dancing was destroying many boats and people. Saint Nikolai appeared and told Sadko to break the strings of his instrument and then to choose the last of the Sea Tsar’s daughters as his bride, but not touch her. Sadko did all this and when he woke up in the morning he found himself outside the gates of Novgorod. Then he built a huge cathedral to honor Saint Nikolai and never left Novgorod again. Simonov’s version would also be good for telling, but it would need to be told as a heroic epic. The power center’s would need to be Sadko’s winning of his wagers and his accomplishment of getting away from the Sea Tsar.