My daughter and I, and shortly after, her mom, sat down in the first minutes of the televised Opening Ceremony of the Sochi Olympics, and watched the dream sequence of the little girl who, before falling asleep, had been reading about the “alfavit,” or the Russian ABCs. From ancient monks to helicopters and other traces of Russian greatness left upon the world, artistically stylized images went past on the screen. When the seventh letter arrived, both Albina and I were surprised, as the selection of a Russian image for the Russian letter “Ё” or “Yo” was revealed as “Yozhik v tumanye,” or “Hedgehog in the fog.”
Most Americans, well, at least those who haven’t any exposure to Russian animation, will be completely clueless about this reference, as was I before last Christmas. My daughter, then preparing for her fifth encounter with Santa Claus and Ded Moroz, sat with me at the kitchen table at our apartment in Ostrovets and wrote two letters, one for each of the two Jolly Old Elves and asked for quite a number of items, including some books and a soft toy hedgehog like the one her brother received as a first security “lovey” shortly after he was born.
After that evening, I headed off to Minsk to carry out Santa duties, hunting for items on the list so that the man-in-red could properly stock the tree according to my daughter’s wishes. In my visit to the Central Book Store, a place that always amused me as being a block away from the KGB building, I managed to find a green book with that very title, “Yozhik v tumanye“, apparently part of a series from the “Rosmen Children’s Library,” and purchased it for Santa. After Albina found it on Christmas morning (Dec. 25), well, it pretty much stayed in the shelf for a couple weeks before finally she grew tired of “The Twelve Days of Christmas in Washington,” an early Christmas gift sent by her Grammie Ro (who lives across the Puget Sound from Seattle in the United States). At that point, it became part of the bedtime ritual for papa to try to read through three vignettes from the book before turning out the light, singing a song, and then rolling over to go to sleep.
The original 1975 Soyuzmultfilm by Yuri Norshteyn, with script written by the book’s author, Sergei Kozlov, featured a relatively straightforward story of “Yozhik” or Hedgehog bringing a jar of raspberry jam to his friend, “Medvedzhonok” or Bear Cub – he encounters a fogbank and falls into a river and is nearly drowned, but then he’s saved by a mysterious someone, who carries the spiky adventurer to the shore, and our hero has a story to tell his friends later. However, the book contains all kinds of back stories that probably would help you if you’ve seen the film already. I admit, for me, it was mostly an exercise in reading Russian text (and for my daughter, likely a delaying tactic to avoid having to go to sleep – I’m sure I was butchering the story with mistakenly placed accents and mispronunciations). Last night improved my appreciation of the work.
On television, elements of the story could be seen in the images that followed in the Opening Ceremony. The white horse that the little girl flew her kite over just before reaching the Kamchatka-like volcano was likely from Hedgehog in the Fog. The rabbit mascot (lampooned by USA Today as part of a group of toy animal figures described as “that nightmare you had about Chuck E. Cheese coming to life”) may have been partly inspired by the rabbit in the animation. Hard to say.
But the televised opening provided a nice moment of connection with my daughter, a uniquely special coincidence of finding what was really a random kid’s book picked for Christmas in a Soviet-like shop had somehow found its way into becoming a celebrated focal point of something much larger than a series of January bedtime stories.