Follow TV Tropes


Literature / The Scarlet Sails

Go To
The Scarlet Sails (Russian: Алые паруса) is a 1923 novella by Alexander Grin, set in his Grinlandia universe in the vaguely European seaside village of Kaperna.

Longren, a sailor, finds out his wife has died while he was at sea: she has given birth to a baby daughter and was struggling to support her, the local innkeeper Menners refused to lend her money, so she went to a pawnbroker in the town during a storm and expired from pneumonia. Longren quits his job to raise Assol and becomes a toymaker. A while later, he sees Menners being carried off to a stormy sea in a boat and calmly stands on the shore; Menners is rescued but lives just long enough to tell the villagers Longren killed him, after which Longren and his daughter become social outcasts.

One day Assol meets a traveling storyteller who tells her that one day, a prince will come to her in a ship with scarlet sails. The dream takes root in Assol's heart, and she believes it firmly afterwards, leading to even more of the villagers' taunts and disdain.


Meanwhile, a rebellious aristocrat Arthur Grey runs off to sea from his oppressive family, and gradually rises from cabin boy to captain. His voyages bring him to Kaperna, where he falls in love with Assol from afar and resolves to make her dream come true.

The Scarlet Sails is a classic in the Eastern Bloc and especially Russia as a symbol of everlasting hope, dream, and love, with several films and a highly popular musical, not counting the endless other stage adaptations, based on it, as well as a famous St.-Petersburg summer festival inspired by the book.


The Scarlet Sails provides examples of:

    open/close all folders 

    The Book 
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Nobody in Kaperna wants to deal with Longren or Assol. Later a single exception is revealed – a drunken charcoal burner, an outcast himself, who often gives Assol a lift.
  • Aerith and Bob: Mary, Lionel Grey, Arthur Grey on one hand, and Assol, Longren, Letika, Egl, Hin on the other.
  • Barefoot Loon: Assol is a dreamy girl with a penchant for going barefoot.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Grey first sees Assol and is struck by her beauty when she is asleep.
  • Birds of a Feather: Grey and Assol; both have had a big dream since childhood, are believed crazy or at least weird by those around them, both are kind-hearted, with a love for fairytales and a sense of humor. No wonder Grey falls for Assol when he learns her story.
  • Cloud Cuckoolander: Assol, who believes in fairy tales and a prince who will come for her on a ship with scarlet sails.
  • The Cuckoolander Was Right: Arthur Grey does become a successful and respected captain, and Assol does get her Happily Ever After with scarlet sails.
  • Daddy's Girl: Longren and Assol are each other's only family and confidants.
  • Discretion Shot: Grey and Assol go to his cabin, and a couple of paragraphs later – "now we will leave them, knowing that they need to be alone". Cut to the next scene.
  • Former Teen Rebel: Lionel Grey, the prim aristocrat, used to be quite mischievous when he was a boy. He recognizes the traits of his young self in his son – only Arthur remains rebellious after growing up as well.
  • Hate Sink: Menners Sr., being miserly, perverted and ruthless, is an utter despicable bastard in every version of the story.
  • In the Blood: According to the charcoal burner, the whole Menners family consists of Consummate Liar bullies. From what we can see of them, it looks like he's right.
  • Malicious Misnaming: The villagers, when teasing Assol, always say "red sails" instead of "scarlet sails".
  • Meaningful Name: Grey's ship is called The Secret.
  • Murder by Inaction:
    • When Menners Sr. refuses to help Mary (for free), she is forced to go the town in the middle of the thunderstorm, gets pneumonia and dies.
    • Afterwards, Menners gets his Laser-Guided Karma when he freezes to death at sea and Longren does nothing to rescue him.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: The shopkeeper in Liss who sells the scarlet silk to Grey, when he learns how much Grey wants to buy.
    Shopkeeper: Two? Thousand? Meters?
  • Purple Prose: Letika enjoys speaking like this. For example, when he praises Assol's beauty, he calls her "a wondrous painting".
  • Rebel Prince: Grey is a noble but not a prince, but otherwise he qualifies. He is considered strange ever since childhood, and he runs off to sea rather than lead an aristocratic life.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Letika often speaks in rhymes, to the delight of the rest of the crew.
    Letika (in the 1961 film's English subtitles): With a string and a pole of wood I have made myself a whip / And now I tie a hook on it and, whistling, make it flip.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: Grey learns from the locals that Assol is waiting for her prince on a ship with scarlet sails, buys some scarlet cloth for his sails, and becomes that prince.
  • Silly Rabbit, Cynicism Is for Losers!: The people of Kaperna realizes how they have been mistaken when a ship with scarlet sails does appear.
  • Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!: The philosophy of Kaperna. It backfires terribly once they see that the supposedly crazy Assol has been telling the truth.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Egl, the storyteller and gatherer of folk tales, appears only once and briefly, but his scarlet sails prophecy leads to huge consequences.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Grey's mother is a haughty Proper Lady, except towards her son.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: The kindly neighbor who nursed Assol from Mary's death till Longren's return isn't mentioned after the first chapter. It's up for interpretation whether she has died at some point or joined the rest of Kaperna in boycotting Longren.
  • With This Ring: Grey puts his ring on Assol's finger while she's asleep, and she feels that her dream is going to come true very soon.

     1961 film 
A live-action adaptation by Alexander Ptushko.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Grey is a hired captain and doesn't own the Secret, since it wouldn't have been proper to have a capitalist as a Soviet romantic hero. However, Grey still refuses expensive cargo and instead buys two kilometres of scarlet silk for the sails. For somebody who doesn't own the ship, it would have most probably led to a loss of the job. Unless, of course, the ship's owner is enough of a romantic to forgive such an escapade, but this is never addressed in the movie.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Grey's parents are stereotypical Idle Rich; Lionel's sense of humor and Lilian's unconditional love for Arthur aren't shown.
  • Canon Foreigner: Grey helps some terrorists, no hint of whom can be found in the book. To clarify: revolutionary terrorists were token good guys who often appeared in Soviet media.
  • Culturally Sensitive Adaptation: Arthur Grey renounces his aristocratic lineage and helps some random revolutionary terrorists who tried to kill some random mayor. In the book, he does run away from home to become a captain but keeps in touch with his mother, and there are no terrorists. His parents also get hit with heavy Adaptational Villainy, because in the Soviet world Aristocrats Are Evil and only evil.
  • Death by Adaptation: Lilian Grey dies and her husband lives. In the book, it's the other way round.
  • Implausible Deniability: When the scarlet sails appear, Menners Jr. tries to stop Assol from approaching the ship, mockingly saying "Fool! Do you think they are here for you?!" Apparently, according to him, it's just a random ship that just happens to match Egl's ridiculously specific prophecy.

A surrealistic, experimental 1982 film adaptation.
  • Adaptational Context Change: Both in the book and in this movie, Grey asks Menners Jr. about Assol, and Menners Jr. says she is crazy and mockingly describes her dream of the scarlet sails. However, in the book, he does it just out of general nastiness, while here, he is in love with her himself and wants to make sure Grey would lose interest in her.
  • Adaptational Heroism: All the villagers of Kaperna are much nicer than in the book. The children are shown playing with Assol (at the corresponding time in the book they fully shunned her), the Gossipy Hens make amends with her closer to the end, and the entire village undergoes a Heel–Face Turn thanks to the whole adventure of the scarlet sails.
  • Adaptational Mundanity: Inverted. Egl has no magic powers in the book, but here he vanishes into thin air.
  • Adaptational Villainy: The only one to get hit with it is Menners Sr. Not only does he assault Mary, he also puts the blame on her when they are surprised by his wife, leading to the latter kicking Mary out into the cold rain. In the book, going to the pawnbroker's through the cold rain was at least Mary’s own decision and she had an alternative (taking some food offered by the neighbour).
  • Betty and Veronica: Situation-wise, Menners Jr. is the Betty since he has known Assol since childhood and is well-respected in the village as the local innkeeper, while Grey is the Veronica, as he, for a long time, is only known to Assol as her imaginary Prince Charming, and is shown to be a Rebel Prince when he does appear onscreen. Personality-wise, Grey is the Betty, being kind, noble and idealistic, while self-assured, cynical Reformed Bully Menners Jr. is the Veronica.
  • Composite Character: Instead of a random beggar, it's now Menners Jr. who overhears Longren and Assol talking about the scarlet sails and spreads the story around Kaperna.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The mundane everyday life scenes are monochrome.
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: Menners Jr. tells Grey that Assol is a madwoman dreaming of a prince under scarlet sails – hoping, it's implied, to discourage a potential rival. Instead, he achieves the exact opposite. Grey only becomes even more certain Assol is his true love.
  • Oh, Crap!: Menners Jr. stares in shock and then freaks out when he sees a ship with scarlet sails approaching Kaperna. It's not just that it means he Did Not Get the Girl: his whole outlook on life is being turned upside down.
  • Promoted to Love Interest: Menners Jr. has an unrequited crush on Assol.
  • Reformed Bully: After being Assol's main bully in their childhood, Menners Jr. becomes better as they grow up – even before he completely reforms, along with the entire village, in the end. Unlike his counterpart from the musical, he is respectful of her in his attempt at flirting.
  • Splash of Color: Whenever something out of the ordinary (not necessarily fantastic) appears, it is shown in color. The final scene, where the residents of Kaperna watch Grey's ship leave, is entirely in color, implying the villagers' view of life has been completely changed.

Alternative Title(s): Scarlet Sails