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Around Russian fairy tales

As parts of Russian folklore, tales were gathered especially from the mid-1800s and into the 1920s. Skazka is a Russian word. Literally it means 'tale', yet it has come to mean "fairy tale" lots of times. The plural is skazki.

Many Russian tales are homebred, and some are adapted from tales of other countries, both in Asia and Europa. The types of tales and parallels in other languages may in part be studied by use of the International Folktale Catalogue (Uther 2004).

What are Russian folk tales about? Some tales are steeped in allegory and use personifications of this and that, and can thus be interpreted to mean a lot. There is a rich variety of such tales. Some are about pretty women, brave folks, sons and daughters of tsars and their encounters, parish priests, soldiers, talking animals, seasons, and other sides to life.

Collections and a famous interpreter

Ivan Krylov (1769–1844) is Russia's best-known fable-writer. His first collection of fables in 1809 was so enthusiastically received that he abandoned writing plays for fable-writing. Many of his earlier fables were loosely based on fables of Aesop and La Fontaine, yet his later fables were original works. He wrote about 200 fables in all. (WP, "Ivan Krylov")

Alexander Afanasyev (1826-71) collected nearly 600 Russian folktales and fairytales - one of the largest folktale collections in the world - and published them between 1855 and 1863. In the collection, 148 tales came from a text collection by Vladimir Dal. Afanasyev's work was modelled after the Brothers Grimm's work, Grimm's Fairy Tales. His style of writing was attractive and inspired many Russian writers.

Vladimir Propp (1895-1970) drew heavily on Afanasyev's collection for analysing how the genre of fairy tales is built up. His views are presented in Morphology of the Folktale.

Before the Stalin era, many Russian folk tales were translated into English. Translations from before 1900 appear in: Ralston (1973); Naaké (1874); Wratislav (1880); Tibbitt 1890 and Hodgett (1890). Book data is near the bottom of the page.

Folklore in an interesting period

In the 1800s many Russian folktales were collected and published as permitted under the Tzar's censorship, and the work was carried on till into the 1920s, when Joseph Stalin ("Steelman") took hold of the reins. He and the Soviet regime repressed folklore and sought to keep folklore studies in check to prevent inappropriate ideas from spreading. The regime censored fairy tales and children's literature. Fairy tales were removed from bookshelves and children were encouraged to read books focusing on nature and science.

However, Iurii Sokolov argued that folklore had originally been the oral tradition of the working people, and consequently could be used to motivate and inspire collective projects. What is more, characters throughout traditional Russian folktales often found themselves on a journey of self-discovery and as members of a common society. He also pointed out how many tales showed members of the working class how to outsmart their cruel masters, again working to prove folklore's value to Soviet ideology and the nation's society at large.

The Soviet government became convinced by Sokolov's arguments and those of Maxim Gorky (1868-1936), who also stressed that folklore possessed artistic values, and that traditional fairy tales showed ideals through various characters. As a result, folklore was collected from across the country, some stories were singled out as good and fit for progress. Government-approved stories were spread throughout the population, and local folklore centers arose in the major cities to ensure that the media published "appropriate versions of Russian folktales" in a systematic way.

Performers travelled throughout the nation to gain insight into the lives of the working class, and thus communicate their stories more potently. New Soviet fairy tales focused on the improved life of citizens under Stalin's leadership. Once Stalin died in early 1953, folklorists dropped the so-called pseudo-folklore of his reign and switched back to the oral traditions. Instead of considering folklore under Stalin a renaissance of the traditional Russian epic, today it is generally regarded as a period of restraint and falsehoods.

[WP, "Folklore of Russia"]


Russian folktales, folk tales and fairy tales of Russia, Literature  

Almedingen, E. M. 1957. Russian Fairy Tales. Bombay: Somaiya Publications.

Bain, R. Nisbet. 1901. Russian Fairy Tales from the Skazki of Polevoi. 3rd ed. London: A. H. Bullen.

Chandler, Robert, Elizabeth Chandler, Sibelan Forrester, trs. 2013. Russian Magic Tales from Pushkin to Platonov. London: Penguin Classics.

Curtin, Jeremiah. 1903. Myths and Folk-Tales of the Russians, Western Slavs, and Magyars. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

Curtin, Jeremiah. 1921. Wonder Tales from Russia. Boston: Little, Brown and Co.

De Blumenthal, Verra, tr. 1903. Folk Tales from the Russian. New York: Core Collection Books.

Guterman, Norbert, tr. 1945. Russian Fairy Tales. Coll. Aleksandr Afanas'ev. New York. Pantheon Books.

Hodgetts, Edith M. S. Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar: Collection of Russian Stories. 2nd ed. London: Griffith, Farran and Co, 1891.

Houghton, Louise Seymour. The Russian Grandmother's Wonder Tales. London: Bickers and Son, 1906.

Magnus, Leonard Arthur, tr. A. N. Afanasev. Russian Folk-Tales. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., 1915.

Naaké, John T. 1874. Slavonic Fairy Tales Collected and Translated from the Russian, Polish, Servian, and Bohemian. London: Henry S. King.

Propp, Vladimir. 1968. Morphology of the Folktale. Austin: University of Texas.

Ralston, William Ralston Shedden. 1869. Krilof and His Fables. London: Strahan and Co.

Ralston, William Ralston Shedden. 1873. Russian Fairy Tales: A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore. London: Smith, Elder and Co.

Ransome, Arthur. 1916. Old Peter's Russian Tales. New York: Frederick A. Stokes.

Steele, Robert, ed. 1916. The Russian Garland being Russian Folk Tales: Translated from a Collection of Chap-Books Made in Moscow . . . London: A. M. Philpot.

Tibbits, Charles John. 1890. Russian and Polish Folk-Lore and Legends. London: W. W. Gibbings.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. 2004. The Types of International Folktales: A Classification and Bibliography Based on the System of Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson. Vols 1-3. FF Communications No. 284-86, Helsinki: Academia Scientiarum Fennica.

Wheeler, Post. 1917. Russian Wonder Tales. London: Adam and Charles Black.

Wiggin, Kate Douglas, and Nora Archibald Smith, eds. 1908. Tales of Laughter. New York: The McClure Company.

Wilson, Richard. 1916. The Russian Story Book: Containing Tales from the Song-Cycles of Kiev and Novgorod and Other Early Sources. London: MacMillan and Co.

Wratislaw, A. H. 1880. Sixty Folk-Tales from Exclusively Slavonic Sources. London: Elliot Stock.

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