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More about Russian Folk Tales
August 14, 2007 20:19


Tales can be divided into three groups by their subject-matter: fairytales with traces of mythology, tales about animals, who speak and act like people, and tales of manners.

Tales about Animals

Among the central characters of Russian fairytales there is Fox, Wolf, Bear, Hare, She-Goat and He-Goat, Bull, Horse, Dog, Raven, and Rooster. Most frequent personages of animal tales are Fox and Wolf.

Just like the epos of Western Europe, Russian folktales present Fox as a sneaky, crafty and treacherous creature that using its slyness gains the upper hand over stronger animals, such as Wolf and Bear. Wolf is characteristic for different human features: as a rule he is angry, greedy, voracious, and stupid; Fox has a special pleasure in playing tricks on him and every time Wolf is easily duped again and again. Far less definite is the image of Bear, yet one of his most peculiar features is slow-wittedness.

Fairytales with traces of mythology Fairytales of mythological character are those which use fanciful and magical images to depict the struggle of the light and the dark, the good and the evil, or the opposite powers of nature.

The fading of nature in autumn and winter is symbolized by the image of a beauty’s kidnapping by some monsters or dragons or in the image of her being bewitched, frozen, turned to stone or hypnotized to sleep. Mists and clouds covering the Sun and hampering its beneficial impact on the earthly beauty nature are personified by the image of Serpent; while cold and frost are symbolized by the wicked Koschei the Deathless (who usually holds the beauty captive), and winter making all the nature stiff is personified by Baba-Yaga, an old hag with boney legs (that is “Kostyanya Noga” in Russian).

The heroes in these fairy tales are in quest of the stolen beauties; they are destined to save and return them, or else to bring them back to life, if they are in dead sleep, or stiff, or the like, i.e. to revive nature. The task is achieved with the help of special wonderful artifacts or creatures, like golden apples, a horse with a golden mane, a deer with golden antlers, a fiery bird, seven-league boots, the flying carpet, the waters of Death and Life that can bring the dead back to life, and so on.

The major representatives of the dark powers are usually Baba-Yaga and Koshchei the Deathless.

Baba-Yaga appears in Russian tales in two ways: she is whether a horrifying and wicked witch and a man-eater, or a supportive and just wisewoman that helps the hero in his quest (especially if it is a chance for her to spite Koschei). She lives alone deep in the forest; her hut can move on its large chicken legs – it likes rotating in front of guests and will not stop unless the hero knows the proper incantation to make it turn its front to him and its back to the woods. Or else, Baba-Yaga lives in a tower-chamber surrounded with a vile fence made of human bones and skulls, the miserable remains of her victims.

Koshchei the Deathless is an abominable sorcerer who kidnaps and imprisons the beauty hoping she would yield to his wicked will. However, we have a hero who must save the beauty, and in every tale he happens to learn (sometimes with the beauty’s help) about where to find the death of the Deathless! Faraway in the sea there is a secret island, in the island an oak is growing, under the oak a trunk is buried, in the trunk a hare is hidden, in the hare there is a duck, in the duck there is an egg, and in that egg is the death of the deathless villain Koshchei.

The most interesting plots developed in mythological tales include fighting the Serpent, magic transformation of people, pursuit of hard tasks, like saving beauties, magic artifacts, building a palace in a night, etc. Usually the heroes get help from women, whether from wife, or mother, or girlfriend who turns to have secretly some supernatural powers. She calms down the hero with the words: “The morn is wiser than the evening: go to bed, everything will be done”.

Tales of manners

Tales of manners reflect the features of the people’s customs, morals and ways of life. They can be divided into two parts: earlier tales bear traces of mythological or ancient outlook, and later tales reveal Christian influence. The tales of manner can tell about personified Truth and Lie, about relatives, such as husband and wife, step-daughter and step-mother, the younger brother and the older brothers, and so on.

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Tags: Russian Folklore Russian Literature Russian Folk Tales   

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