Due: December 1, 1997
Russian Fairy Tales
Fairy tales, myths and folklore are all types of literature that teach us about the history and the culture of other countries. Hundreds of fairy tales have been published around the world including works by Hans Christan Andersen, Charles Dickens and John Ruskin. A lot can be learned about the traditions and values of people through fairy tales. The Russian fairy tales teach us the characteristics of the Russian people for hundreds of years. "According to Alexander Afenasiev the proper folk tale has a true Russian basis while personal traits and beliefs have been added as ornamentation" ( Forney, pg. 1)
Russian fairy tales usually give animals human traits, features and characteristics. For example, in the story "Little Sister Fox and Brother Wolf," an old man is on his way home from fishing and finds a fox which he thinks is dead. He puts the fox in his bag. The fox eats his fish and causes a lot of problems on the man's way home. The story ends with the fox tricking everyone, getting the best food and a nice place to sleep. This story reminds me of the cartoons children watch on TV like Yogi Bear where he gets away with tricking everyone to get their picnic basket or Woody Woodpecker who gets away with all his tricks.
Fairy tales tell stories about familes and other groups of people. They are suposed to teach morals and what happens if you act right or wrong. Fairy tales educate people on being fair and caring for others. They also warn people on the conswquences of doing evil things. My paper will demonstrate how some of the Russian Fairy tales are used to illustrate these charateristics.
Russian fairly tales tell about the importance of families. "In the Daughter and the Stepmother" a wicked stepmother convinces her husband to put their daughter in the woods. She is kind to a little mouse who helped her win a cartful of great things. When the father returned and saw all the things the girl had sent his other daughter who was cruel to the mouse so she was eaten by a bear.
Ghost stories were also popular Russia. The Russian peasants believed that a persons spirit either remained in the casket or above their former home. This belief has been shown in many Russian fairy tales like the findler in Hell.
Russian fairy tales also emphasize certain numbers which are sacred and symbolic. The number three appears again and again in these tales because it stands for the Holy Trinity.
Russian fairy tales also involve witches and wizards and other mystical characters like kings and princes. Most wizards and witches make pacts with evil spirits which allows them to have strange powers. Of all the witches in Russian fairy tales Baba Yaga is the most famous one who has been in hundreds of Russian stories.
Baba Yaga is sort of a Russian equivalent of the fairy godmother and Freddie Krueger all rolled up into one. Baba Yaga has become one of the most known characters in Russian folk tales. She is believed to have a horrifying appearance. She is aged, ugly and looks like a skeleton and sometimes is called Baba-Yaga Bony Leg. Her nose is long and her teeth are sharp. "She lives in a small hut in the forest and for transportation she flies around on a mortar at high speed across the forest floor by steering the pestle with her right hand and sweeping away all traces with her broom in her left hand" ( Vilenskya, pg. 3)
Baba Yaga is believed to be connected to the dead for many reasons. Her hut is built deep in the forest on chicken bones and she has a white picket fence covered with skulls. In all Baba Yaga legends she offers all the heroes something to drink. While treating a guest to food she usually gives them special, magical foods or drinks intended for the dead.
Baba Yaga is usually thought of as being a cruel witch like character but there are really two Baba Yadas, a good one and a bad one. There have been many folk stories about both the good Baba Yaga and the bad Baba Yaga; a few include "Lubacheva", "The Feather of Bright Finist the Falcon", and "Vassilissan Golden Tress", the "Bareheaded Beauty".
In the first story there was a man whose wife died and left him with a young daughter named Lubachka. Her father loved her but traveled a lot so he remarried hoping she would be Lubacka's second mom. Whenever the father was around the stepmother she was nice but mistreated Lubachka when he was gone. One day she ordered Lubachka to go into the woods and go to her stepmother's sister's house to get a special needle. On the way Lubachka stopped at her real aunt's house who told her that she was being sent to see Baba Yaga a horrible witch who ate children. Her aunt gave her a red ribbon, a bottle of sunflower oil, a loaf of bread and a piece of ham.
When she got to the house she saw an old hag weaving a loom. Baba Yaga smiles and tells her to wait while her cat watches Lubachk and the maid prepared a bath. Lubachk bribed the maid to put the fire out by giving her a kerchief. She bribed the cat with her aunt's ham, and used Baba Yaga's magical comb and blanket to escape. As she ran away she threw the bread to the dogs and as she arrived at the gate it swung shut but she oiled it with the sunflower oil and it opened. Then the trees tried to grab her so she tied them together with her Aunt's ribbon. When Baba Yaga returned she accused the cat, the tree and the maid but she only abused them while Lubachka gave them gifts. Baba Yaga chased after her but Lubachka threw down a towel and a wide river was made which the witch couldn't pass. The witch used an oxen and drank the river dry. Then Lubachka threw down the comb and it turned into a thick forest which Baba Yaga couldn't pass. When Lubachaka got home she told her father and he had his wife sent into the woods were the wolves killed her. The moral of this story is to be prepared for everything and caring for others.
There are many stories in which Baba Yaga is a good character. An example of that is "The Feathers of Bright Finist the Falcon" This story includes an old man and woman who had three daughters. One day the old man was going to the fair and asked his daughters what they wanted him to bring back. The oldest wanted a dress, the middle a new shawl and the youngest only wanted a red flower. The old man easily found the dress and the shawl but couldn't find the flower until on his way home a traveler had a flower. He would only give the flower to the father if the daughter married the stranger's son Bright Finist. When the daughter found out she said she would because he was a great hero who could fly in the shape of a falcon. Every night the falcon flew through the window and gave her a feather which would turn into anything she wanted. One night her jealous sisters put knives in the window so the falcon would cut his wings. When this happened Bright Finist believed that the lady didn't love him anymore so he flew away never to be seen again. The girl set out to find her love and wondered into the woods were she met Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga gave her a golden hammer and ten diamond nails and told her to go to the sea and give them to Bright Finist new bride. Then Baba Yaga sent the girl to her second sister. The second witch gave her the same advice and the third gave her a magical steed which would carry her to a palace were Bright Finist was under his bride's control because of a magical pin. The girl traded the bride each of her treasures but was not able to wake up her love. Finally she knocks off the pin and Bright Finist woke up and they lived together happily ever after. There are many morals which can be taken from this story. The most important moral it teachs is the power of love which can prevail over all. It also shows what happens when people are to jealous of others.
In another story called "Vassilssia Golden Tress", the Bareheaded Beauty there was a Tzar named Svaitozar who had two sons and a daughter of unearthly beauty named Vassilissa Golden Tress. No one except the royal family saw her face and she was never allowed to leave her room. When she was to be married her father allowed her to walk freely in the garden. When she got outside a whirlwind carried her off into the land of the Savage Serpent, a giant with the head of a snake. She was imprisoned in a castle of gold and her brothers came to find her but they were defeated by a snake. Her mother found a magical stream and drank some water which caused her to give birth to a son named Ivan Goroh. He was not like any other child because he grew in an hour what takes normal people years and he grew stronger and stronger. In the forest Ivan ran into Baba Yaga who told him where to find the whirlwind but he had to bring her water from the magical spring. When Ivan arruved at the castle the snake was not there so he took his sister, and an iron club. The snake returned breathing fire and he and Ivan Goroh went to battle. Ivan killed the snake while breaking his club. He took the waters of life and death from the snake's castle and brought the brothers back to life then he took some of the water to Baba Yaga and they all lived happier ever after. The moral of this story is that good will always overcome evil. This story also shows the important of living your life to the fullest and discovering the world.
There is another famous story written about Baba Yaga by Nikolai Golgo. He wrote a story called "Saint John's Eve" which has appeared in almost every culture. It is the story of man against the devil. Petro, a poor worker, is in love with Pidorka, his master's daughter. Petro's master catches the two and sends Petro away. Petro goes to the bar and meets Basavryuk who promised Petro enough wealth to marry Pidorka. Basavryuk takes Petro out to a field were they met Baba Yaga who demands he kills Pidorika's little brother by sucking out his blood. He does as told, marries Pidorka and lives in peace until Basavryuk returns. He destroys Petro and Pidorka ran off to a convent. The moral of this story is that all the money in the world can not buy happiness. It shows the importance of puting your family and values first.
Many of Baba Yaga tales have references to mushrooms. There is a lot of Russian artwork showing her surrounded by mushrooms. In another legend Baba Yaga goes into the woods to gather mushrooms for a stew and meets a hedgehog sitting on top of a huge mushroom eating a mushroom. She wants to eat the hedgehog but he persuades her that he can be used in a better way. She leaves him alone and he transforms into a boy named Dmitry who has the power to find a mythical black sunflower. In another folklore she puts a hero in touch with magic creatures who live under mushrooms and provide the hero with magical gifts which show him way to reach the goal. In another story an older couple go into the woods picking mushrooms and find a duck which they bring home with them. The following day they go mushrooming again and when they get home they find everything cleaned up, the table setup and dinner cooked. The next day they hide and discover the duck was really a girl so they threw the duck's feathers into the fire and the girl started crying saying she would have stayed and been their daughter but now she must leave. The moral of this story is you shouldn't judge a book by the cover. The story teachs that what is inside is more important then outside.
There is another Legend like this called "The Frog Princess". In this story a king had three sons whom he told to shoot an arrow and where the arrow falls is the girl they would marry. The eldest son's fell in the courtyard where a nobleman's daughter picked it up, the middleone's fell next to a merchant's daughters and the youngest one's flew up and away. Prince Ivan, the youngest, went looking for his arrow and found it in the mouth of a frog. Prince Ivan was forced to marry this frog because it was his destiny. Ivan's father sent each of his three brothers home to get their wives to make him a shirt and bread. While Ivan was sleeping the frog transformed into Vasilisa the Wise and made bread and a shirt better then Ivans two brothers. Then Ivan's fathers third wish was that each of the wives come to his house for dinner. When Vasilisa the Wise arrives everyone is shocked because she is great sorcerer who can do everything better than the other wives. After dinner Ivan finds her frog skins and throw them into the fire. When she returns home and sees what he has done she tells him she must leave and return to the Thrice-Nine lands because she was turned into a frog for three years. Ivan meets a man who gives him a ball of yarn which lead him towards his wife. During his travels he runs into a bear, a drake, a hare and a spike he threw into the sea. Finally he meets Baba Yaga who tells him his wife is in the hands of Koshchei the Deathless and she shows him the way. The bear helped him by pulling down the tree Koshchei lived in and Kishchei casket broke open and out came a hare. The other hare which Ivan met came and killed it. Then a duke drops the egg into the ocean and the spike threw it out. Ivan broke the needle inside the egg which killed Kishchei. The needle was like the rose to the Beast in Beauty and the Beast. It is what allowed Kishchei to live forever. Ivan gets Vasilisa the Wise and they lived happier ever after. The moral of this story is to protect nature because it is a beautiful thing. Another strong moral is that you most be brave to overcome problems.
Russian Fairy tales are great stories which show us a lot about Russian culture and history. They use the customs and landscape of Russia to tell stories that have pratical lessions for life. If you change the names and background we can see many of the same lessons in American fairy tales.
Forney, Angel, " Russian Folk Tales: A Window into Russian Culture",
Internet, "Baba Yaga", http://users.aol.com/vanishwood/keep/russ.html
Internet, "Baba Yaga", http://www.housepages.com/angels/arch-12.html
Jones, Steven, The Fairy Tale: The Magic Mirror of Imagination, New York: Twayne Publishing, 1995.
Kent, Leonard, The Collected Tales of Nikolia Golgo, New York: Random House, 1964.
Schroeder, Rev. K. G., Great Russian Short Stories, New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1958.
Swink, Askley, "Russian Folk Tales", http://www.auburn.edu/~swinkae/report2.html.
Vilenskya, Larissa, " Initiation Rituals in the Slavic Tradition: Traces in Mythology", http://www.resonate.com/places/writings/larissa/myth.html
Russian Fairy Tales Webpage, http://itpubs.ucdavis.edu/richard/tales/fp.html.