Russian Fairy Tales | Annotated Tale

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THE stories contained in the following pages are taken from the collections published by Afanasief, Khudyakof, Erlenvein, and Chudinsky. The South-Russian collections of Kulish and Rudchenko I have been able to use but little, there being no complete dictionary available of the dialect, or rather the language, in which they are written. Of these works that of Afanasief is by far the most important, extending to nearly 3,000 pages, and containing 332 distinct stories--of many of which several variants are given, sometimes as many as five. Khudyakof's collection contains 122 skazkas--as the Russian folk-tales are called--Erlenvein's 41, and Chudinsky's 31. Afanasief has also published a separate volume, containing 33 "legends," and he has inserted a great number of stories of various kinds in his "Poetic views of the Old Slavonians about Nature," a work to which I have had constant recourse.

               From the stories contained in what may be called the "chap-book literature" of Russia, I have made but few extracts. It may, however, be as well to say a few words about them. There is a Russian word lub, diminutive lubok, meaning the soft bark of the lime tree, which at one time was used instead of paper. The popular tales which were current in former days were at first printed on sheets or strips of this substance, whence the term lubochnuiya came to be given to all such productions of the cheap press, even after paper had taken the place of bark. [1]

               The stories which have thus been preserved have no small interest of their own, but they cannot be considered as fair illustrations of Russian folk-lore, for their compilers in many cases took them from any sources to which they had access, whether eastern or western, merely adapting what they borrowed to Russian forms of thought and speech. Through some such process, for instance, seem to have passed the very popular Russian stories of Eruslan Lazarevich and of Bova Korolevich. They have often been quoted as "creations of the Slavonic mind," but there seems to be no reason for doubting that they are merely Russian adaptations, the first of the adventures of the Persian Rustem, the second of those of the Italian Buovo di Antona, our Sir Bevis of Hampton. The editors of these "chap-book skazkas" belonged to the pre-scientific period, and had a purely commercial object in view. Their stories were intended simply to sell.

               A German version of seventeen of these "chap-book tales," to which was prefixed an introduction by Jacob Grimm, was published some forty years ago, [2] and has been translated into English. [3] Somewhat later, also, appeared a German version of twelve more of these tales. [4]

               Of late years several articles have appeared in some of the German periodicals, [5] giving accounts or translations of some of the Russian Popular Tales. But no thorough investigation of them appeared in print, out of Russia, until the publication last year of the erudite work on "Zoological Mythology" by Professor Angelo de Gubernatis. In it he has given a summary of the greater part of the stories contained in the collections of Afanasief and Erlenvein, and so fully has he described the part played in them by the members of the animal world that I have omitted, in the present volume, the chapter I had prepared on the Russian "Beast-Epos."

               Another chapter which I have, at least for a time, suppressed, is that in which I had attempted to say something about the origin and the meaning of the Russian folk-tales. The subject is so extensive that it requires for its proper treatment more space than a single chapter could grant; and therefore, though not without reluctance, I have left the stories I have quoted to speak for themselves, except in those instances in which I have given the chief parallels to be found in the two collections of foreign folk-tales best known to the English reader, together with a few others which happened to fall within the range of my own reading. Professor de Gubernatis has discussed at length, and with much learning, the esoteric meaning of the skazkas, and their bearing upon the questions to which the "solar theory" of myth-explanation has given rise. To his volumes, and to those of Mr. Cox, I refer all who are interested in those fascinating enquiries. My chief aim has been to familiarize English readers with the Russian folk-tale; the historical and mythological problems involved in it can be discussed at a later period. Before long, in all probability, a copious flood of light will be poured upon the connexion of the Popular Tales of Russia with those of other lands by one of those scholars who are best qualified to deal with the subject. [6]

               Besides the stories about animals, I have left unnoticed two other groups of skazkas--those which relate to historical events, and those in which figure the heroes of the Russian "epic poems" or "metrical romances." My next volume will be devoted to the Builinas, as those poems are called, and in it the skazkas which are connected with them will find their fitting place. In it, also, I hope to find space for the discussion of many questions which in the present volume I have been forced to leave unnoticed.

               The fifty-one stories which I have translated at length I have rendered as literally as possible. In the very rare instances in which I have found it necessary to insert any words by way of explanation, I have (except in the case of such additions as "he said" or the like) enclosed them between brackets. In giving summaries, also, I have kept closely to the text, and always translated literally the passages marked as quotations. In the imitation of a finished work of art, elaboration and polish are meet and due, but in a transcript from nature what is most required is fidelity. An "untouched" photograph is in certain cases infinitely preferable to one which has been carefully "worked upon." And it is, as it were, a photograph of the Russian story-teller that I have tried to produce, and not an ideal portrait.

*       *       *       *       *

               The following are the principal Russian books to which reference has been made:--

Afanasief (A.N.). Narodnuiya Russkiya Skazki [7] [Russian Popular Tales]. 8 pts. Moscow, 1863-60-63. Narodnuiya Russkiya Legendui [8] [Russian Popular Legends]. Moscow, 1859. Poeticheskiya Vozzryeniya Slavyan na Prirodu [Poetic Views of the Slavonians about Nature] [9] 3 vols. Moscow, 1865-69.

Khudyakof (I.A.). Velikorusskiya Skazki [Great-Russian Tales]. Moscow, 1860.

Chudinsky (E.A.). Russkiya Narodnuiya Skazki, etc. [Russian Popular Tales, etc.]. Moscow, 1864.

Erlenvein (A.A.). Narodnuiya Skazki, etc. [Popular Tales, collected by village schoolmasters in the Government of Tula]. Moscow, 1863.]

Rudchenko (I.). Narodnuiya Yuzhnorusskiya Skazki [South-Russian Popular Tales]. [10] Kief, 1869.

               Most of the other works referred to are too well known to require a full setting out of their title. But it is necessary to explain that references to Grimm are as a general rule to the "Kinder- und Hausmärchen," 9th ed. Berlin, 1870. Those to Asbjörnsen and Moe are to the "Norske Folke-Eventyr," 3d ed. Christiania, 1866; those to Asbjörnsen only are to the "New Series" of those tales, Christiania, 1871; those to Dasent are to the "Popular Tales from the Norse," 2d ed., 1859. The name "Karajich" refers to the "Srpske Narodne Pripovijetke," published at Vienna in 1853 by Vuk Stefanovich Karajich, and translated by his daughter under the title of "Volksmärchen der Serben," Berlin, 1854. By "Schott" is meant the "Walachische Mährchen," Stuttgart und Tubingen, 1845, by "Schleicher" the "Litauische Märchen," Weimar, 1857, by "Hahn" the "Griechische und albanesische Märchen," Leipzig, 1864, by "Haltrich" the "Deutsche Volksmärchen aus dem Sachsenlande in Siebenbürgen," Berlin, 1856, and by "Campbell" the "Popular Tales of the West Highlands," 4 vols., Edinburgh, 1860-62.

               A few of the ghost stories contained in the following pages appeared in the "Cornhill Magazine" for August 1872, and an account of some of the "legends" was given in the "Fortnightly Review" for April 1, 1868.



[1] So our word "book," the German Buch, is derived from the Buche or beech tree, of which the old Runic staves were formed. Cf. liber and βίβλος.

[2] "Russische Volksmärchen in den Urschriften gesammelt und ins Deutsche übersetzt von A. Dietrich." Leipzig, 1831.

[3] "Russian Popular Tales," Chapman and Hall, London, 1857.

[4] "Die ältesten Volksmärchen der Russen. Von J. N. Vogl." Wien, 1841.

[5] Such as the "Orient und Occident," "Ausland," &c.

[6] Professor Reinhold Köhler, who is said to be preparing a work on the Skazkas, in co-operation with Professor Jülg, the well-known editor and translator of the "Siddhi Kür" and "Ardshi Bordschi Khan."

[7] In my copy, pt. 1 and 2 are of the 3d, and pt. 3 and 4 are of the 2d edition. By such a note as "Afanasief, i. No. 2," I mean to refer to the second story of the first part of this work.

[8] This book is now out of print, and copies fetch a very high price. I refer to it in my notes as "Afanasief, Legendui."

[9] This work is always referred to in my notes as "Afanasief, P.V.S."

[10] There is one other recent collection of skazkas--that published last year at Geneva under the title of "Russkiya Zavyetnuiya Skazki." But upon its contents I have not found it necessary to draw.

Bibliographic Information

Tale Title: Preface
Tale Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Book Title: Russian Fairy Tales
Book Author/Editor: Ralston, William Ralston Shedden
Publisher: Hurst & Co.
Publication City: New York
Year of Publication: 1873
Country of Origin: Russia
Classification: Introduction

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