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August 28, 2015 / Irene2468

Life Readers January through May 2016

E. Gorokhova The Firebird’s Feather, 1979

E. Gorokhova
The Firebird’s Feather, 1979

The World of Russian Fairy Tales

I invite you to join the Life Readers group at Arlington Heights Memorial Library as we explore Russian fairy tales, a fascinating genre that reveals a great deal about Russian traditions and history. Taking an analytical approach, we will examine not only the tales, but the beliefs, worldviews, and related myths and legends in both ancient Slavic pagan and more recent Eastern Orthodox Church traditions. Each class will begin with a short lecture followed by group discussion. We will focus on close textual analysis of Russian fairy tales over a period of 5 sessions, supplemented by historical and critical information related to the tales that I will introduce at each meeting. During the sessions, several short episodes (not longer than 10 – 15 minutes each) will be shown from the Russian movies Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1973), Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (Sergei Parajanov, 1967), The Island (Pavel Lungin, 2006), and a variety of Russian short animated films based on fairy tales.

While many people know about the compilations of classic tales by the brothers Grimm in Germany, Andrew Lang in Britain, or Charles Perrault in France, fewer readers of folk and fairy tales are familiar with the works assembled by Alexander Afanasiev (1826 – 1871) in Russia. Russian fairy tales are many and varied, ranging from the familiar (evil stepmothers and magic flying carpets) to the fantastic (Baba Yaga who flies in a pestle and the hump-backed horse). As much of Russia relied on the oral tradition until the 20th century, the total number of Russian tales is one of the largest in Western literature. Afanasiev alone assembled over 600 tales in his multi-volume collection in the 1860s. Many of these tales influenced Russian literary tradition (Pushkin, Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky), art (Vasnetsov, Bilibin, Vrubel, Roerikh, and Kandinsky), as well as classical works of Russian opera, ballet, and music (Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Glinka, Mussorgsky, and Stravinsky). We will examine a variety of such works based on the themes and characters of Russian fairy tales, situating the folk fairy tales, collected and transcribed from the narratives of the gatekeepers of oral traditions, alongside literary explorations of magical and supernatural themes by Alexander Pushkin and the contemporary Russian writer Tatyana Tolstaya. Some of these tales re-imagine the traditional tales from the oral tradition, while others create completely original works, complete with new characters and situations, but based on the conventions of the genre.

While will take a broad spectrum of provocative approaches to the study of fairy tales, we will mostly concentrate on learning about the origin and original meaning of the Russian fairy tales, and each of these tools will provide a reader with a different lens through which the tales might be examined and enjoyed. We will address important questions: What is a fairy tale? What is the structure and meaning of fairy tales? Were they always intended for children? What do they offer to modern artists, composers, film directors, and writers? What can we learn from them?

Baba Yaga’s Hut by Ivan Bilibin, 1899

Baba Yaga’s Hut by Ivan Bilibin, 1899

By the end of the course, you will be able to identify the major elements of Russian folk beliefs, including symbolic meanings and the underlying Russian pagan and Christian customs and rituals; to differentiate between the major elements of Russian and Western beliefs; to identify the structure of the fairy tale and to classify tales by type and content; to identify the elements common to all fairy tales; to discuss the intent of the fairy tales in the past and present; to analyze the role of gender and symbols (forest, fire, water, animals, numbers, color, etc.) in the fairy tales; to identify the social, economic, and psychological context of fairy tales; and to discuss the transition from traditional folklore to modern literary tales, as well as their representation in music, art, and film.

I will draw upon my Russian background to share some of the pleasures of the original Russian versions of tales that are inevitably lost in translation. We will look closely, for example, at the translation of the Russian word for a folktale, “skazka,” which is derived from the verb meaning “to tell” (skazat’), from which the word “legend,” (skazanie), is also derived. Skazka has to belong to a particular tradition, to be transmitted orally, and to present a made-up story.

Russian fairy tales begin not with “Once upon a time,” but with “Zhili, byli.” “There once lived, there once was/were…” these words will carry the reader into the enchanted thrice tenth kingdom where it is common to meet Baga Yaga, Koshchey the Deathless, and the grey wolf. Not everyone will live happily ever after in the magical land of the firebird, but the participants will gain a better appreciation of the traditional and modern-day fantasy culture.

The World of Russian Fairy Tales
Course Outline – 5 sessions
Time: Thursdays, 7 pm to 9 pm CT
Place: The Cardinal Room, Arlington Heights Memorial Library, 500 N. Dunton Avenue, Arlington Heights, IL 60004-5910

Session 1 January 28, 2016
Reading Assignment: Ivanits – pp. 3-37; Afanasiev – “The Turnip” and “The Hen” pp. 26-29, “The Bun” pp. 447-449

Session 2 February 18, 2016
Reading Assignment: Ivanits – pp. 51-82, 169-189; Afanasiev – “The Fox Confessor” and “The Bear” pp.72-75, “The Fox as Midwife” and “The Fox, the Hare, and the Cock” pp. 191-194, “Ivanko the Bear’s Son” pp. 221-223, “The Wolf and the Goat” pp. 249-252, “The Sheep, the Fox, and the Wolf” pp. 275-276, “The Peasant, the Bear, and the Fox” pp. 288-289, “The Wolf” and “The Goat Shedding on One side” pp. 312-314, “The Foolish Wolf,” “The Bear, the Dog, and the Cat,” and “The Bear and the Cock” pp. 450-456, “Beasts in a Pit” p. 498, “The Raven and the Lobster” and “Prince Ivan, the Firebird, and the Grey Wolf” pp. 612-624

Session 3 March 17, 2016
Reading Assignment: Vladimir Propp “The Function of the Fairy Tales (to be distributed by the leader); Ivanits – pp. 38-50, 154-168; Afanasiev – “Ivan the Peasant Son and the Thumb-Sized Man” pp. 262-268, “The Magic Swan Geese” pp. 349-351, “The Crystal Mountain” pp. 482-485, “The Three Kingdoms, Copper, Silver, and Golden” pp. 375-387, “Ivanushka the Little Fool” pp. 62-66, “Emelya the Simpleton” pp. 46-48, “The Princess who Never Smiled” pp. 360-363, “Maria Morevna” pp. 553-562, “The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa” pp. 494-497, “The Three Kingdoms” pp. 49-53, “Sister Alyonushka, Brother Ivanushka” pp. 406-410, “Two Ivans, Soldier’s Sons” pp. 463-475.

Session 4 April 21, 2015
Reading Assignment: Pushkin’s poem “Rusalka” (to be distributed by the leader), Afanasiev – “The Bad Wife” pp. 56-57, “The Taming of the Shrew” pp. 161-162, “The Wise Little Girl” pp. 252-255, “The Indiscreet Wife” pp. 226-227, “Burenushka, the Little Red Cow” pp. 146-150, “The Wondrous Wonder, the Marvelous Marvel” pp. 13-15, “The Princess Who Wanted to Solve Riddles” pp. 115-117, “The Mayoress” p. 141, “The Maiden-Tsar” pp. 229-234, “The Merchant’s Daughter and the Maidservant” pp. 327-331, “The Merchant’s Daughter and the Slanderer” pp. 415-418, “The Golden Slipper” pp. 44-46, and “Daughter and Stepdaughter” pp. 278-279, “Misery” pp. 20-24, “Salt” pp. 40-44, “Shemiaka the Judge” pp. 625-627.

Session 5 May 19, 2016
Reading Assignment: Ivanits – pp. 83-124, 190-205; Afanasiev – “Vasilisa the Beautiful” pp. 439-47, “Baba Yaga and the Brave Youth” pp. 76-79, “Baba Yaga” pp. 194-195, “The Frog Princess” pp. 119-23, “Koshchey the Deathless” pp. 485-493, “Jack Frost” pp. 366-369, “The Feather of Finist, the Bright Falcon” pp. 580-588, “The Wicked Sisters” p. 356-360; Alexander Pushkin “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” and Tatyana Tolstaya “The Poet and the Muse” and “Date with a Bird” (to be distributed by the leader)

NOTE: I will provide all handouts for the participants, including some of the fairy tales.

Text/Material List:

Russian Fairy Tales collected by Aleksander Afanasiev, Pantheon Books, 1976
ISBN-13: 978-0394730905
Russian Folk Belief by Linda J. Ivanits, Routledge, 2014
ISBN-13: 978-0873328890

Russian Myths by Elizabeth Warner, University of Texas Press, 2002
ISBN-13: 978-0292791589