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On Folk Tales of Russia
August 9, 2007 21:14

On Folk Tales of Russia

Quite early tales turned into a source of amusement in this country. The Russian people regarded tales with a far less serious attitude than songs, for example. This difference in treating the two kinds of folk-lore is well expressed in the saying: “Tale is made up, song is true”. By these words people drew a distinct line between the two genres: tale is regarded as fancy’s child, while song is the reflection of what was really experienced.

However, in opposition to the above mentioned common conviction, tales are not merely fruits of pure imagination: they reverberate with the echoes of ancient beliefs and ways of living that sank into oblivion. Lots of tales, for example, bear shadows (probably somewhat distorted or exaggerated) of savage customs and manners of our remote ancestors.

 The “double bottom” of tales is pointed out in the Russian proverb of the following meaning: “Fairytale is a lie, but with a hint in it, a lesson for fine fellows”. Some modern researches find out that certain tales are allegorical narrations of true historical events, let alone the moral suggestions of many tales. As time went by the acute satire of topical stories became obliterated, real prototypes died and were forgotten, and the allegorical stories retained but an obscure and thus enigmatic and amusing plot.

Being a product of very ancient, as a rule pagan epochs, fairytales along with other folklore genres were subject to church persecution from early times. In the 11th century it was forbidden to tell tales, funny stories, “idle fibs”.  Even in the 12th century they prohibited to narrate fables; whereas in the 13th century “tall-tale tellers” were blamed and banned.

In spite of the various bans, fairytales transmitted by word of mouth survived and, though pretty modified have lived to see these days. In many ways it is due to folklore collectors who recorded them. The Russian ethnographer Alexander Afanasyev (1826—1871) was the initiator of collecting Russian folktales. Yekaterina Avdeyeva (1789-1865) and Vladimir Dal (1801-1872) also contributed much to the task of collecting and organizing children folklore. Modern Russian fairytales are aimed at children’s audience as a rule.

The Origin and Matter of Russian Folktales

 The comparison of the content of Russian folktales with the stories, fables and legends of other nations revealed their utter resemblance. Thus, for example, the Russian fairytale about “One-Eyed Giant” tells almost the same things like the Homer’s Odyssey about the Cyclope named Polypheme, Odysseus and his companions; so the Russian tale is quite similar to the Old Greek myth. Remarkable is the fact that not only European nations have similar tales: quite different peoples of various races have fairytales similar at bottom, though varying in details. The wanderings of tale plots from one nation to another were certainly accompanied with their changing and mixing with each other. So it is hardly possible to define what exactly belongs to the local people in the tale, and what was adopted: generally speaking, tales are international in their plots and essential meaning, though apparently bearing peculiar national imprints, which can be mainly seen when looking at the details.

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.

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