Russian Folk Tales

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Old Tales from Russia

Transcript of Russian Folk Tales

  • RUSSIAN WONDER TALES

  • UNIFORM WITH THIS VOLUMEEACH CONTAINING

    ILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR

    GRIMM S FAIRY TALESHANS ANDERSEN S FAIRY TALESGREEK WONDER TALESOTTOMAN WONDER TALESTHE ARABIAN NIGHTSv^SOP S FABLESWONDER TALES OF THE ANCIENT

    WORLDTALES FROM "THE EARTHLY

    PARADISE "

    THE BULL OF THE KRAAL, ETC.(African Fairy Tales)

    THE KING WHO NEVER DIED(Stories of King Arthur)

    GULLIVER S TRAVELSKINGSLEY S "THE HEROES"

    A. & C. BLACK. LTD., 4. 5 fif 6 SOHO SQ.. LONDON, W.

    CAJtADA

    AGENTSTHE MACMILLAN COMPANY

    64 & 66 FIFTH AVHNUB, NEW YORKOXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS

    905 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNETHE MACMILLAN COMPANY OF CANADA. LTD,

    ST. MARTIN S HOUSH, 70 BOND STRUT. TORONTOMACM11.LAN & COMPANY, LTD.MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAYjo, BOW BAZAAR STRHHT, CALCUTTA

  • A WHITE MARE WHICH COULD FLY LIKE THE WIND

  • RUSSIANWONDER TALESWITH A FOREWORD ON THE

    RUSSIAN SKAZKI

    POST WHEELER, LITT.DSBCR&TARY OF THE AMERICAN EMBASSY AT

    ST. PETERSBURG

    CONTAINING

    TWELVE OF THE FAMOUS BILIBINILLUSTRATIONS IN COLOUR

    A. & C. BLACK, LTD.4, 5 & 6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.

  • j/ published in Gctobtr, 1912

    Rtfrintui March, 1917

  • To

    NATALIE HAMMOND

    383895

  • FOREWORD

    THE Russian skazki (skazatz= to tell) are the mass of folktales distributed widely throughout all the Russias. Handeddown by constant repetition from generation to generation,a possession common to peasant s hut and Princess palacefrom a time when history did not exist, they are to-day, from

    Archangel to the Black Sea and from Siberia to the Baltic,almost as much a part of the life of the people as the

    language itself. Their adventures are linked to a hundred

    phrases in common parlance; their heroes peer from everypage of Slavonic literature ; and the delver in historic debrisfinds each stratum sown thick with sJcazka shards to the verybed-rock of legend.To the casual eye the .vkazki, aside from their unfamiliar

    nomenclature, do not seem to differ greatly from the tales ofother peoples. The wild and wonderful machinery has allthe artifices which belong to the mass of folk-lore owned incommon by the Indo-European group of nations. Here,however, the superficial resemblance in great measure ceases.It is seen that the true " fairy

    "

    element does not predominate.Not only are the relations between man and the spiritualworld different, but that spiritual world itself is less familiar.The field of the skazki is not so much fairy-land as a naturalwonderland, approaching in its variety and gorgeousness of

    surprise tfae Empire of theu Thousand Nights and a Night."

    vii

  • viii FOREWORD

    Who originated these tales? In what foims did the) firstappear ? And how can one account for the enormousnumber of their variants, and the hold they possess upon themillions of the Slavonic race who tell them to their childrenevery day ?

    Russia was long in asking herself these questions. Untillittle more than a century ago she considered the skazki ofsmall interest to the world of culture. The earlier Russianwriters regarded them with mild curiosity and had no con

    ception of their origin. The first printed collection was notmade until near the end of the eighteenth century and thenext was half gone before the

    "

    scientific"

    collector appeared.Active interest in them then began to be manifested and itwas not long before serious study had convinced students ofthe literature that not only did this submerged fiction of the

    people go back to the very beginnings of the Slavonic race,but that its tales were direct descendents of the primitivenature-myths and that their variants retavned, in the guiseof wonder stories for the child, the persisting fragments of a

    great original epos which at one time pictured the heathen

    mythology of the old Slavonians : that the presumed purposeless nursery invention, in fact, deduced its high origin from

    the ancient gods themselves.These older meanings, for the teller, vanished many

    centuries ago. The only things the skazki picture that arecommon to Russian country life to-day are those things whichin Russia never change the wide, wind-swept steppe anddense forest, the love of animal life and the comradeship ofthe horse, the dread and terror of the long winter cold andthe passionate welcome given to the springtime sun. Whatever else they may tell the student is in a tongue now

    unintelligible to the peasant, who has least of all been aware

  • FOREWORD ix

    that, in these centuries-old repetitions there have beenhanded down to a new era pictures indelible, though blurredand indistinct, of an ancient age, of times, customs, religionand deities no longer his own.J\For the beginning of the skazki we must go back to the

    remote time when the early Slavonians, parting from the

    parent stock in Central Asia, reached the Russias, developingthere their myth-mass and setting up their hierarchy of Pagangods. These gods, good and evil, were personifications ofthe forces of nature. The religion of which they were thefoci was thus a nature-religion, and upon it was grafted a

    system of ancestor-worship not greatly different from otherOriental forms. And the race s conceptions of these godsand the material world, the soul, the birth and passing ofhuman life, the individual s relations to the deities and hisfellows, and the manifold observances in which beliefs andcustoms were enshrined, were embodied in a mass of myths,all more or less variations of the primal solar-myth withwhich all nations seem to have begun their cosmogonies.The dawn of Christianity late in Russia marked the

    sunset of these ancient deities. The new Byzantine faith, inits irresistible progress, either crushed out wholly theirmemories or transferred their attributes to the keeping ofChristian saints, leaving their myths to struggle for existence

    against an ever-increasing weight of foreign legend. And asthe form of the old Pagan religion merged more and moreinto the new, these myths sank beneath the surface of the

    everyday life of the people, while the primitive mythology,with its symbolism, was forgotten.i The demiurge became first the merely supernatural being,man s henchman or servitor, and the ethereal abode of theold gods merely a mysterious upper countiy beyond the

  • x FOREWORD

    visible sky, inhabited by magical creatures pictured in a

    group of tales which are the Slavonic equivalents of the" Jack and the Beanstalk " story. In the next step these

    supernatural beings descended to the plane of the pseudo-historic and finally merged into the real, becoming the old-time champions of the new faith, as, for example, the

    companions of Vladimir, who introduced Christianity intoRussia. Lastly these faded into the purely imaginary. Bythis process the Slavonic god of the thunder (Peruri) sank bygradual degrees, through Christian Paladin, to the conventional "Tzarevich Ivan" of the skazki, and in the last step tothe friendly beast the glowing bird, the heroic horse, the aid-

    giving wolf and bear whose constant reappearance give thetales such a surprising variety of incident. The deities ofevil underwent a like process, becoming the KastcJiey^ the

    Baba-Yaga, and the many malevolent beings which theskazka hero overcomes.

    In lapse of time, too, the form of the myth deteriorated ashad the content. The tales lost their coherency, becomingseparated into episodes which in turn disintegrated to collections of mere fragments. These became localized in different

    versions, each of which retained or discarded detail at its

    provincial pleasure, flie result being an incredible reduplication of variants of the same fundamental tale. An oppositeprocess went on at the same time : similar fragments coalescedand grouped themselves about a single axis of incident,infinitely increasing the multiplication. So that the skazTd,as they appear to-day, are less a cluster of individual tales

    than an elaborate mosaic, with whose fragments of colour andincident the modern adaptor (such as Pushkin or Ershoff)produces variant and highly-tinted designs, on the kaleido

    scopic principle.

  • FOREWORD xi

    Such, in brief, is the genealogy of the Russian skazki,from the poetic symbolism of a primitive religion to the

    despised Cinderellas of fiction, from a revered drama of the

    high gods to a group of peasant" Old Wives Tales."

    It is a matter of regret that the English-speaking worldhas had little opportunity of acquaintance with these naive,old-world stories, although they by no means suffer iri com

    parison with the German Mdrchen, upon which there existssuch a formidable literature in English. Mr. W. R. S.Ralston s "Russian Folk-Tales; published in 1873, was

    primarily less of a collection than a treatise on Slavonic folk

    lore, and perhaps for this reason its engrossing and scholarlyqualities failed to gain for the skazki a popularity they richlydeserve. And beside this, so far as I am aware, but oneother well-known collection is available. In 1874 PetrNicolaevich Polevoi, the historian, published thirty-six ofAfanasiefs tales (with a single exception none of these wascited in Mr. Ralston s work) variously recombined and elaborated, in a volume intended for children, and of these versions

    twenty-five have been Englished by Mr. R. Nisbet Bain.The twelve tales of which the present volume consists are,

    in part, the result of an attempt to select types of those

    motifs of widest distribution throughout all the Russias,

    taking into account the number of distinct variants and themass of population to which each is known. The atte