Russian fairy tales is the integral part of Russian culture and Russian literature, the instrument that often helps understand the Russian character, traditions etiquette as well as Russian sense of humor. Russian SKAZKA (a fairy tale ) comes from the verb "to say" -- skazat' and has the same root.
Russian fairy tales are the result of Slavic heritage and tradition as well have numerous foreign sources. It results in similar plots with French, German, Italian and English tales with characters and essentials of Russian way of life, customs and beliefs.
Skazki were told during the public evens like trade fairs by skazatchnikhi, or, skomorokih, (bard or minstrel). And at homes by grand moms and nannies. Russian fairy tales were traditionally told only after dark, when younger children were asleep
Russian fairy tales are separated into several categories—volshebniyi skazki, or "magical tales", skazki o zhivotnykh, or "tales about animals",” and bytovye skazki, or "tales of everyday life", etc.
Russian fairy tales typically have a similar structure:
The introduction that sets the time and place: "In a certain tsardom, in a certain country, there lived and dwelt...’ or, ‘In the thrice-nine tsardom in the thrice-ten country there lived and dwelt...’”
The main part usually tells us about the travels or adventures of the main hero.
Russian folktales end in a manner similar to the common end of English folktales (and then they lived happily ever after). However frequently show that storyteller had a physical presence at the event, and emphasize the "real" nature of these events : "The wedding was held at once. I was at that wedding, too. I drank beer and mead; they flowed down my beard but did not go into my mouth."
Firebirds, witches, dradons, princesses and princes, magic woods and animals: all of these and more are elements that make the environment of Russian fairy tales. Many characters and plot lines are similar to those found in fairy tales the world over. However, the fairy tales of Russia possess a number of unique characters, bred by Slavic tradition and beliefs - including Baba Yaga, Koshchei the Deathless, and various spirits such as rusalkas, vodyaniye, leshiye, kikimoras and domovieye, to name only a few.
The main hero of a Russian folk tale is usually Ivan the price, or Ivan the peasant's son, Prince Ivan the Bold or Ivan the fool. This is usually a courageous, kind and a noble man that beats all the enemies and wins the happiness and the main heroine. Quite usually, however he is being helped by animals, magicians and in fact does not do anything special except for just being kind. A very important figure of a Russian fairy tale is a woman - the princess or just a simple peasant. This is always a beautiful, kind, faithful, sacrificing witty and very hard working heroine. She is the one the main hero relies on, gets counseling, advice, comfort from, and is finally loved by. She is Vasilisa the Wise, Elena the Beautiful, Maria Morevna or The Blue-eyed.
Baba Yaga ("Granny Yaga") is the iconic witch of Slavic fairy tales. "Baba Yaga Kostinaya Noga," or "Baba Yaga Bony Leg" is a cranky old witch who flies around on a giant broomstick-like contraption and is often portrayed offering advice to travellers who stumble across her log cabin in the forest. She possesses gnashing steel teeth, and penetrating eyes. She sometimes kidnaps small children to eat them and lives in a hut that moves around on chicken legs. Yaga's home is a mobile hut perched upon chicken legs. Baba Yaga is a complex individual: depending on the circumstances of the specific story, she may choose to use her powers for good or ill. Sometimes she favors the main hero and lands a hand in his endeavour.
Still the best screen interpretation of evil fairy tale characters belongs to famous Soviet movie actor Georgy Millyar. His Baba Yaga in "Vasilisa prekrasnaya" (1939) and "Morozko" (1965) as well as Koshchey the Deathless in "Ogon, voda i... mednye truby" (1968), "Kashchey bessmertnyy" (1945) "Chudo Yudo in Varvara-krasa, dlinnaya kosa" (1969) remain most feared, truthful and loed by the audience.
Another evil character of Russian tales is - Kashchey the Deathless (Russian: Кащей бессмертный, Kashchey bessmertnïy), aka Kashchey the Immortal, aslo as well as Tzar Koschei. This is an evil, ugly old wizard, who menaces principally young women.
In the plot of Russian tales Koshchey kidnaps the main heroine and wants to marry her against her will. Koschei cannot be killed by conventional means targeting his body. His soul is hidden separate from his body inside a needle, which is in an egg, which is in a duck, which is in a hare, which is in an iron chest (sometimes the chest is crystal and/or gold), which is buried under a green oak tree, which is on the island of Buyan, in the ocean. As long as his soul is safe, he cannot die. If the chest is dug up and opened, the hare will bolt away. If it is killed, the duck will emerge and try to fly off. Anyone possessing the egg has Koschei in their power. He begins to weaken, becomes sick and immediately loses the use of his magic. If the egg is tossed about, he likewise is flung around against his will. If the egg or needle is broken (in some tales this must be done by specifically breaking it against Koschei's forehead), Koschei will die. He keeps his death in the egg and can be won only after the main hero finds it.
In the well-known Russian fairy tale "Frog Princess" or "Tsarevna Frog" (Царевна Лягушка) Koshchey turns the young beautiful princess, his daughter into a frog as a punishment. The frog accidentally picks the arrow of Ivan Tsarevich, who had shot it along with his brothers to find a bride and becomes his wife. With the help pf magic, the Frog Princess manages all the tasks assigned by the king-father and is close to becoming a princess again. However Ivan Tsarevich burns the skin and looses his beautifil bride. The further plot of the tale is about his search of the Frog Princess and defeating Koshchey to save her.
Also there is Gorynych the dragon, a monster with 3 heads, Leshuy, the forest troll, Vodyanoy - the swamp troll, mermaids, kikimoras (swamp mermaids), Domovoy (a small, often amiable home goblin), Kot-Bajun ets.
A popular character of many Russian tales, Kot Bayun has a dual personality. In Russian "bayukat'" means puts to sleep. Or "bayat'" - tell the stories. On the one hand, this giant cannibal cat lulls to sleep the knights with with its magic voice and then kills them. The bravest ones, that manage to catch the cat, obtain the chance to cure the illnesses as the cat's tales have the healing power. Kot Bayun is a frequent character sof many Russian tales and is most likely the prototype of the learned cat in the introduction to Pushkin poem "Ruslan and Liudmila".
Another magic animal that is often a object of a difficult quest for the main hero (Ivan the fool, Ivan the Prince, Andrew the Soldier) is a Fire Bird (Russian: жар-пти́ца, zhar-ptitsa, literally heat bird). The Fire Bird is a magical glowing bird from a faraway land that glows brightly emitting red, orange, and yellow light, like a bonfire. The feathers do not cease glowing if removed, and one feather can light a large room if not concealed. One the main hero finds a single feather of the Fire Bird, he becomes obsessed by the idea of getting the whole creature. Most often he sets off to capture a Fire Bird on the bidding of a father or king. The story of the Firebird quest has inspired literary works, including "The Little Humpback Horse" by Pyotr Yershov. Composer Igor Stravinsky achieved early success with a large-scale ballet score called The Firebird.
All time favourite characters of Russian folklore are legendary bogatyrs (i.e. medieval Russian knights-errant), the epic heroes of Russian bylinas: Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich.
Ilya Muromets is regarded as the greatest of all the legendary bogatyrs. According to legends, Ilya, the son of a farmer, was born in the village of Karacharovo, near Murom. He suffered serious illness in his youth and was unable to walk until the age of 33 (till then he could only lie on a Russian oven), when he was miraculously healed by two pilgrims. He was then given super-human strength by a dying knight, Svyatogor, and set out to liberate the city of Kiev from Idolishche to serve Prince Vladimir the Fair Sun (Vladimir Krasnoye Solnyshko). Along the way he single-handedly defended the city of Chernigov from nomadic invasion (possibly by Polovtsi) and was offered knighthood by the local ruler, but Ilya declined to stay. In the forests of Bryansk he then killed the forest-dwelling monster Nightingale the Robber (Solovei-Razboinik), who could murder travellers with his powerful whistle.
Although Ilya's adventures are mostly a matter of epic fiction, he himself is believed to have been a historical person: a 12th century warrior and, in older age, a monk named Ilya Pechorsky.
Dobrynya Nikitich is another popular bogatyr from the Kievan Rus era after Ilya Murometz. He is an excellent archer, swimmer, and wrestler, plays the gusli, plays tafl, and is known for his courtesy and cunning
Historians believe that this personage evolved from the Slavic warlord Dobrynya, who led the armies of Svyatoslav the Great and tutored his son Vladimir the Fair Sun.
Alyosha Popovich (Alexey, son of the priest), is the youngest of the 3 main bogatyrs of Kiev Rus. In Russian folklore he is described as a crafty priest's son who wins by tricking and outsmarting his foes. He is known for his agility, slyness, and craftiness. Alyosha Popovich is fun-loving, sometimes being depicted as a "mocker of women," and may occasionally be a liar and a cheat. He defeated the dragon Tugarin Zmeyevich by trickery. In later versions the dragon was transformed into the figure of a Mongol Khan.
Two characters of traditional Russian Fairy tale Jack Frost (Russian: Морозко, Morozko) and Snegurochka can be taken for New Year and Christmas essentials: Father Frost (Russian: Дед Мороз, diminutive: Dedushka Moroz) and Snow Maiden, his granddaughter.
However as a fairy tale character Snegurochka does not relate directly to the Ded Moroz legend. According to the tale of "Snegurochka", or The Snow Maiden is the daughter of Spring and Winter who appears to a childless couple as a winter blessing. Unable or forbidden to love, Snegurochka remains indoors with her human parents until the pull of the outdoors and the urge to be with her peers becomes unbearable. When she falls in love with a human boy, she melts. The story of Snegurochka has been adapted into plays, movies, and an opera by Rimsky-Korsakov.
Father Frost (aka Jack Frost)(Russian: Морозко, Morozko) is a character of traditional Russian Fairy tale. He is separated from the people living along in his solitary estate. However he may interfere into the people's loves balancing the good and the evil. Morozko awards the kind girl for her obedience, kind heart and hard work while freezes to death the evil and jealous one.
For sure most favorite among the junior children is the character of Russian tales is Kolobok ("round-sided"). This a funny round creature made of dough is the main character of the tale named after it. It is baked by an old woman planning to feed her husband, but gets alive and excapes his creators. Kolobok meets various animals, all wanting to eat it and is finally eaten by the most inventive of all - the fox. The plot of "Kolobok" is simiar in East Slavic national fairy tales as well as English ("Gingerbread Man") and German ("Dicke fette Pannekauken, blief stahn, eck will di fräten!").
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