Saturday, 26 March 2011

Once Upon a Time Challenge: Russian Fairy Tales

I've been missing for the past week or so as my laptop needed fixing, but I'm back now! Having a laptop meant I read a lot more (I finished 4 books in a week!), so I'll post in a few days my thoughts on what I read. But more importantly, being laptop free didn't stop me signing up for a challenge.
The Once Upon a Time challenge has to by my favourite in the blog-o-sphere. I have participated in 3 (I think), and it certainly has influenced my reading habits and tastes.
Now, I've gone a little mad a signed up for Challenge the Third, to read one book from each category: Fantasy, Myth, Folklore and Fairytale. As well as Short Story Quest(see below) and to Quest the Fourth to read two non-fiction books.
I now have two stacks beside my bed, spanning way more than the amount of books I need to read, and I'm eager to get started.

photo credit (great illustrations here to check out)
Russian Fairy Tales:
As an eager ex-university student I find myself embroiled in little mini studious tasks from time to time, the Once Upon a Time Challenge seems to have provoked a few of these this year. One is the desire to learn about some of the traditional myths, as well as myths from around the world. The second, which is what I am focused on at the moment, is to look at fairy tales from specific countries.
So this week I found myself focusing on Russian fairy tales and retellings. As with all good fairy tales I found a good mix of wicked step-mothers, violence (‘Good Girl’s and Where it Gets Them’ (1) was an incredible mix of horrific violence and jealousy) and wit as well as a few recurring figures. Baba-Yaga appeared in several of the fairy tales that I read; this witch-like character is feared by all. In ‘The Baba-Yaga’ (1), our heroine is sent by her step-mother to her aunt’s house, knowing that her aunt is a baba-yaga she seeks advice and manages to escape being turned into a tasty meal. Likewise, in ‘Vasilissa the Fair’ (1) she is also sent by her step-mother and sisters to the baba-yaga, this time in search of light. She to seeks advice, this time from a doll, and is helped by the spirits to beat the baba-yaga’s trick and escape home into the arms of the tsar.
This beautiful Vasilissa character also turned up in another story, so I’m wondering if she is a common Russian fairy tale character. In ‘Vasilisa, the Priest’s Daughter’ she is beautiful, but not your average young maiden. She hunts, rides horses like a man and drinks Vodka and so is given the male nickname Vasily. Meeting the King one day on his travels he is perplexed over whether she could really be a female and so invites her to his house for various trials to test her femininity. As in all good stories, wit and female cunning prevails over male desperation.
This story is a modern interpretations of Russian fairy-tales, in the first ‘Baba Iaga and the Pelican Child’ (2), the pelican child lives deep in the woods with Baba Iaga, a cat and a dog. Kept hidden away they are told never to open the door while Baba Iaga goes to work. Yet it is she who unknowingly lets evil through the door in the guise of a painter of birds. This story had such a sad ending, but thankfully in true fairy tale style, bad endings are replaced with happiness and knowledge.
I have one more Russian fairy tale to share but I’m saving that for tomorrow’s Short Story Sunday. In the next few weeks I’m on the look out for German, Nordic, South American and African fairy tales, if you know of any good ones which are online, please let me know below.
Have you got any favourite fairy tales?
(1) Angela Carter’s Book of Fairy Tales, Angela Carter.
(2) My Mother she Killed Me, My Father he Ate Me, ed, Kate Bernheimer


Vivienne said...

One of the YA book bloggers has been concentrating on the Russian Fairy tales every week. I didn't realise there were so many. Enjoy the challenge.

Stephanie said...

This is one of my favorite challenges as well. I love fairy tales. Have you read Enchantment by Orson Scott Card? It is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty? And Baba-Yaga is in it as well! Very good.

katrina said...

No, I looked for Enchantment but my library doesn't have it. Maybe in a moment of weakness I'll order it from amazon.

Do you know which YA blogger Vivienne, might be interesting to have a look

Anonymous said...

I actually hadn't heard of all of these, but I'm fascinated. I'm a bit of a Russian lit nerd, so I'll have to track down more fairy tales.