In This Review

Tales From Russian Folklore
Tales From Russian Folklore
By Alexander Afanasyev. Translated by Stephen Pimenoff
Alma Classics, 2020, 320 pp

In the mid-nineteenth century, the ethnographer Afanasyev published around 600 Russian folktales—the world’s largest academic collection of such texts. In Russia, these tales have long been considered classics of children’s literature. Most of the texts selected for this volume are tales of wonder that contain remnants of pagan beliefs, such as nature spirits, miraculous transformations, returns from the dead, and poor but fearless heroes who must undergo many trials before winning the hearts of beautiful princesses. These tales don’t always offer easy morals. The seemingly weak and silly may turn out to be the smartest and luckiest. Humility and hard work are commonly rewarded, but sometimes even laziness is a winning strategy; Emelya the Fool, for instance, owes his success to lying on the stove all day. The translator also includes animal tales, in which the wolf is strong but stupid, the hare is cowardly, and the cunning fox easily outsmarts everybody. A third type of stories, household tales, often show wily peasants or soldiers outwitting landlords or priests. Such impiety led the tsar’s censors to ban many of Afanasyev’s tales. Unfortunately, those censored tales don’t appear in this volume.