Russian Fairy Tales

RUSS 047/LITR 047R
Spring 2016
T/Th 1:15-2:30
Kohlberg 334
Swarthmore College

Sibelan Forrester Office Hours:
Kohlberg 340 M. 1:00-2:00
610-328-8162 (office) T. 11:10-12:10 W. 2:00-3:00 ...or by appointment

readings | Assignments | Syllabus

As readers and listeners, film viewers, and perhaps children of parents who told us bedtime stories, we may consider fairy tales somehow “natural,” simple, comforting in their familiarity. Like any kind of folklore, however, traditional tales and their literary adaptations become vastly more satisfying if we approach them with tools that reveal the richness and complexity of their contents and functions. Acquiring those tools, plus the background knowledge needed to use them critically, will be our business in this course.

Why are fairy tales so pleasing? What do we think we already know about them? What do they offer to modern artists and adaptors? What can we learn from them, and what can the ways we read them teach us about ourselves?

Required texts, in Bookstore:

Available in Tripod:


  1. Presentation in class on ONE figure from folklore or folk belief, to be scheduled during the first half of the semester (before March 4).
  2. Write two engaging short answer or essay questions for the midterm exam; questions due February 18.
  3. Written take-home midterm, due March 4.
  4. An oral or online presentation of one fairy tale or literary adaptation, chosen after consultation with instructor; OR compose an original fairytale in the Russian style (7-10 pages); OR work with Tom Whitman’s students to create a musical program with fairytale narration (see me for more information). Hand in outline of your plans by March 15. Final version is due March 22.
  5. A ten-page analytical paper applying a theory (or theories) to one or two Russian fairy tales and discussing your results, due March 31.
  6. A thoughtful written examination/review of one of the works we have watched or read that adapts or draws on a Russian fairytale/tales – 5 pages, due April 21.
  7. Final take-home examination, due on paper at my office OR as an e-mail attachment at the end of exam period, May 14.

The grade break-down:

Midtern exam question: 5%
Midterm exam: 10%
In-class presentations: 10%
"Creative" project: 15%
"Theory" paper: 15%
"Adaptation" paper: 10%
Attendance and participation: 20%
Final examination: 15%

Acknowledgments of ideas and materials: This course and its organization owe a great deal to David J Birnbaum (University of Pittsburgh), Helena Goscilo (The Ohio State University), Konstantin K Loginov (Russian Academy of Sciences, Karelian Affiliate), Irina A Razumova (Petrozavodsk State Pedagogical University, Russia), and the late Felix J. Oinas (Indiana University)



The primary sources for our work are the folk tales in Afanas'ev’s volume. I won't assign them all individually, but expect you to have read the whole book (to p. 656) by the end of the fourth week of class.


January 19:
Introduction to syllabus and topic; "the Folk" in Russia; genres of Russian folklore; Folklore as an academic discipline

For Jan 21, read Ivanits, Russian Folk Belief, ix-xii, 3-18, 51-82, 169-89; Afanas'ev, "The Foolish German," 600; Pushkin, "Rusalka" (on Moodle, translation by Genia Gurarie)

January 21:
Russian paganism; deities and festivals; terminology; domestic and nature spirits


READ for January 26 - Ivanits 83-124, 190-205; Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy, 139-155 (on Moodle); Semyonova Tian-Shanskaya, Village Life in Late Tsarist Russia> (on Moodle), 1-21; Afanasev, "Ivan the Peasant’s Son and the Thumb-Sized Man," 262-68


January 26:
The style of folk tales; saints and devils

READ for Jan 30 - Ivanits 19-50, 127-68; Ong, Orality and Literacy, 5-30; Worobec, Possessed, 3-19; Afanasev, "The White Duck," 342-45

January 28:
Folktales versus fairy tales; sorcery and healing; shrieking


For February 2 - Semyonova Tian-Shanskaia, 22-49; Bruno Bettelheim, The Uses of Enchantment, 3-19, 102-11; Marie Von Franz, “Taboos,” from Shadow and Evil in Fairy Tales (190-214); Sheldon Cashdan, “Envy” from The Witch Must Die

February 2:
Psychoanalytic approaches to fairy tales: Freudian (Bettelheim), Jungian (Maria-Luise von Franz), Self Theory (Sheldon Cashdan)

For February 4 - Semyonova Tian-Shanskaya, 50-61; Afanas'ev, "Salt," 40-44; "The Three Kingdoms," 49-53; "Ivanushko, the Little Fool," 62-66; "The Princess Who Wanted to Solve Riddles," 115-17; "The Dead Body," 118-19; "The Wicked Sisters," 356-60; "The Golden-Bristled Pig, [etc.]," 533-41; "Prince Ivan, the Firebird, and the Grey Wolf," 612-24

February 4:
"Youngest Child" tales; "Ivan Durak" ("Ivan the Fool") or "Ivanushka Durachok" ("Little Ivan the Little Fool")


For February 9 - Bogatyrëv and Jakobson, "Folklore as a Special Form of Creativity," from Steiner, ed., The Prague School, 32-46; Semyonova Tian-Shanskaya, 62-94 and 139-156

February 9:
Mussorgskii, "Night on Bald Mountain"; Film clip: Disney, Fantasia (1940); the authorship of folklore

For February 11 - Bettelheim, 78-83, 90-96; Afanas'ev, "Misery," 20-24; "The Armless Maiden," 294-99; "The Magic Swan Geese," 349-51; "Two Ivans, Soldier’s Sons," 463-75; "Shemiaka the Judge," 625-27; Bettleheim, 282-91, 295-310; Zipes, "On the Use and Abuse of Folk and Fairy Tales with Children," in Breaking the Magic Spell, 179-205

February 11:
Typologies of tales; "Two Sibling" tales


For February 16 - Semyonova Tian-Shanskaya, 95-115; Aksakov, “The Little Scarlet Flower;” Afanas'ev, "The Frog Princess," 119-23; "The Snotty Goat," 200-02; Bottigheimer, "Silenced Women in the Grimms’ Tales," in Fairy Tales and Society, 115-31; Lieberman, "Some Day My Prince Will Come," in Zipes, Don’t Bet on the Prince, 185-200

February 16:
“Animal Bride” and “Animal Groom” tales; Cocteau, La Belle et la Bête (1946); Disney, Beauty and the Beast (1991); Adamson/Jenson, Shrek (2001); shamanism

For February 18 - "Peter and Fevronia of Murom," Zenkovsky, 236-47; Afanas'ev, "The Wondrous Wonder, the Marvelous Marvel," 13-14; "The Princess Who Wanted to Solve Riddles," 115-17 (review); "The Mayoress," 141; "The Wise Little Girl," 252-55


February 18:
Feminism and fairytale scholarship; "Bad Wife" tales; "Wise Maiden" tales; riddles


For February 23 – Afanas'ev, "The Maiden-Tsar," 229-34; "The Merchant’s Daughter and the Maidservant," 327-31; "The Merchant’s Daughter and the Slanderer," 415-18; "Maria Morevna," 553-62; "The Feather of Finist, the Bright Falcon," 580-88; Seifert, "Marvelous Realities: ..." in Canepa, Out of the Woods, 131-51

February 23:
Strong heroines (or not), and more animal brides/grooms

For February 25 - Afanas'ev, "The Bad Wife," 56-57; "The Wise Maiden and the Seven Robbers," 134-40; "The Taming of the Shrew," 161-62; "The Indiscreet Wife," 226-67; "Husband and Wife," 369-70; "The Sea King and Vasilisa the Wise," 427-37; "The Goldfish," 528-32. Check out Barbara G. Walker’s A Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, BL458 .W34 1983. It's no longer in McCabe, but there is a copy in the reference section of Canaday Library at Bryn Mawr.

February 25:
More on feminist approaches to fairy tales; comparative mythology


For March 1 – Finish reading Tian-Shanskaya; Cashdan, "The Witch," 85-105; Afanas'ev, "Jack Frost," 366-69; "The Golden Slipper," 44-46; Warner, "Wicked Stepmothers," From the Beast to the Blonde, 218-40

March 1:
Cinderella tales; Self Theory looks at the witch; Zolushka (ballet, music and film clip)

For March 3 - Bettelheim, 66-73; Afanas'ev, "Burënushka, the Little Red Cow," 146-50; "The Maiden Tsar," 229-34 (review); "Daughter and Stepdaughter," 278-79; "The Grumbling Old Woman," 340-41

March 3:
Wicked stepmothers; film clip from Disney, Cinderella (1950)

Midterm exam due to me (on paper or an e-mail attachment) by midnight on March 4.

Spring Break!


For March 15 – Afanas'ev, "Baba Yaga and the Brave Youth," 76-79; "Baba Yaga," 194-95; "Koshchey the Deathless," 485-93; Chandler, “The Brother,” 83-87, “The Stepdaughter and the Stepmother’s Daughter,” 88-90

March 15:
Classic Villains: Baba Yaga and Koshchey the Deathless

Outline of your tale or online presentation due.

For March 17 - Propp, Morphology of the Folktale, 3-24, 149-55; Afanasev, "The Magic Swan Geese," 349-51 (review); Propp, 25-65; Afanas’ev "The Crystal Mountain," 482-84; "The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa," 494-497

March 17:
Russian Formalism; Structuralist approaches to fairytales; Proppian analysis


For March 22 - Bottigheimer, "Eroticism in Tradition, Text and Image," in Grimms’ Bad Girls and Bold Boys, 156-166; Tatar, "Sex and Violence," in The Hard Facts of the Grimms' Fairy Tales, 3-38; Afanas'ev, Russian Secret Tales, "A Timorous Young Girl," 29-33; "No!" 42-44; "The Peasant and the Devil," 49-50; "A Crop of Prickles," 59-65; "The Enchanted Ring," 65-74; "The Excitable Lady," 77-79; "The Comb," 127-31; "The Greedy Pope," 148-50

Final version of your tale or online presentation is due!

March 22:
"Censored tales;" presentation of oral or online tales

For March 24 - Lotman and Uspenskii, "Binary Models in the Dynamics of Russian Culture...,” in Nakhimovsky and Nakhimovsky, The Semiotics of Russian Cultural History, 30-66; "Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber," in Bailey and Ivanova, An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics, 28-36; "Sadko" - handout; Afanas'ev, "Ivanushka the Simpleton," 142-45; "Foma Berennikov," 284-87; "Ilya Muromets and the Dragon," 569-75

March 24:
Folklore and linguistics; semiotics and verbal archeology; Epics and bogatyrs


For March 29 - Bettelheim, pp. 199-215; on-line, Pushkin, "The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights," on Moodle; Afanasev, "The Magic Mirror," on Moodle

March 29:
Snow White Tales; Disney, clip from Snow White (1937)

For March 31 - Afanas'ev, ""Vasilisa the Beautiful," 439-47 (review); Chandler, “Marya Moryevna,” pp. 46-54, “”The Tsar Maiden,” pp. 95-107; Bettelheim, 199-215; Afanas'ev, "Prince Ivan and Princess Martha," 79-86; "The Enchanted Princess," 600-11

March 31:
Jungian interpretations of evil; favorite villains; more on Snow White tales; Sleeping Beauty tales

10-page Analytical Paper due!


For April 5 - Ivanits, 5-12 (review); Chandler, Pushkin, “A Tale about a Priest and His Servant Balda,” pp. 8-17, “A Tale about a Fisherman and a Fish,” pp. 18-24; Pushkin, “The Tale of Tsar Saltan, of His Son, the Glorious and Mighty Prince Guidon Slatanovich, and of the Fair Swan-Princess,” on Moodle; Osgtrovsky, “The Snow Maiden” – check out the wonderful page-turning edition at>

April 5:
Literary fairy tales; Pushkin’s tales in verse; Ostrovskii, "The Snow Maiden"

For April 7 - Gogol', "Viy," on Moodle; Afanas'ev, "Ivan the Cow's Son," 234-249; "The Sorceress," 567-68; "The Vampire," 593-98; Ivanits, "The Colonel and the Witch," 194-95

April 7:
More sorcery and magic; literary horror tales


For April 12 - Pushkin, “The Golden Cockerel,” on Moodle; Tatar, "Fact and Fantasy: The Art of Reading Fairy Tales," in The Hard Facts, 39-57; Zipes, "Who’s Afraid of the Brothers Grimm?" in Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion, 45-70; Miller, Folklore for Stalin, 3-24, 95-109

April 12:
More on the Russian literary fairy tale; Russian literary censorship

For April 14 – Marina Tsvetaeva, The Ratcatcher (on Moodle)

April 14:
Folk and fairy tales as amusements or improvements for children; other distortions


For April 19 - Zipes, "Breaking the Disney Spell," in Bell et al., From Mouse to Mermaid, 21-42; Arkady Gaidar, “The Tale of the Military Secret,” in Balina et al., Politicizing Magic, 123-30; Shukshin, "Before the Cock Crows Thrice," in Roubles and Kopeks (so it says on the spine), 107-163 and in Politicizing Magic, 345-80

April 19:
Marxist criticism; "vulgar" Marxist criticism

For April 21 - Cashdan, “Objects that Love,” 107-27; Pavel Bazhov, “The Malachite Casket,” on Moodle; Bazhov, more stories, in Chandler, pp. 226-273; Evgeny Zamyatin, excerpts from “Fairy-Tales for Grown-up Children,” on Moodle; Stanislaw Lem, “The Third Sally, or The Dragons of Probability,” from The Cyberiad, 85-102, on Moodle

April 21:
Self Theory looks at Magical Objects; Review psychological approaches to fairy tales; Fairy Tales as an Aesopian genre in the socialist era


For April 26 - Tatyana Tolstaya, "Date with a Bird," in On the Golden Porch, 116-130; "The Poet and the Muse," in Sleepwalker in a Fog, 117-31; Platonovv, "Finist the Bright Falcon," in Chandler, pp. 334-351

April 26:
Tatyana Tolstaya; Mythical birds; Andrei Platonov

For April 28 - Nina Sadur, "The Cute Little Redhead" and "The Witch’s Tears," on Moodle

April 28:
Nina Sadur; final discussion

Final take-home exam due to me (on paper outside Kohlberg 340, OR better as an e-mail attachment) by the end of exam period (May 15).

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