Russian Fairy Tales

RUSS 047/LITR 047R
Spring 2018
T/Th 2:403:55
Kohlberg 330
Swarthmore College

Sibelan Forrester Office Hours:
Kohlberg 340 M. 1:00-2:00
610-328-8162 (office) T. 9:30-10:30 W. 2:00-3:00 ...or by appointment

Assignments | readings | 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 have the tools to 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?


  1. Presentation in class on ONE figure from folklore or folk belief, to be scheduled during the first half of the semester (before March 8).
  2. Write two engaging short answer or essay questions for the midterm exam; questions due February 22.
  3. Written take-home one-hour midterm, due March 8.
  4. Compose an original fairytale in the Russian style (7-10 pages); OR write an article or articles (total word count 1700-2000 words) for Wikipedia, following their "course" structure (see me for more information). Let me know your plans by February 1. 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 April 5.
  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 26.
  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" or Wikipedia project: 15%
"Theory" paper: 15%
"Adaptation" paper: 10%
Attendance and participation: 20%
Final examination: 15%

Required texts, in Bookstore:

Available in Tripod:

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 23:

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

For Jan 25, 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 25:
Russian paganism; deities and festivals; terminology; domestic and nature spirits


READ for January 30 - 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 30:

The style of folk tales; saints and devils

READ for Feb 1 - Ivanits 19-50, 127-68; Ong, Orality and Literacy, 5-30; Worobec, Possessed, 3-19; Afanasev, "The White Duck," 342-45

February 1:

Folktales versus fairy tales; sorcery and healing; shrieking


For February 6 - 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 6:

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

For February 8 - 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 8:

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


For February 13 - 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 13:
Mussorgsky, "Night on Bald Mountain"; Film clip: Disney, Fantasia (1940); the authorship of folklore

For February 15 NO CLASS - 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 15: NO CLASS
Typologies of tales; "Two Sibling" tales


For February 20 NO CLASS - 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 20: NO CLASS

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

For February 22 - "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 22:

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


For February 27 – 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 27:
Strong heroines (or not), and more animal brides/grooms

For March 1 - 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.

March 1:

More on feminist approaches to fairy tales; comparative mythology


For March 6 – 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 6:
Cinderella tales; Self Theory looks at the witch; Zolushka (ballet, music and film clip)

For March 8 - 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 8:
Wicked stepmothers; film clip from Disney, Cinderella (1950)

Midterm exam due to me (on paper or as an e-mail attachment) by or before ten p.m. on March 8.

Spring Break!


For March 20 – 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 20:
Classic Villains: Baba Yaga and Koshchey the Deathless

For March 22 - 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 22:
Russian Formalism; Structuralist approaches to fairytales; Proppian analysis

Your tale or Wikipedia work is due.


For March 27 - 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

March 27:
"Censored tales;" presentation of oral or online tales

For March 29 - 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 29:
Folklore and linguistics; semiotics and verbal archeology; Epics and bogatyrs


For April 3 - Bettelheim, pp. 199-215; Pushkin, "The Tale of the Dead Princess and the Seven Knights;" Afanasev, "The Magic Mirror," on Moodle

April 3:
Snow White Tales; Disney, clip from Snow White (1937)

For April 5 - 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

April 5:
Jungian interpretations of evil; favorite villains; more on Snow White tales; Sleeping Beauty tales

10-page Analytical Paper due!


For April 10 - 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 Saltanovich, and of the Fair Swan-Princess,” on Moodle; Ostrovsky, “The Snow Maiden” – check out the wonderful page-turning edition at

April 10:
Literary fairy tales; Pushkin’s tales in verse; Ostrovskii, "The Snow Maiden"

For April 12 - 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 12:

More sorcery and magic; literary horror tales


For April 17 - 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 17:
More on the Russian literary fairy tale; Russian literary censorship

For April 19 – Marina Tsvetaeva, The Ratcatcher (on Moodle)

April 19:
Folk and fairy tales as amusements or improvements for children; other distortions


For April 24 - 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 24:
Marxist criticism; "vulgar" Marxist criticism

For April 26 - 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 26:

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


For May 1 - 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

May 1:
Tatyana Tolstaya; Mythical birds; Andrei Platonov

For May 3 - Nina Sadur, "The Cute Little Redhead" and "The Witch’s Tears," on Moodle

May 3:
Nina Sadur; final discussion

Final three-hour 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 17).

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