What kinds of odd pre-Christian genealogies are suggested by “the Devil’s Grandmother” - one occasional curse where the cursee is told to go to her.
Folk versus Fairy Tales
Folk tales are about all kinds of things, and can merge into other kinds of narratives (the memorates and fabulates etc. that Ivanits gives). Fairy tales ('volshebnye skazki') are about distant places and times, not local, and often are magical (the “I was there” tag that sometimes ends them is clearly a stylization - the teller wants a tip because the mead ran down his moustache and left his mouth dry!). Often there’s a sea (Russia didn’t have a year-round sea in the Muscovite period, though Novgorod was a Hanseatic merchant city and Kiev/Kyiv was on a major Scandinavian-to-Byzantine trading route; the White Sea in the north is frozen solid much of the year). Often the hero of a magic tale is “Ivan Tsarevich” (There were a bunch of Ivans on the Muscovite throne – Ivan the Terrible was Ivan the IV – but none after that, so as time passes it moves further and further into the past). Not to mention people who can turn into animals, etc. – shape-changing some scholars consider related to shamanism.
Note that Afanas'ev’s collection doesn’t distinguish folktales from fairytales, though he knew the difference: his collection includes all kinds of stuff, and the original title was “Narodnye russkie skazki,” 'popular Russian tales' – 'popular,' in the sense of coming from the people, Russian folktales. We’ll be largely focusing on fairy tales because of the particular and rich body of scholarship they have generated. If you’re interested in other types of folktales, feel free to do a presentation on one and to ask me about scholarship.
A little more on folklore as a discipline: folklore was sometimes noted down before the 19th century (particularly interesting cases: foreigners who visited or worked in Muscovite Russia from 16th century on (physicians, etc.): one wrote down, phonetically, the ritual laments Boris Godunov’s wife and daughter made after he was killed), but it arises as a concept and a developing discipline once it’s perceived as threatened, or as neglected but potentially useful (in creating a national language, in serving as a basis for a national literature). You need literacy to get folklore (to record it!), but also what Ong would consider a literate's sense in the collector of not belonging to the community that unselfconsciously generates and preserves folklore: needing to GET it, learn it, in addition to a literate person’s fear that depending on oral transmission constant risks loss. The lower classes might not conform to the upper class’s perhaps idealized vision of how they SHOULD be, whether in terms of pastoral agriculture and "unspoiled" human nature or in terms of treasuring and preserving some kind of unitary Russian culture. “Keep it safe for us” rather than “use it as you need to.” (Whereas the folk might have preferred Pushkin's poems, or a visiting klezmer or gypsy orchestra rather than the local folk songs.)
The nature of oral stuff: as you’ve read in Ong, it’s always disappearing, and yet amazingly retentive. The case of byliny, traditional epic songs, in the distant Russian north that kept names and plots from the Kievan period (! – at the latest, they might have come from the early 13th century). Long folk genres offered something to do through those long, boring, dark winter nights when there wasn’t a lot of agricultural work to do (you’ve mended the harrow, etc.), or during long sunlit "white" nights in the summer, when people couldn't sleep.
Some genres of Russian folklore: verbal, such as fairy tales (skazki, from the root '[s]kaz-' – 'to say' - versus "rasskaz," a story. (Formalists took the term "skaz" to mean an oral-style narration, roughly equivalent to a bunch of guys sitting in front of the drug store telling a tale full of "So I says... So he says") The point of skazki is in their narration, the fact that they’re fun to listen to when someone tells them, not in any sense of historical reality. Compare byliny, bylichki, whose names come from the verb 'to be' and so tell us that these things “really happened.” Proverbs, sayings, jokes (shutki – related to the word “shut” jester, also sometimes used euphemistically of the devil), pribautki (facetious sayings, sort of parody-proverbs), tongue-twisters, lullabies: if you’re interested, ask me for sources on any of these.
Return to the class syllabus
Proceed to the lecture notes for Friday, February 1, 2008.