Russian Fairy Tales (RUSS 047/LITR 047R) -- Spring 2008 -- Swarthmore College

Lecture notes for March 17, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

Classic Villains (Baba Yaga and Koshchei the Deathless)

What does a villain do for us? Why would you grab one people have heard of to stick into a story you were telling? How do Koshchei and Baba Yaga vary between tales?

Afanas’ev stories:

“Baba Yaga and the Brave Youth,” pp. 76-79 – almost infantile compulsions in both characters (she has to count the spoons, and he can’t just sit there and shut up!). Why can’t Yaga grab him until he yells at her? What’s the role of the cat and sparrow? (What might Bettelheim make of this one, the animal "brothers?") Yaga’s three daughters – again, seeming inability to learn a lesson after one or even two tries. The Brave Youth wises up and learns to use Baba Yaga's own obsessive-compulsive nature against her? (That definition of madness as repeating a behavior even once you see that it doesn't work.)

“Baba Yaga,” pp. 194-95 – How similar is this to the several other stories (“Jack Frost,” “Daughter and Stepdaughter”) with bad stepmothers? What is Yaga’s role in this one? Would you say that she’s replaced as villain (or – slow learner) by the stepmother? What’s the role of the mice?

And remember the other Baba Yaga stories we’ve read: “The Magic Swan-Geese,” but then again “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” “The Frog Princess” and “The Tsar-Maiden.”What traits do you see in Baba Yaga?

“Koshchei the Deathless,” pp. 485-93 – Prince Ivan and his fated bride, Vasilisa Kirbitievna (the opening of this tale supports Lieberman’s assumption that kids learn what to desire in life from the entertainments they’re served as children!).

How does this Koshchei compare to the Koshchei in “Maria Morevna”? (Who says that he himself went to Baba Yaga to get a super horse – who is the superior or senior villain?) How about Bulat the brave? The sacrifice of the children that turns out not to be?

(“Death” смерть is feminine in Russian.)


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Wednesday, March 19, 2008.