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

Lecture notes for March 7, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

Stepmother tales

Bettelheim on the evil stepmother (pp. 66-73): any comments? (This part sounds pretty wise to me, partly coming from my own experiences as a child [and stepchild] and then as a parent.) Pages 66-7 – a bit like Cashdan’s theories, except that it’s the grandmother who’s split into good granny and wicked wolf. Page 73: the child perceives that fairy-tales are “unreal” but not “untrue.”

Afanas’ev tales:

“Buryonushka, the Little Red Cow,” p. 146-50 – Speculate on the stepmother’s name, “Yagishna” – almost another odd “patronymic” (like “Morevna”), looks as if it means Yaga is the father, though presumably Yaga as a woman can only be a mother. (Similar formation to those from masc. names ending in –a: Il'inichna, the patronymic of Natasha from War and Peace, etc.) She’s of the same Baba Yaga kin, anyway. And: the cow’s name means “little brown” бурый, the same name as “Burya, Bogatyr'.”

How about bowing to the little cow’s right leg? (Shades of the Scottish Cinderella tale, “Rashin Coatie,” which Warner mentioned in the chapter we read for Wednesday.) What is the relationship between Mar'ia and her two little sisters, One-Eyes and Three-Eyes? When king slaughters the cow, he sounds just like an old peasant man (as if he does it himself!). She wins Prince Ivan with berries that grew from the entrails of the cow.

The stepmother turns her into a goose (evidently a wild one, about to migrate?), replaces her with her own daughter (another false queen) – the old tutor seems to have a sense of what’s going on (he washes himself very clean, takes the baby out to the fields, and asks the flocks of geese where the baby’s mother is: sounds like a ritual). Mar'ia tears off her goose-skin, nurses the baby but says she’ll only come twice more. Ivan sees her and burns the goose-skin – she goes through a bunch of transformations (Tam Lin?), winds up a spindle, and he knows what to do with that. Why the odd test at the end? How many “moves” are in this tale?

“The Maiden Tsar,” pp. 229-34 (review) – what comments, concentrating on the stepmother, in light of the new reading? From the stepmother, who really hinders him, through the three Baba Yagas, who are sort of grudgingly helpful, to the old woman living on the shore, who actively aids Ivan in recovering the Tsar-Maiden and her love: a progression where he gets more and more of what he needs from an older female figure, and where he seems better and better at asking for it. What’s changing about his approach or attitude?

“Daughter and Stepdaughter,” pp. 278-79 – lots of similarities to “Jack Frost,” except that it includes being kind to animals – the natural threat of Jack Frost, an embodiment of winter harshness and yet richness, is split up here into the harmless mouse (beggar for food) and the dangerous bear (very id-like behavior: wants to play blind-man’s-bluff in the dark, but then eats whatever he catches). The bad stepmother “grew so angry from grief and spite she died the next day,” so her death/punishment is her own fault!

“The Grumbling Old Woman,” pp. 340-41 – a happier ending. The daughter is hospitable (summons whoever’s out there to eat; wood goblin (leshii) comes and turns into a Novgorod merchant (again – rich through trade with parts farther west), brings her gifts. Stepmother reconsiders first because she’s old and needs someone to tend and divert her; then because she sees the girl’s become quite wealthy! So here the stepmother learns and improves rather than needing to be punished.

Have a good spring break!


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Monday, March 17, 2008.