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

Lecture notes for April 21, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

Gaidar and Shukshin; Zipes's "Breaking the Disney Spell"

As always, please be keeping up with the presentations on Blackboard, since they will be represented (selectively) on the final exam.

Jack Zipes: his list of what changes when fairytales are PRINTED: they become more elitist, conformist (heterosexual, patriarchal, requiring a “happy end”), and they become property that can be bought and sold and copyrighted (pp. 74-5). On pp. 78-9, the institutionalization of fairytales in late 19th century as Gemeinschaft 'community' shifts to Gesellschaft 'society.'

Gaidar's “Tale of the Military Secret” – (Сказка о военной тайне) – how does this compare to the Afanas'ev folktales, and which scholars we’ve read do you find enlightening as you read and interpret it? “Plokhish” means "bad," in case you couldn't tell. How is it unlike a traditional fairy tale? (Re-creation of an oral milieu with children telling the story – inventing a child hero for children: one who'll always be a child, since he was killed by the bestial enemy.) Being a hero whose momument everyone salutes is better than growing up!

Arkadii Gaidar (his real last name was Golikov – suggests nakedness, poverty - but also note how nice the phonetics of his pseudonym are: "ar/ar," with one opening the name and the other closing it): b. 1904, d. 1941 during teh early months of WWII (he was in the army again). Big enthusiast of the Red Army; wound up in battle commanding a regiment in the Civil War in 1919, when he was 15! Considered one of the founders of Soviet children’s lit, and people who read him as kids react to his name with fondness.

Any comments on the lovely online illustrations?

Shukshin “Before the Cock Crows Thrice” – let me ask you to compare this one to Shrek! And then – to “The Ratcatcher.”

Vasilii Shukshin (1929-1974) – born in a peasant family in Altai, quit school after 7th grade (remember that this is during WWII), got into the super-prestigious All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow in 1954 (right after Stalin’s death) – he was quite a bit older and much less couth than the other students there. He claimed he had “общественное лицо” 'a face that looks like almost anyone's face' – he studied directing but also acted before and after graduation, played an ex-con from a simple background (in "Kalina krasnaja" 'Snowball-Berry Red', that sort of thing. Career as a writer: 5 collections of stories, 2 historical novels, and several posthumous volumes of prose.

The literary school known as Village Prose draws strongly on folklore and traditional culture - but often in a cautious way. Starting after Stalin's death, carefully criticizing the losses of traditional village life caused by industrialization and modernization: at its best it's very ecologically and culturally sensitive, at its worst it turns into right-wing Russian nationalism. Shukshin fits in here in many ways, but his peasant heroes (always men, with women often representing a confusing and even evil element) are eccentrics – in a way they resemble Ivan in the story we read.

What do you have to know about fairy tales (or – Russian and Soviet history) to appreciate this story?


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Wednesday, April 23, 2008.