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

Lecture notes for April 4, 2008

Sibelan Forrester

“Sleeping Beauty”

Any questions about presentations as they're going up on Blackboard, and as time passes and we move to different readings?

The Sleeping Beauty ballet video. This is a random choice of section.

This is a very famous ballet: music by Petr Il’ich Chaikovskii, libretto and choreography by Marius Petipa – it’s performed regularly all the time, all over Russia (I just hit a site online where you can buy tickets for the performance at the Bol’shoi ballet right now!).

Let’s talk for just a moment about why ballet might be an especially favorable genre for treatments/”translations” of fairy tale plots – what do you think? The ballet of the 19th century, a specific time and place, its “ethereal” techniques. If Russian opera for a long time kept using plots from Pushkin (Eugene Onegin, The Queen of Spades, Ruslan and Liudmila, The Stone Guest, Boris Godunov, etc.), properly Russian ballet seems wedded to the fairy tale, including fairy-tale like literary works like E. T. A. Hoffmann’s Nutcracker.

Bettelheim: links Sleeping Beauty with adolescence, a “sleepy” period around the onset of puberty (!?). (Versus the “nature” school, which sees the sleep as winter, and the prince’s kiss as the waking energy of the spring sun -- he's blond because of the golden sun.) So this is a tale for adolescents, not small children. Fun that he talks about how Perrault’s story differs from Basile’s – a little attention to social/historical reality rather than the universalized essentially Freudian picture of human psychological development during maturation.

The “second part” – the jealousy of Talia’s lover’s wife; Prince Charming’s mother as the hungry Ogress – left out of a lot of tellings, including the Grimms’, which stop with the marriage and happily-ever-after.

As always: how does the set of interpretations he offers strike you? (The mythological school’s reading of the prince’s kiss!) What do Bettelheim’s analyses presume about fairytale? – That they help children to attain psychological maturity; that children love them because they’re comforting and encouraging; that parents tell them for the same reason, or they guess that there’s some important value that’s conveyed, if only belonging to this People and sharing the tales (if only in a Disneyfied version) with all the other little kids your age.

Afanas’ev tales:

“Prince Ivan and Princess Martha,” pp. 79-86 – again, the role of sleeping (here she wakes him with a penknife). How can you read this, in terms of what Afanas'ev says? What about the princess’s silence? In cases where a princess is silent out of fear, what frees her to speak the truth?

“The Enchanted Princess,” pp. 600-11 – Ivan the merchant’s son has to stay in the bed to free the castle from devils; enchanted sleep as in Tsar-Maiden so that he loses his intended bride and has to go get her again. Then, 3-headed dragon etc. glued on at the end (after the wedding!).

What might Bettelhaim have to suggest about sleep or delays in various tales – and the value of deferral? How does sleep or deferral work from the narrative perspective? (Why might a teller add a new move to a tale that could be seen as finished? Why are some – like “The Three Kingdoms” or “Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf” – never told without the second move, where the brothers take the bride and either kill or dump the hero?) How much might sleep simply introduce an element of suspense, which always increases the listener's engagement in the story?


Return to the class syllabus

Proceed to the lecture notes for Monday, April 7, 2008.