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July 21, 2004 by AK

Oh Those German Revivalists, or, Burn ‘Er

There are two major groups of Russian folk tales. One is clean stuff adapted for children’s reading. The other is the real things as recorded by Dahl, Afanasiev and numerous others. They go back to the dark heathen days and are naturally unfit for infant consumption.

In addition, there are plenty of translations. Cinderella, Puss in Boots, the Three Piglets, the Musicians of Bremen and all that. In particular, the Grimm brothers are a major source. The Grimms did filter and pre-process what they collected, but their output was not originally intended for kids.

Every Russian knows at least one or two paintings by Victor Vasnetsov. His best-known works are scenes from Russian tales. (Compare this to the Pre-Raphaelites who illustrated Lady Shalott and King Cophetua.) Vasnetsov’s Alenushka (more precisely, Alyonushka, dim. of Yelena) depicts sister A. lamenting her beloved little brother Ivanushka, who first turned into a little goat, then got drowned.

Now the Grimms’ version of this tale is just as good, except the ending is not exactly fit for little children. Alas, I had to read it to my daughter; else, no Happy End.

She told the king about the crime that the wicked witch and her daughter had committed against her. The king ordered both to be brought before the court, and a judgment was pronounced against them. The daughter was led into the woods where she was torn to pieces by wild animals, and the witch was thrown into a fire where she miserably burned to death. And as soon as she had burned to ashes, the deer was transformed, and he received his human form again. And the sister and the brother lived happily together until they died.

Indeed. [(C) Dr. Reynolds, 2002]


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