Archive for April 24, 2008

Searching for a Specific Russian Folktale

Yesterday one of my Russian teaching friends told me of a folktale which typifies what is going on in the leadership of our institution of “higher learning.”  Let me know, if you know this famous Russian story about a bird, land animal and fish.  All three had a mission together but couldn’t accomplish it because their environments were at odds with each another, seems true with the many cultures involved at our university. Simple Google searches have not yielded the information I’m looking for, so I’ll go back to my friend today to get more specifics.  In the meantime, here is what I found out from this Russian Folktales link.  I am using some of the material from this website but sorry that I can’t give proper attribution to the author.  Maybe if the author of this link tracks his visitors, he will be able to tell me what folktale I am looking for. 

There are many folktales in Russian which are called SKAZKA. The word is from the same root as the verb “to say” — skazat’. Therefore it is simply “that which is told” — a tale. But by implication, it is fiction, not news, something someone came up with. Simply entertainment but the animals are strictly typecast:

  • Wolves are greedy rather stupid, and male (the Russian word for wolf is “volk,” a masculine noun).
  • Foxes are sly, calculating, and tricksters. They are also female (the Russian word for fox is “lisa,” a feminine noun).
  • Cats are opportunistic and lazy. They are male (the Russian word for cat is “kot,” a masculine noun).
  • Bears are big and lumbering (naturally), rather clumsy, and not very bright. They are male (the Russian word for bear is “medved’,” a masculine noun). The Russian word that is the equivalent of “teddy bear,” “misha,” is also the diminutive for the name Mikhail, which is the standard “first name” of folk-tale bears.
  • Hares are quick and cowardly, and male (“hare,” in Russian, is “zaiats,” a masculine noun).
  • The goat is cunning, and female (Russian — “koza,” a feminine noun).
  • The rooster is cocky and boastful, and male (Russian — “petukh,” a masculine noun).

Some animal tales tell of the “beginning” of things, such as the first tale on the — the beginning of the enmity between man and bear. Others are merely amusing. Others yet have a moral, but by no means all. And not all tales, by far, qualify as “good children’s stories.”

The animals in the tales behave in many ways as real animals do: carnivorous animals eat meat, even when the “meat” in question can talk. Wild animals are dangerous, and that they can interact with people does not mean that they are tame or “civilized.” A bear or a wolf may attack or even eat (or attempt to eat) a person.

There is usually no reason for the animal characters to behave as they do, other than their nature. Of course, personal gain is a clear motivation for their actions, but not for the form these actions take. The wolf is bad because he is the bad wolf, not because he had a difficult childhood; the hare is cowardly because it is a hare, not because of some trauma. Animals, like other folk-tale characters, behave accordingly to their roles.

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