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Skazka is the English transcription of Сказка, the Russian word literally meaning story, but used to mean fairy tale. The term skazka can be used in many different forms to determine the type of tale or story being told. A volshebnaya skazka (plural volshebniyi skazki) is considered a “magical tale.” Skazki o zhivotnykh are “tales about animals”, and bytovye skazki are “tales about everyday life.” These variations of skazki give the term skazka more depth, giving it more meaning than just fairy tales.
Similarly to Western European tradition (especially the German one, established by Brothers Grimm) seeking to find the essence of a nation's spirit, Russian folklore started to be collected by scholars and systematically studied in the 19th century. Russian folk fairy tales were catalogued (compiled, grouped, numbered and published) then by Alexander Afanasyev (see below), and his compendium is still referred to by folklore scholars when citing the number of a skazka plot. An exhaustive analysis of the stories describing the stages of their plots and classification of charactrers based on their functions was developed later, in the first half of the 20th century by Vladimir Propp.
The emergence of skazka started in the 16th century. These stories were believed to be true and did not contain myth. This could be because the stories were set in real time.
Two types of books containing skazki were created in the 18th century. The bast-books contained woodcut broadsheets, which were created from the inner bark of the linden tree. These stories were the shortened versions of the stories and were affordable for the peasants of Russia. The Gray issues were books that had printed paper that had a grayish tint to them, hence the name Gray issues. These contained the longer versions of the stories. These could be compared to the chap-books of England and the blue-books of France. Until the end of the 18th century, everyone enjoyed folk tales one way or another. After this turn in the century, mostly lower-class people read them.
East vs. West
In Western society, both Europe and America, fairy tales seem to be childish, and they appeal to a younger crowd. These stories had actual fairies in some, and other various characters that were kid oriented. They did not take place in the world we live in, but in a far-away magical land of perfection. In Eastern society, these fairy tales were closely related to the time they were written and portrayed society as the author viewed it. Russian tales were told when no younger ones were around, for they were much more horrifying. These would scare young the children that the Western tales were made for. Some titles include Baba Yaga and The Dead Princess and the Seven Knights.
What is often also true is that Western writings focus on the characters and telling of the story at hand, while having no meaningful message or underlying theme. The Eastern side focuses on the issues of the time and then futuristic aspects.
Dream for a Better World
Fundamental Utopian Idealism is the backbone of Russian fairy and folk tales. The dream for a better world has been the underlying theme for all of skazka. Russian skazka is based on the “here and now”, rather than the Western idea of “Once upon a time…” Skazka seemed to be an outlet for many Russians to put their utopian ideas down on paper. The social values of the time were reflected within the story. Whether the ideals were right or wrong were reflected later in the end of the story or through the characters actions. The desired idea was often given as something the character did to make life better. Russian tales had certain “realness” to them. The stories don’t end in “happily ever after” as many Western stories end, but they ended in a more matter of fact sort of way. For example, this ending to the tale Morozko, or Old Man Winter, does not end joyously or magically. “Later, the old man's daughter married a neighbor, had children, and lived happily. Her father would visit his grandchildren every now and then, and remind them always to respect Old Man Winter.” This ending gives the ending in a way that leaves the reading saying “okay”, rather than “wow.”
Many people believe that women play no role in folk tales and fairy tales, or that Westerners used the female characters in their writing more than Eastern writers. The prominent gender in most folk tales is men, because the bard or minstrel was a male occupation up until the 19th century, and that is how most stories were passed. Women also handed down stories orally to their children and grandchildren. Women however, were also seen in some fairy tales as witches. Baba Yaga is the most famous of Russian fairy tale witches.
Alexander Pushkin was one of the most notable writers of skazka. When he grew up, he started to write poems, based on these tales and stories. From his pen many masterpieces of world fairy tales were born. The most famous are:
- 1830 - Сказка о попе и о работнике его Балде; English translation: The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda
- 1830 - Сказка о медведихе; English translation: The Tale of the She-Bear (unfinished)
- 1831 - Сказка о царе Салтане; English translation: The Tale of Tsar Saltan
- 1833 - Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке; English translation: The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish
- 1833 - Сказка о мертвой царевне; English translation: The Tale of the Dead Princess
- 1834 - Сказка о золотом петушке; English translation: The Tale of the Golden Cockerel
Many others were penned anonymously.
- The Death of Koschei the Immortal
- Vasilissa the Beautiful
- Vasilisa The Priest’s Daughter
- Father Frost
- Sister Alenushka, Brother Ivanushka
- The Frog Princess
- Vasilii the Unlucky
- The White Duck
- The Princess Who Never Smiled
- The Wicked Sisters
- The Secret Ball
- The Magic Swan Geese
- The Feather of Finist the Falcon
- Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf
- The Sea King and Vasilisa the Wise
- The Bold Knight, the Apples of Youth, and the Water of Life
- Go I Know Not Whither and Fetch I Know Not What
- The Golden Slipper
- The Firebird and Princess Vasilisa
- The Wise Little Girl
- The Armless Maiden
- The Giant Turnip
- The plot itself - the story of an evil stepmother's envy (brought on by her magic mirror) for her stepdaughter's beauty causing the former to banish and later to try to kill the latter with a poisonous apple and the latter finding refuge in the woods and known in the English-speaking world as the story of Snow White and the seven dwarves, not seven knights, as it is known in Russia in the form written down in verse by Alexander Pushkin, who probably had heard the plot from his village nanny Arina Rodionovna Yakovleva.