I finished reading The Cambridge History of Russia last week. Now I have read the Introductions for The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev: Volume I plus the first 25 pages worth of stories. Although this volume promises, among other wonders, “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” so far I have only read stories featuring a clever fox, doltish wolf, and equally doltish peasants. These stories are similar to the Cat-and-Mouse story in the Grimm Fairy Tale: just as Cat also lives with Mouse until the pretending to have a godchild so Cat can eat the honey they are supposed to share, so Fox lives with Wolf and claims to be a midwife and secretly steals the honey they agreed to save for later. I have never liked animal stories of this sort as well as other folktales because they run counter of my sense of justice. Mouse and Wolf do not deserve to be cheated (let alone eaten, as happens to Mouse in the Brothers Grimm). Yet I admit that even I can not complain about the Russian stories because of how beautifully told they are.
In fact, in my novella “The Firebird Unchained,” the Fox-and-a-Wolf story is similar to the play Hamlet puts on to “catch the conscience of the king” to prove that King Claudius killed Hamlet’s father. In Shakespeare’s play, Prince Hamlet puts on is about a man who murders his brother and marries his brother’s wife. King Claudius and Queen Gertrude watch the play, as Hamlet and Horatio watch them watching the play–and the viewer of the play watches Hamlet and Horatio watching the two of them watching the play. Hamlet’s alchemy is not attempted often, but in my story I shall try. My main character is writing stories, and one of his stories is about a Communist hack rewriting a Fox-and-Wolf story for children intending to inculcate Communist values. As Hamlet probed the psyche, I attempt to plumb the psychology of the extreme censorship of Communism.
The larger story of the man who created the hack and his Fox-and-Wolf story is The Firebird Unchained… and it will be in the larger book The Land of the Firebird and It’s Stories Part I.
Yet first I will have to finish the three-volume The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev–and a collection of other books on Russia, Poland and Ukraine, too.