Animals in The Russian Fairy Tales

If we classified the Russian fairy tales according to the plot, we would divide them into 3 main groups: animal tales, animal-human tales & human-spirit tales. The first group represents a set of rather simple stories commonly known as “for kids”. The second & the third ones are more complicated & usually have a deep, profound sense, so they are for those who are older.

Unlike the modern trend telling foreigners that Russia is the place where bears with balalaikas wander, the bear is not a common animal in our folklore. Certainly, there are stories about them, (mostly belonging to the second group), – but rather few.

The most popular animals in the Russian fairy-tales are Fox, Wolf, Hare, then Bear and Rooster or other birds. Fox symbolizes slyness & too often wisdom. Its behaviour has something in common with the famous le Roman de Renart veiled with the Slavic spirit. Wolf represents simplicity or cowardice & he often is punished for his friend Fox‘s doing, but never anger or violence. It is very likely that originally this character was a dog. Its manner of behaviour points to that. Hare is an example of courage, creativity & helplessness. He usually suffers from Fox & Wolf’s crafty designs. Bear is stupid & ignorant. He always gets into a pretty mess due to his reluctance to think or to learn. Rooster is a symbol of justice, but he is a rather rare character in our folklore.

I wonder why we have no horse, pig or cow stories though. Maybe because our Slavic ancestors used to live in the forests & they did not regard domestic animals as ones deserved to be mentioned in folk-tales.

Maria KethuProfumo

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About kethuprofumo

Reconstructing the Past for the glorious Future
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24 Responses to Animals in The Russian Fairy Tales

  1. I think you hit the nail on the head with the idea that domesticated animals were not included in folklore. Russia used the bear as a symbol, Given what you said about the bear I wonder why?

  2. Interesting… Enjoyed the post, Maria. 🙂

  3. It is interesting that domestic animals are not featured in Russian fairy stories. There are many of ours that do feature them (English I mean).

  4. fulvialuna1 says:

    Credo tu abbia ragione sugli animali domestici.

  5. Really interesting. I suspect poor bear has been exploitation by current trends. However, I find it interesting that animal only stories are for kids only. Unfortunately my novel is animal only but I don’t thinks it’s just for kids. So finding a publisher could be difficult. Domestic animals feature in Grimms Tales e.g. The Town Musicians of Bremen. They kind of get their own back. Thinking of the Panchatantra, perhaps this was one of the earliest uses of animals to tell moral and spiritual tales. I love your illustration.

  6. kutukamus says:

    This is news to me. All this time, I thought bear were the most popular character in children’s books there. How wrong I am! 🙂 Thanks for sharing. 🍸

  7. HesterLeyNel says:

    In Afrikaans we also have tales of the sly fox (jakkals) and his friend the wolf (wolf in Afrikaans also, but the pronunciation is different). I think we got this from our European forefathers. Then of couse we have the hare and the tortoise, and also the wise owl. This being Africa, the lion, the elephant and even the crocodile feature in lots of stories. No domesticated animals though. The bear is unknown to us.

    • kethuprofumo says:

      How great, dear Hester! Thank you! And elephant, is he usually wise in your folklore?

      • HesterLeyNel says:

        Yes, sometimes the elephant is king of all the animals, but mostly the lions gets to wear this crown. The elephant is always very gentle.

      • kethuprofumo says:

        Thank you for explanaition, dear Hester. And what animal is usually the worst of all?

      • HesterLeyNel says:

        The snake, I think. We have many venomous snakes in Africa. Here’s a short version of a tale about a tree snake that I remember. An old man sat beneath the tree at the water well. A snake dropped onto his head. Just one strike provided enough venom to kill the old man within that same day. This has happened before and the women had to make a plan, as the well was the only source of water in the town. They boiled maize porridge in a huge black iron pot which one of the women carried on her head to the tree. (African women can carry heavy loads on their heads. They learn this from a very young age. I have seen them carrying huge cans of water on their heads over long distances.) The woman stood under the tree and started calling the snake. When the snake dropped onto her head, it landed in the hot porridge and cooked to death. Ps. Apparently snake flesh makes a lovely meal, but the tale does not specify whether the snake was eaten.

      • kethuprofumo says:

        Thanks for the tale, dear Hester. Besides a good moralitè it is useful to know how to fight snakes if they behave nastily. 🙂

      • HesterLeyNel says:

        Haha, I shouldn’t encourage punishment for snakes. We actually try to educate people to be aware of the danger, but also not to harm snakes unnecessarily, as they play a very important part in our ego system. Rather call a professional snake catcher to solve the problem.

      • kethuprofumo says:

        🙂 🙂 🙂 Don’t worry, dear Hester. In fact, the snake is to be blamed. It was stubborn to death 🙂 That’s great that you teach people to respect any species. It’s so necessary in our days!

  8. theburningheart says:

    Very interesting Maria.
    In MesoAmerica we also have many tales of animals and birds.
    A transcendent animal in all the Mesoamerican cultures, like Mayans, Toltecs, and Aztecs. One of the most important beliefs in these religions is the worship to Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan, the feathered serpent that descended to earth.
    A mix between a serpent and the beautiful quetzal bird.
    Many other animals as well, like the jaguar, the eagle, and every kind of bird, and animal had a legend according to its characteristics. 🙂

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