Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fairy or Folk Tales in Russian Psyche

My Russian teacher, Katya in Singapore first introduced me to Russian fairy tales. "Kalabok" (Кoлoбoк) is one of the first stories I read. My scribbled notes often helped me with the pronounciation as I had no native speakers besides my teacher to speak with at all in Singapore.

Illustrated Russian Fairy Tales, in the bookshelves of my former Russian host family's flat. Every Russian family has their own fairy tales.

A fairy tale book given to me by my Russian teacher in Kaliningrad on my birthday last year. The grandfather tried to pull out the turnip from his farm but needed help from grandma, then granddaughter, and then dog, then the cat, and finally mice. Beautifully rhymed!

This little creature is again "Kalabok" in Russian fairy tales. Made from flour, it wandered off from his 'parents', rolled and rolled itself afar and happily sang songs along the way, met with many kind animals but only ended up in the tummy of the fox. I found this gift set in Kaliningrad.


Little Red Riding Hood. Yes, it is French in origin that dated back as early as 14th century, but Russians seem to have etched it into their own mentality. I will tell you how.

We all read fairy tales when we were young, but more often than not, they are forgotten along the way. Fairy tales as mentioned here refer more accurately to folk tales in Russia. However what I find peculiar in Russia, is that such tales slipped right into the conciousness of adulthood, into the Russian mentality. I cannot say how well I know about the Russian mentality but we do hear every now and then about fairy tales, we see adaptations in many varied forms, in merchandize, and even on TV!

Hence it is not surprising that fairy tales is part of the Russian language education. I was introduced to it when I started to learn Russian language from my teacher in Singapore. When I came to Kaliningrad, the first fairy tale I read was Red Little Riding Hood. I was asked to memorize the entire text, and familiarise with the use of the six cases. I find it very useful.

However, the little girl's story has morphed into many versions of narration, even some adult sites find the symbol of the red hat sexually appealing. Try to google with its Russian name "Красная Шапoчка", you will have surprising findings.

Over the months living here, I have seen on TV commercial how the story was twisted to advertise for the famous "Red Bull" drink. Little girl reached her grandmother's home, and instead of seeing the wolf lying on the bed, her grandmother sprang up from her bed energetically and proudly declared that she had killed the wolf after she drank "Red Bull". And next we see the head of the wolf hung as hunted animal on the wall. I am not sure if the marketing executives of other markets use the same TV commercial to lure consumers, but I am sure this works well in the Russian market.

One of my favourite pastime in Kaliningrad is to watch Russian TV series, it helps a lot with listening, one of which is the comedy"Voroniny"( It is a sit-com about a Moscovite family with three generations living under one roof and their lives together. I do not understand everything they say but with the help of the website, I often find it very entertaining to watch.
Once the main character Kostya was telling his young daughter Masha a story before she goes to bed. Days before he was reminded of his now-70-year-old mischievious father used to scare him when he was young. So when he told Masha about how little red riding hood met with danger in the forest, he changed the entire plot of the story, in order to protect his daughter from the evil adult's world. It was very amusing, as "Marshenka' (her affectionate pet name) had heard the story many times, and she rebuke everything her father was trying to change! In the end, Masha got bored and demanded for another story.
A little digression here.
Right now while writing this blog, it is 9pm in the evening, and 10pm for Moscow time, and the national TV channel is broadcasting cartoon series; all Russian production, some appeared to be rather vintage but really entertaining to watch. I think Russia is the only country, as far as my experience is concerned, in the world where they broadcast cartoon at this hour, for children I think? Or adult also like cartoon? I once was baffled and asked my Russian friend who has a young son. He matter-of-factly said, why not, its time for them to go bed, so cartoon will be helpful before they go to sleep.
What an argument? When I was young, for a long time, I was not even allowed to watch TV in the evening. How lucky are Russian children with so many original Russian productions! I hope that they do not favour Disneyland more than their very own assets, and will never lose it.
After the cartoon, they broadcast "King of the Pop" Michael's concert. Yes, time for kids to go to bed!
Back to fairy tales, we tried to discuss in class how fairy tales shaped or influenced Russian mentality. Is Kalabok too naive? What could he have done to avoid his destiny? I afraid themes like these were far beyond what I was able to express with my current pool of vocabulary. Even in years to come, I think it would not be easy either, unless I live here for a long long time. It is even challenging to talk about it in-depth of my own people, let alone about Russians.
But I do think about the purpose of fairy tales in our lives. Why such simple stories still apeal to us, how it became classics and permanently etched in our minds, no matter how complex modern civilisation has evolved into? When life is reduced to its simplest formula, its often clear what is most significant in our lives, and to me, this is enlightening and refreshing.
In Russian language, I learned about the word "life" in my first few lessons, maybe much more earlier in learning other foreign languages. We are often asked, what is most important in your life, is it money, health, love or friends, or others. When the order is clear, it is not very difficult to plan one's live.
When one feels confused or lost in life, its good to have a fairy tale next to you, or at least in your mind; not to daydream, but simply to focus.

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