Folklore, Myths, and Fairy Tales

I grew up reading folktales and mythology. There’s still a shelf in the bedroom at Redquarters with folktale collections on it. The big (800 pages) Russian collection is now elsewhere, since I’ve been reading Russian tales from various sources, but there are still Hungarian, American Indian of different sorts, Tartar, Japanese, Hawaiian, and four books of stories about the Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime on the shelf. I have the original Grimm stories on my e-reader. And I survived Bruno Bettelheim, who in my opinion took some of Freud’s and Jung’s ideas to the edge and then jumped over. So yes, I’m kinda fond of folktales and folklore.Mythology tends to be about gods and goddesses, creation stories, and other major religious origin and foundation stories. The Greek and Roman myths about Athena and Zeus/Jove, the Marduk vs. Tiamat saga from Babylon, the Japanese account of how Amaterasu and her kin created the world and the sacred treasures, the Popol Vuh of the Maya and the Dine Ba’histe of the Navajo (which is NOT what you want young children or students just picking up and reading. The Navajo are earthy. And blunt.)

Fairy tales tend to be more about princes and queens and supernatural events. Or at least, that’s how I divide them from folk tales. Fairy tales are also, sometimes, created, while folk tales tend to have uncertain origins, even if they can be traced back to imported roots (some Russian tales seem to parallel Hindu legends, which may have come via the Mongols from Persia). Fairy tales also seem to be swapable, in that you can take Cinderella, for example, and make it a story from Korea or China with reasonable success. Folktales don’t translate as well, although certain patterns seem to repeat (the clever peasant, the king in disguise, talking animals, shrewish wives or clever wives with foolish husbands).

The Baba Yaga and related tales seem to be a bit of both myth and a large dose of fairy tale, at least the versions I’ve been reading. Parental curses also play major roles in Russian folktales, which makes sense if you trace back to the idea that originally, Slavic religion centered on the gods of the clan and the family, with ancestor veneration (or worship) and a few major earth, storm, and sky deities. If you depend on the blessings and intercession of the ancestors in times of trouble, the last thing you want is a parent cursing you. Baba Yaga comes across as a villain and as a tester/judge figure. But even when she is on the side of the hero or heroine, Baba Yaga’s stories always have at least one death in them, sometimes more. Some of the neo-Slavic Pagan writers feel that she’s really a benevolent earth goddess turned evil by the Church, but . . . I remember the Celtic goddesses. The Morrigan, anyone? And the claim that the Slavic pantheon had no “evil” deities doesn’t fit what I’ve read from pretty much every other culture – there’s always a dark figure, sometimes very minor, but I have not yet found a pantheon where everyone is sweetness and light all the time. Russian folk-tales ascribe some pretty unpleasant qualities to the Prophet Elijah (Ilya), including being a vengeful thunder-god like figure.

I fear Baba Yaga has not finished with Alexi just yet. You see, there are tales of wicked brothers and missing children and heroic princesses and Baba Yaga . . . and that Red Horse. The Red Horse is up to something, or perhaps not. But spinning tales off of fairy stories and folk tales, especially drawing from something other than Grimm, is a lot of fun. I wonder what I could do with the Tartar story about the khan with horns and his milk-brother . . .