Slavic R5B, Section 2: Session C (June 22 – August 14): Fractured Folklore: Rewriting the Fairy Tale in Russia and the West

TuWTh 1-3, Evans 7. Instructor: Karina McCorkle.

Units: 4

This class is taught via synchronous remote instruction. If you have concerns about time zones or other accessibility issues, please contact the instructor for accommodation:

We often think of fairy tales as being for children, and moreover, as being a remnant of the past. But what happens when fairy tale and folkloric themes are translated into a modern context? How do we recognize the Little Mermaid when she works as a cleaning lady in Moscow in 2007, or how do we understand Cinderella when our narrator is no longer neutral, but dripping with sarcasm? What does a fairy tale look like in 1930 or 1980 or 2019, and how do we know it’s a fairy tale, if princesses and wicked stepsisters and happily ever afters are no longer the norm?

In this course we will first read classic folklore, discovering uniquely Russian folk figures and monsters, like Baba Yaga, Koshchei the Deathless, the rusalka, the leshii, and the domovoi. In addition, we will compare certain Russian fairy tales with ones we may already be familiar with from the Brothers Grimm, and of course, Disney. We will determine what features of fairy tales make them recognizable to us, and what value systems they tend to represent, so we can then begin to examine how writers adapt the raw material of fairy tales, and see what that teaches us about both the fairy tales themselves and the individual writer’s goals. For example, many women writers in both a Russian and a Western context have attempted to bring fairy tales back under female control by reworking them. Writers like Anne Sexton, Lyudmilla Petrushevskaya, and Tatyana Tolstaya write texts where gender roles are reversed, folklore logic is thrown into question, or women characters from classic fairy tales get to tell their side of the story. On the other hand, during the Soviet Union, a kind of folklore logic was used to make figures like Lenin and Stalin the heroes of “new” fairy tales. In Soviet cartoons, children defeat dragons and witches just as they did in the fairy tales of the past, but they use their knowledge of knot-tying and engineering rather than needing magic help.

We will also read Russian and American urban legends and ask ourselves whether or not we see a connection between these types of tales and what was written in the nineteenth century, and watch some recent Russian films which adapt “folkloric” literature in order to the answer the question: is all folklore ultimately related, or can it only be understood in its particular time and cultural context?

Prerequisite: Successful completion of the “A” portion of the Reading & Composition requirement or its equivalent. Students may not enroll in nor attend R1B/R5B courses without completing this prerequisite.

Instructor pending appointment.