I love fairy tales. Whether it’s the short originals collected by Charles Perrault, the Grimm brothers, Hans Christian Andersen, Peter Christen Asbjørnsen, and Alexander Afanasyev, or novel-length retellings stocking my bookshelves, they are stories of magic and imagination. None, however, are so distinctive as the Russian fairy tales—there is something so wildly Slavic about them that they can be mistaken for nothing else.
У лукоморья дуб зеленый, Златая цепь на дубе том: И днем и ночью кот ученый Всё ходит по цепи кругом; Идет направо - песнь заводит, Налево - сказку говорит. Beside the sea stands a green oak tree, And on the tree a golden chain: And on the chain a learned cat Walks round and round and round again; When he goes left he tells a tale, And when he goes right he sings a refrain. ~Alexander Pushkin
So begins Alexander Pushkin’s fantasy poem Ruslan and Ludmila. This piece is a mélange of popular Slavic characters and stories: Vasilisa the Fair, the Frog Tsarevna, Rusalka, the firebird, and Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga’s house on chicken legs is practically a character in its own right, wandering the forest, turning its back to any who would try to enter, and crouching down only for Baba Yaga to reach its door.