About Afanasyev's Tales

Alexander Afanasyev was a Russian folklorist that gathered and published one of Russia’s most significant folktale collections in the 19th Century. Consisting of over 600 folk and fairy tales, this collection is the largest ever gathered by a single man in the world and has earned Afanasyev the reputation as the Russian counterpart to the Brothers Grimm. Though some of the tales have gained significant notoriety, even in the West, one portion of his collection remains in relative obscurity: his "Народные русские сказки не для печати"(“Folk Russian Tales: Not for Print”). These forbidden tales, while dealing with subject matter that isn’t suitable for children, still contain motifs and origins that link them to the fairy tales that are more suitable for public consumption. It is not clear that Afanasyev ever intended these naughtier tales to be published, and the circumstances of their early print history remain a haze.

Though the forbidden tales, originally mistranslated as “secret” tales, contain much that is shocking, obscene, and rude, they nevertheless remain an invaluable resource to folklorists and others that enjoy the study of cultures. After all, though content of a more “acceptable” sensibility often makes it into the history books, that doesn’t mean that it’s a fully accurate portrayal of the society that it came from. The forbidden tales recorded by Afanasyev offer a unique glimpse into informal peasant life in 19th Century Russia.

Don’t get us wrong – the sordid accounts of incest, beastiality, and genitalia contained in the text on this site aren’t a direct refection of the way that Russians actually behaved, or what was even acceptable in their society. Rather, the obscenity in the tales was used for comedic value, primarily for entertainment. In the same way that children aren’t taught to believe in everything that happens in fairy tales, the forbidden tales weren’t meant to be taken literally by the listener. Some scholars have suggested that tales such as these could be explained in two different ways. First, they could be following the ancient Greek tradition of ritual obscenity, which was seen as a means of lifting the spirits. Secondly, they could be seen as following the vein of Medieval Carnival, which entailed an occasional suspension of social norms in an attempt to release their inhibitions and let off some steam (a clever means of relieving the tension that could lead those hard-working lower classes to overthrow their rulers). Whatever the reasons may be for the existence of this collection, tales such as these were created by real people and widely distributed through the folk tradition in 19th Century Russia. It is therefore worthy of closer analysis if one wants to carry out an adequate study of Russian culture.