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Fear, Cold, and Pain, The Dark world of Russian Fairy Tales

             "Well, uncle!" said the Demon, "swear that you will never
  strike me with your hammer, but that you will pay me the same
  respect your father always paid.” (excerpt from “The Smith and the Demon”)

             One must always pay respect in Russia to those with great power whether they are good or evil, for God may watch over you but the Demons and the cold and pain where an always present force in the lives of the peasants of the past. Its important to remember that all through the years when Russia’s people where stirring up Folk Tales to tell by the fire and add entertainment to their lives nearly one third of the population was slaves for all intents and purposes. They where required to work their masters land, and where not allowed to leave, what’s more their masters could transfer or sell them to another person for any reason.

            Russia also has a number of other great fears, from dark and huge forests to freezing cold winters with long nights, and of course there is the fact that they have been surrounded by some of the most horrific enemies for most of their history. With such a hard lot there is little wonder that many of the peasant stories seemed to indicate that one must pay a certain respect to certain beings of evil. Of course this did not prevent certain hero’s from tricking or getting the better of such demons, vampires, and the whole list of other dark creatures that inhabited Russian lore, at the same time the peasants also worked to get the best of their churches Saints. In one story a Elijah the prophet is attempting to punish a peasant who keeps getting the best of the prophet with the aid of Saint Nicholas. Such light hearted banter as is found in this story make it fun and certainly the Russian’s enjoy somewhat funny stories in which the under dog comes out on top. In one such story a simpleton argues with a birch tree thinking it has bought his cow on credit and now won’t pay him for it. Few lives however where so dark as a whole as that of the Russian Peasant. One can see this contrasted starkly in a number of the tales.

            The Fiend for example shows a girl who discovers that her fiancé is a demon when she finds him devouring a corpse. This story is different from “Blue Beard” however for the girl did nothing wrong, did not do what her love asked her not to, although she did agree to get married without first searching out the nature of the kind and generous man all her friends liked. For this she is punished by having her whole family die. In one of the Cinderella stories in Russia the main character has a Hansel and Gretel moment when her step sisters send her off to their friend Baba Yaga a witch that wishes to eat the girl. In another story the girl is sent by her stepmother who is sisters with the witch. In these stories family member much more then trying to abandon their children to their deaths, attempt to have another family member kill them. Baba Yaga calls the main character of these stories niece, while the girl calls the witch auntie, even as the witch makes plans to devour the child. Darker still is the story of a mother who returns from the grave to breast feed her baby and in so doing kills the baby, leaving her husband who loved her with nothing but the memory of his wife’s corpse feeding his babies corpse.

            In one Russian tale sorrow, and woe take a substantial form, never leaving the side of a poor man who must suffer through many trials. In another story people set out to find evil and find it they do for one is devoured and the other must use a knife to cut off his own hand to escape but rather then morn the loss of his friend or his hand he brags proudly about how he met such evil. It would seem as though at some point people crave such adventure Perhaps though an adventure to meet evil might be better then being shackled to it as the Russian Peasants where for centuries.