The Complete Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev, Volume II. Edited by Jack V. Haney. 2015. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi. 555 pages. ISBN: 978-1-4968-0274-3 (hard cover).
Reviewed by Christine Goldberg, University of California, Los Angeles [Word count: 912 words]
Volume 1 of this set was reviewed here in May 2015. Rather than
extend those remarks about the great importance of the Afanas’ev
collection for folktale research, the present review will concentrate
on why and how the tales, particularly those here in Volume 2, will
appeal to readers.
By definition, traditional tales exist in variants. This
characteristic is the basis of comparative folktale research but it
remains extremely difficult to convey to readers. The Complete
Folktales of A. N. Afanas’ev is, of any English-language folktale
book I know, the most suited to this purpose. Texts are presented
adjacent to other variants of the same tale type, sometimes in groups
of four or five. Although the sequence of events in several texts
will thus be similar, their style is varied enough that each version
can be distinctly remembered.
Volume 2 starts out with tales that feature a splendid, magic horse
(comparable to the Hungarian táltos horse) who helps an unpromising
hero win his bride. In tales 179 and 180, the youngest brother takes
the place of his two elder siblings watching overnight at their
father’s grave, and thereby wins a spectacular horse that lets him
win the hand of a princess. He goes incognito to three balls and is
recognized at last (the story arc is quite similar to that of
Cinderella). All the sections are trebled: the grave watch, the
jumping contest, and the balls. In tale 181 the three brothers each
watch for one night at the grave; there are three jumps but only one
feast. In tale 182 the youngest brother watches at the grave for all
three nights, there are three jumps but only one feast.
Tales 182 through 184 add a second section. After the hero and the
princess are married, the hero and his brothers-in-law are sent on
quests for wonderful game animals. The brothers-in-law claim to have
hunted the animals but, because they actually bought them from the
hero in exchange for joints from their fingers, they are shown to be
liars. In tale 184, the youngest brother watches on all three nights
and receives magic bridles that allow him to control three horses
which help him win the princess; in the quest part of the tale, he
uses the same bridles to energize three nags. The horse’s name in
tales 179, 182, and 183 is Sivko-Burko or something similar. The
princess recognizes the winner of the jumping contest by a mark on
his forehead (no. 184), the brilliant forehead that is exposed when
he removes a covering cloth (no. 182), or a piece of cloth he grabbed
when his horse made the winning jump (no. 179). In tale 183,
Sivka-Burka first appears only in the middle, but we can use the
grave-watch episode of the other variants to understand why such a
horse would want to assist the hero. Tales 295 and 296 present
another unpromising hero who, with the help of a magic horse,
successfully fights a war.
Such descriptions may seem uninteresting or even confusing, but when
a careful reader visualizes what happens in each variant, the
different possibilities — longer or shorter descriptions, another
way to cover an episode, a different beginning or ending, etc. —
reverberate to produce an ideal or mental form of the tale type(s),
with numerous possibilities for different elaborations or for
succinctness, that is much more interesting than any single variant.
Among the 140 texts in Volume 2, there are at least eighteen such
clusters of three or more interrelated variants, plus many more tale
types represented by a pair of variants. Volume 1, with eight
variants of the firebird tale ATU 551, resonates in the same way.
Because of the arrangement of the whole collection — animal tales,
then wondertales, then non-magical tales and humorous anecdotes —
there are more magic tales in Volume 2.
Characters prominent in Volume 2 include various magicians, helpful
magical animals, and beautiful women whose accomplishments save their
sweethearts or husbands from danger. There are treacherous women —
sisters or stepsisters and stepmothers who scheme to do in the
protagonist (male or female) — and many female victims who have been
cast out, maimed, turned into animals, or otherwise abused. Beginning
around tale no. 300, the flamboyant magic fades out, and most of the
remaining tales are about good and bad luck, fate, or trickery.
In addition to identifying AT type numbers and sometimes Grimm KHM
analogs, Jack Haney’s brief notes are packed with useful information
about the geographic extent of the tale types represented, important
printed sources, and influence from other genres such as epic songs
(byliny). The notes to tales 283 to 289, for example, reveal two or
three different forms of AT 707, The Three Golden Sons. In two
variants, similar to those throughout Europe, the mother, falsely
accused of having given birth to animals, is immured in a building
and her children are sent on life-threatening quests. Four other
variants represent an East Slavic form in which the unfortunate
mother is set adrift with one of her sons in a barrel and the
marvelous children set up an impressive establishment that comes to
the attention of their royal father. And in one variant, the sons,
buried, return in the form of trees, then of lambs, and finally are
reborn from their mother, as themselves.
Volume 3 is scheduled to complete the set. Sadly, Jack Haney, the
editor and translator, also the editor and translator of The Complete
Russian Folktale (7 vols., 1998-2007), passed away last year.