Firebird by Ivan Bilibin

Old Peter's Russian Tales by Arthur Ransome

Baba Yaga by Ivan Bilibin

Folk Tales from the Russian
by Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de Blumenthal


The Tsarevna Frog

Seven Simeons

The Language of the Birds

Ivanoushka the Simpleton

Woe Bogotir

Baba Yaga

Dimian the Peasant

The Golden Mountain

Father Frost


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The Tsarevna Frog

A tsarstvo is the domain of a tsar (czar), which is the title of an absolute monarch in Russia. The word tsar, derived from the Roman name and title, Caesar, may be translated emperor, king, or prince. A number of words are formed from it by adding different syllables: Tsarevitch, the tsar's son, prince; Tsarevna, the tsar's daughter, princess; Tsaritza, the tsar's wife, queen or empress.

Boyar was the word formerly used to mean a Russian nobleman; so a boyar-house is a lord's house; boyarishnia, a lord's daughter. The terem was that part of the boyar-house in which the women's rooms were situated.

In Russia there is a fatherly relation existing between the ruler and his subjects which is shown in such phrases as "the tsar father," "their father sovereign," etc. The Russian language has many diminutives, or terms of endearment. For instance, the Tzar is often affectionately called "the little father" by his subjects.

"Once said, quickly done." This is the Russian idiom. Observe how much more lively it is than our own "No sooner said than done."

Seven Simeons

The holy icons are pictures or mosaics of Christ, or the Virgin Mary, or of some saint or martyr of the Russian church. In every Russian house there is one or more, hung in a prominent place. Every one who enters the house at once bows and utters a prayer before the icons before he does anything else. This is an old Russian custom which is still kept up by peasants.

Strong green wine. This is the phrase still used by Russian story-tellers to describe the drink which it was an honor to receive from the royal hand. Its strength was magical in that it was not acquired by keeping, but was always the same.

For a cloudy day is the Russian idiom very similar to our own.

It is a peasant's trade is a Russian saying which means, "It doesn't amount to much."

Moujik, a peasant: his duties are those of a farm laborer, yet this phrase would not be a fair translation. This word, which is rendered "tiller of the soil," has no exact equivalent in English.

Korolevitch, from korol: king. The endings evitch and evna show descent, korolevitch meaning son of a king; korolevna meaning daughter of a king.

Dutch trumpet, i.e., an imported trumpet. Anything foreign is "Dutch" to the Russian peasant.

Honey drink, a drink made by fermenting honey and water. It is quite common in Russia, and is about the same as our mead.

Russian and other Slavonic tales often have queer endings, similar to the one here given by the story-teller at the end of the story, which is no part of the tale. To the Russian they give a poetic touch, a little sense of confusion and mystery which is certainly delightful.

The Language of the Birds

Holy Russia. To the Russian his country is sacred; everything outside is profane by comparison. The phrase suggests the Holy Roman Empire of history, or the Celestial Kingdom of the Chinese.

Ivanoushka the Simpleton

In the peasant's house there is often a large stove of brick or tile on which the family sleep in cold weather.

A day in and an equal day out, the Russian idiom. Observe how very like our own.

Woe Bogotir

Kabak, a drinking saloon.

The ruble is the principal coin of Russia, as the dollar is in the United States. It is equal to 100 copecks, and at this time (1903) is worth only about 50 cents.

Honey to drink, i.e., fermented honey, or mead.

Baba Yaga

Baba, a peasant woman, or grandmother; granny. Yaga, witch. Baba Yaga, therefore, is the familiar "Grandmother Witch."

Izba, a hut. Izboushka, a tiny hut.

Father Frost

Schouba, a large fur-lined cloak.

Sarafan, the Russian national costume for women.

Blumenthal, Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de. Folk Tales from the Russian. New York: Rand McNally & Co., 1903.

Available from

Russian Fairy Tales by Post Wheeler

Russian Fairy Tales by Afanasyev

Baba Yaga by Andreas Johns

The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales by Arthur Ransome


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
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