A new book of fairy tales, edited by V.N. Ivanov, including Vassilissa the Beautiful, the Grey Wolf and Czarevich, and The Pike's Command, has just been published in Harbin. It is a small book, costing only ten I and hence very accessible. Long ago V.N. Ivanov had this excellent idea to publish in the most accessible form fine examples of Russian literature. In the fairy tales, in epic works, in the great creations of our poets and writers are truly to be found those pearls which should be brought to the folk consciousness without delay.
Take for example quotations from Gogol, Pushkin, Dostoevski, and from the half-forgotten, half-understood, profoundly thinking Slavophiles. You find here so much lit is so urgently needed for the healing of people's hearts. Fragments from Gogol, or diary leaves from Dostoevski's writings, or thoughts of Leontiev, Khomyakov, and all those well-wishers of Russia — how ever-fresh are these thoughts, since they were born of great, self-sacrificing love and striving to help a people upon its difficult paths.
And the thought about making these books popular is also good, because at present they have to penetrate into the most obscure and remote places, where the hearts of the scattered, oppressed, and homeless are atremble in expectation and still aglow with great love for construction.
In one month recently, besides the above-mentioned fairy tales there were published also eight popular Russian fairy tales: The Wolf, The Bear, Little Sister-Fox, She-Goat and Kids, The Crane and the Heron, The Tomcat and the Rooster, The Fly, The Turnip; and on the 20th of January there came out The Greatcoat, by Gogol — one of the most unusually penetrating, although not always understood, works of the great master.
If only the Russian people could make an effort to throw off all accumulated husks and shagginess and come together again in labor! This one thought alone about popular editions of the pearls of folk consciousness would help much toward mutual understanding.
And not only in Russian is there a need and demand for these little books. They should be published in different languages in similar popular editions. In other languages also they should penetrate into the masses. They should reach there where a thick, expensive book will not. Let these pearls become completely attainable and reach even the most remote farms, the farthest islands, huts, where most of the time every printed word is so eagerly awaited. At a time when we may think that a great deal has already become accessible and understood reality often tells us quite a different story.
We personally have seen little children picking the colored pictures off matchboxes. We know that for any crumpled illustrated page of a newspaper people are ready to exchange provisions, just so they can adorn a wall in their hut with it, and, if possible, also read it. I say "if possible" not as a reproach about someone's illiteracy, but I refer to literacy in many languages, and in all these languages one should speak about the beautiful.
Thoughts ancient and new should be given to a majority among all the different peoples, because they all speak tout the very same — that which is not ancient and not new, but eternal. Translate our fairy tales and epics into many different Western and Eastern tongues, and how many hearts will rejoice, sensing that which is close to them!
Take the story about Vassilissa the Beautiful, which is based upon the tales about teraphim; and the Grey Wolf, ho changes his image by throwing himself upon the ground; and the Pike, whose thought and will cause objects to move and act. All this will be understood by a Hindu, an Arab, a Chinese, and one more bridge of cordial mutual understanding, hearty, ethereal, yet firm will be woven. Tell about the City of Kitej, and a Breton shepherd will nod his head in understanding. Read the Song of Igor in the Scandinavian countries, or tell about werewolves in distant Assam, or about Antaeus in Greece, and everywhere one's own understanding will be augmented. And how many hearts among different peoples will be atremble fin understanding the images of Gogol; and how startling may be the understanding evoked by the pages of Dostoevski's Diary. But, indeed, one should not rely upon expensive editions of many volumes, but should issue most popular ones. For this popularity one should adopt the best means; hence, fairy tales can become narratives, and narratives will delineate the eternal epic.
Likewise, let us not overlook the fact that popular fragments of the treasures of Eastern and Western wisdom must be issued also in Russian. And they must be given in an attractive, ringing translation akin to the Russian language. I recall how beautifully Baltrushaitis translated a song of Tagore; how inimitably Balmont gave us the resounding forms and images of the best foreign poets; and, last but not least, the Bhagavad Cita sounds beautiful, precisely in Russian — perhaps even better than in some other Western languages. And the Edda and the Kalevala, and Hiawatha, and the Panchatantra yield excellently to the sonorous and elastic Russian language.
But all that was hitherto published was either in a large expensive edition of many thousands or in luxurious books. Yet all this beauty must be given broadly to all peoples, and sound and color must be united in the resounding work. Also icon images must be given broadly to the people, and in really artistic, even if in popular, reproductions. Their true beauty is known to but a few. And because of ignorance and lack of knowledge things of real value may be censured. Chiefly, accessibility is now needed everywhere for everyone.
Humanity has become impoverished and has grown spiritually poor. Therefore, we so rejoice in seeing each beautiful publication made accessible. Thus, a short legend will become a story, and out of a story will again grow a fairy tale.
Life is a beautiful fairy tale.
January 30, 1935