Pushkin’s verse ‘fairy tales’, skazki, are enjoyed in Russia by anyone from early school age to centenarian.
The Bridegroom is actually a ballad – it tells a story in a highly sophisticated way – but it is sometimes classed as a skazka. Using the dynamic metre of the German Romantic poet Gottfried Bürger’s ghostly ballad Lenore, Pushkin’s original tale promises a sinister merging of dream world and reality but turns out to be an even more sinister whodunnit.
The Tale of the Fisherman and the Little Fish, on the face of it an innocent folk tale with echoes of the Grimms, has a historical subtext. The fisherman’s wife, asking to be granted successively more ambitious wishes by the bounteous golden fish, shares Catherine the Great’s desire to rule over the seas.
The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, with its mysterious terseness and subtextual savagery, in one modern Russian critic’s words ‘isn’t just another fairy tale. It’s another dimension.’ Pushkin develops an idea from a prose tale by the American writer Washington Irving into a fairy story loaded with personal and political meaning – about what happens, or what Pushkin would like to happen, to a ruler who breaks his promises as Nicholas I did to him – and what might happen to him.