Things that… just are.

Posted October 4, 2015 By mashaholl

русские узоры и орнаменты (20)One of the hardest things to comprehend about folk tales and legends is that things just happen. There is no why. For that matter, characters also just are. There is no why either. In folk tales and legends, logic and purpose and motivation are all inherent: what happens in the story is all that matters.

As children, we had no trouble understanding that. You start a story — open a book — begin a game — and you’re in that world for however long it lasts. There’s even a pause button for important things like lunch or ice cream, and then you can return to that make-believe world.

As children, we had no trouble making the distinction between make-believe and reality. Nor did we have trouble understanding that adults didn’t want, most of the time, to follow us into our make-believe. As children, we played at shooting each other with guns made out of Legos. But we didn’t dare point them at adults — they were not part of the game. Some of us tried, but that didn’t turn out well, usually. That was the rule — adults are not part of the game of make-believe.

We had no trouble distinguishing toys from real things. We could play with toys (even realistic ones), but real things were not part of the game world. There were exceptions, but we had to ask for dispensations, because it was outside of the rules.

We had no trouble with boundaries. We pushed them, we checked them, some of us knew how to push just enough, others pushed hard, but that was all to test and re-learn. We really had no trouble with boundaries.

Folk tales are like that: they have boundaries, limits to reasons why. Just like characters have set limits to where and how they can act, not because of laws, but because who and what these characters are. Things that are not part of the tale don’t come into the tale. Conversely, things from the tales don’t stray outside of the world of tales (and legends).

Baba Yaga

Baba Yaga

Even more precisely, characters and things from one kind of stories don’t stray into another kind of stories.

Boundaries are very dear to tradition and folklore. After all, if one didn’t stay within these boundaries, how would one know what one’s history was, exactly? Or how would one recognize kin — or strangers?

The boundaries of tradition, in and of themselves, are neither good nor bad — they just are. As always, it’s what people do with them.

Check out my pages on Russian Folk Tales