Books: Russia's Magic Spring

RUSSIAN FAIRY TALES

Collected by ALEXANDER AFANASEV Translated by NORBERT GUTERMAN 662 pages. Pantheon. $12.95.

Ivan the Terrible, who suffered from insomnia and, perhaps, a bad conscience, kept three blind old men to tell him fairy stories during the long nights in the Kremlin palace. For at least seven centuries in Russia, czars, noblemen, merchants and peasants sought diversion in the wondrous skazki, the folk tales told by itinerant bards who passed on their treasure from generation to generation.

There was little else to amuse the Russians. While the rest of Europe was spawning Dante, Chaucer and Rabelais, recorded literature in Russia until the...

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