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Old Peter's Russian Tales

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Old Peter's Russian Tales is a collection of Russian folk-tales by Arthur Ransome, who had gone to Russia to learn the language (and escape from his first marriage) in 1913. He began writing the tales on 14 November 1914 (LAR p 99), and it was published in 1916. His introductory note is dated "Vergezha 1915" where he was staying with the Tyrkovs at their estate on the River Volkhov.

Hugh Brogan says in the Introduction that Ransome decided to translate Russian folk-tales after coming across a famous ethnographic collection of translations into English in 1912; the tales were delightful but the language and style could hardly have been worse.

Ransome himself said that he came across Ralston’s Russian Folk Tales in the London Library, and while disliking their unsuitable 'literary' prose saw what rich material was there, differing from the Scandinavian folklore to which he had been introduced by Collingwood, and also from the folklore of Brittany, Wales and the Highlands (AAR p157).

His book was commissioned by T C. & E. C. Jack of Edinburgh, and was illustrated by Dmitri Mitrokhin. Barbara Collingwood and Mrs Collingwood read the proofs for him, and the book was dedicated "To Miss Barbara Collingwood". He was disappointed when Jack originally postponed its publication (AAR pp97,182,193).

His Note at the beginning of the book says that The stories in this book are those that Russian peasants tell their children and each other. It was written for English children who play in deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the small singing becks that dance down the grey fells at home.

The first chapter tells of Maroosa and Vanya who live in a hut of pine logs in the forest with their grandfather the forester Old Peter. Their father and mother are both dead; they could hardly remember them. Twenty stories told by Old Peter to the children follow, including The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.

Hugh Brogan says that it was Ransome's first indubitable literary success. It has never been out of print. Arthur Ransome's apprenticeship was over (CNOS page 11). According to Ransome, the publisher (Jack) did not expect to sell more than the first printing of 2,000 for which he got £25, plus 15% after that. Though selling slowly at first, it went on selling and survived Jack who were absorbed by Nelsons. By 1956 more than 24,000 copies plus 25,000 in cheap editions had been sold, excluding American editions both piratical and legitimate (AAR p179).

Another book of Russian folk-tales was published in 1984, The War of the Birds and the Beasts.

There are two further folk-tales, one Russian (The Shepherd's Pipe) and one Breton (Ankou), in Coots in the North and other stories.

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