I is for Ivan (Bilibin. We’re on a first name basis.)

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Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

Illustration by Ivan Bilibin for The White Duck.

When I’m telling Russian folktales, Vasilisa steps into the theatre of my mind wearing a richly embroidered sarafan. Ivan Tsarevich, in caftan and pointy-toed boots, proudly rides the grey wolf through a fir forest to an onion-domed palace. Baba Yaga’s log hut on chicken legs boasts a steep thatched roof with colorfully stenciled eaves and window frames. Even barefoot Ivanushka wears his Kosovorotka, his side-buttoned shirt. For me, that rich imagery came from the brush of Ivan Bilibin. A costume and set designer as well as an artist, he created the theater my skazki protagonists play on.

I hope you have an edition of Russian Wonder Tales illustrated by my friend Ivan (!) in your library. His  art has been used in such collections for over a century!

Afansyev, Alexander, Russian Fairy Tales, translated by Post Wheeler and illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. The Planet, 2012 (paperback).

Avery, Gillian, Russian Fairy Tales, illustrated by Ivan Bilibin. Everyman’s Library Children’s Classics, 1995.

Bilibin, Ivan IAkovlevich Bilibin, Ivan Bilibin. Aurora Art Publishers, 1982. (Note: This is an expensive art book!)

In the 1970s, the Russian Ministry of Finance commissioned Goznak Press in Moscow to print a series of Russian fairy tales with Afans’ev’s text and Bilibin’s illustrations in beautiful, large format booklets on heavy paper. You can almost always find the books in Russian or English on ebay for $10-$20. Look for the Frog Princess, Sister Alyonushka and Brother Ivanushka and The White Duck (together in one book), Marya Morevna, Fenist the Falcon, and The Tale of Tsarevich Ivan, the Fire-Bird and Grey Wolf.

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2 responses

  1. It’s interesting how every culture has different but also similar folktales.