Mike Dixon-Kennedy, |
The Encyclopedia of Russian
& Slavic Myth & Legend
Pressed between the western world of Europe and the eastern world of Asia, Russia and Slavic countries like Poland, Hungary and Romania are a fertile ground for fairytales and folklore. The Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth & Legend is the perfect gateway into this lesser-known realm of magic and myth.
The book is easily navigated, thanks to the alphabetical arrangment and an excellent set of indexes organized by country of origin, topic and author. While he focuses on gods, goddesses and folklore characters, Mike Dixon-Kennedy also includes historical figures like Alexander the Great and regional Christian saints. The entries vary in length, from just a few sentences on the more obscure pagan gods to several pages on famous figures like Baba-Yaga. Dixon provides entire folktales and myths in the entries when appropriate and also cross-references similar stories in the region, such as the Ukrainian story "The Imps of Misfortune" and the nearly-identical Russian "Misha & the Spirit of Sorrow." The book has several useful extras, such as maps, outlines of Russian history and lists of key terms.
One of the best aspects of the book are the political and religious discussions for some of the better-known stories. I found the comments on Baba Yaga's regional variations and historical development thought-provoking and balanced through the presentation of different viewpoints. Dixon-Kennedy keeps his editorial comments light, but when he makes them, they are always instructive, such as his explanation for why none of the characters in Granny Snowstorm's stories are ever named. I finished the book with a multi-faceted introduction to the role myth and folktale play in the region's culture.
If you have family from Eastern Europe or Russia, The Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth & Legend is a Santa's bag of riches. Within a half-hour of reading, I discovered why my Ukrainian grandmother talked about Grandma Snow at Christmastime and why my grandfather called my sisters and me "Almafi" whenever he took us to pick apples. Several hours slipped by as I wound through the various stories from my multi-ethnic background, tales that might disappear from lack of being told. For anyone wanting to preserve their cultural heritage, this book is a good place to start.
This book is a solid reference work that should meet the needs of anyone interested in Russian and Slavic folklore and mythology. While Dixon-Kennedy's text arrangement is academic, his writing style is surprisingly clear and colorful. The scholar in me wished for more source citations; although Dixon-Kennedy provides a long list of references and recommended reading, he seldom notes where he obtained his information for individual entries. The Polack and Ukrainian in me wished for a more inclusive historical background on the other countries in the region besides Russia. But the folklorist in me was thrilled with the overall quality and thoroughness of The Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic Myth & Legend. Whether you are a student, folklore fan or someone of Eastern European descent, this book has a treasure for you.