Russian folklore takes its roots in the pagan beliefs of ancient Slavs and now is represented in the Russian fairy tales. Epic Russian bylinas are also an important part of Slavic mythology. The oldest bylinas of Kievan cycle were actually recorded mostly in the Russian North, especially in Karelia, where most of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was recorded as well.
In the late 19th-century Russian fairy tales began being translated into English, with Russian Folk Tales (1873) by William Ralston, and Tales and Legends from the Land of the Tzar (1890) by Edith Hodgetts.
Many Russian fairy tales and bylinas have been adapted for animation films, or for feature movies by prominent directors such as Aleksandr Ptushko (Ilya Muromets, Sadko) and Aleksandr Rou (Morozko, Vasilisa the Beautiful).
Some Russian poets, including Pyotr Yershov and Leonid Filatov, made a number of well-known poetical interpretations of the classical Russian fairy tales, and in some cases, like that of Alexander Pushkin, also created fully original fairy tale poems of great popularity.
Folklorists today[verification needed] consider the 1920s the Soviet Union’s golden age of folklore. The struggling new government, which had to focus its efforts on establishing a new administrative system and building up the nation’s backwards economy, could not be bothered with attempting to control literature, so studies of folklore thrived. There were two primary trends of folklore study during the decade: the formalist and Finnish schools. Formalism focused on the artistic form of ancient byliny and faerie tales, specifically their use of distinctive structures and poetic devices.:45 The Finnish school was concerned with the connections amongst related legends of various Eastern European regions. Finnish scholars collected comparable tales from multiple locales and analyzed their similarities and differences, hoping to trace these epic stories’ migration paths.:46
Once Joseph Stalin came to power and put his first five-year plan into motion in 1928, the Soviet government began to criticize and censor folklore studies. Stalin and the Soviet regime repressed Folklore, believing that it supported the old tsarist system and a capitalist economy. They saw it as a remnant of the backward Russian society that the Bolsheviks were working to surpass.:157 To keep folklore studies in check and prevent inappropriate ideas from spreading amongst the masses, the government created the RAPP – the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers. The RAPP specifically focused on censoring fairy tales and children’s literature, believing that fantasies and “bourgeois nonsense” harmed the development of upstanding Soviet citizens. Faerie tales were removed from bookshelves and children were encouraged to read books focusing on nature and science.:304 RAPP eventually increased its levels of censorship and became the Union of Soviet Writers in 1932.
In order to continue researching and analyzing folklore, intellectuals needed to justify its worth to the Communist regime. Otherwise, collections of folklore, along with all other literature deemed useless for the purposes of Stalin’s Five Year Plan, would be an unacceptable realm of study. In 1934, Maksim Gorky gave a speech to the Union of Soviet Writers arguing that folklore could, in fact, be consciously used to promoted Communist values. Apart from expounding on the artistic value of folklore, he stressed that traditional legends and faerie tales showed ideal, community-oriented characters, which exemplified the model Soviet citizen.:55 Folklore, with many of its conflicts based on the struggles of a labor oriented lifestyle, was relevant to Communism as it could not have existed without the direct contribution of the working classes.:47 Also, Gorky explained that folklore characters expressed high levels of optimism, and therefore could encourage readers to maintain a positive mindset, especially as their lives changed with Communism’s further development.:46