Contemporary Reviews of Old Peter's Russian Tales


Saturday Review, 9th December, 1916 (Anonymous)

Mr. Ransome thinks that there must be more fairy stories told in Russia than anywhere else in the world, and in this book he has told, mostly from memory, some of those he likes best, his sources being the coloured chap-books, Afanasiev's great collection, or the folklore gatherings of the learned. Quite rightly for his purpose, Mr. Ransome does not worry about sources, and he tells his tales with the skill of an experienced man of letters, writing far away in Russia in view of a forest where Old Peter sits at night and talks to his grandchildren. We like particularly "The Cat Who Became Head-Forester" and "Little Master Misery", who is not unknown in this country. The illustrations are quaint and vivid, and the whole book is well produced, though the cover is a little startling.

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Times Literary Supplement 14th December, 1916 (Stephen Graham)


. . . "Old Peter's Russian Tales" are of the same type as Mr. Donald Mackenzie's, but they are better told. Information regarding Russian life is given in a playful manner, the samovar is described, the smell of the smoke of the peasants' tobacco is suggested. The tales, though they are second-rate literary matter, should read aloud well. The feeling is that the author is having a pleasant relaxation. The illustrations have the merit of being in harmony with the text.

Two later reviews in the TLS make an interesting comparison with this original review, and show how in the interval Old Peter's stock had risen from being classified as 'second-rate literary matter'. The first, by M.G.Grant (information from TLS centenay archive) and headed 'Twice upon a Time' appeared on 30th Novemer 1935:

OLD PETER'S RUSSIAN TALES, told by Arthur Ransome, now appear in a cheap edition (Nelson, 1s. 6d.). It would be impossible to overpraise these simple, humorous and moral stories, available hitherto in a more expensive but not more charming dress. This small volume is one worth keeping in mind for surprises and emergencies as will as for festival occasions.

The third review, by Eric Korn, appeared under the heading 'Return of the Kings' on 6th December 1974, on the occasion of the appearance of Old Peter in a Puffin paperback edition:

Little needs to be said about Old Peter. He's been reprinted deservedly since 1916. The narration and the prose are crisp and uncluttered, and he's almost our only source for "Ivan the Ninny", "Vasilissa the Very Wise and Vasilissa the Very Beautiful", and the unparalleled "Baba Yaga".

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New York Times Book Review, 2nd December, 1917 (Anonymous)

Every one will be interested in "Old Peter's Russian Tales" by Arthur Ransome. The book, written in Vergheza, Russia, is illustrated, head and tailpieces in black and white, and full-page colored pictures by Dmitri Mitrokhin. There are more fairy tales told in Russia, Mr. Ransome believes, than anywhere else in the world. The Russian people have a child heart, and the people who like fairy tales never grow up altogether, he says. These stories the writer has heard in Russia and retails from memory. One story is of Little Stupid, the Little Good One in the tale of "The Silver Saucer," which the Little Good One's father brought her, with a transparent apple, as a fairing. There are Cinderallaish wicked sisters, but all comes out well for the Little Good One and the Prince at the end. There is another good little girl in Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga is a witch with iron teeth, and one may imagine what a wicked witch who liked plump little boys and girls did with those wicked teeth. The good little girl was so kind that all the animals, even those of Baba Yaga, loved and saved her from the cruel death to which her wicked stepmother had sent her.

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I am grateful to Wayne G. Hammond for help in identifying these reviews