The Problem of "milosti" in Pushkin's A Fairy Tale About the Tsar Sultan ...

Suzanne M. Daly, University of Pittsburgh

The theme of the literary fairy tale A Fairy Tale About the Tsar Sultan ... has many variants in world folklore: it appears in Eastern Slavic tradition as the "Miraculous Children" type, in the German tradition as "The Three Golden Sons." Pushkin also uses some motifs found in "The Maiden Without Hands" tales (in both East Slavic and German traditions). Scholars have also noted that there are possible literary sources for Pushkin's tale as well: The Story of Two Jealous Sisters from the Arabian Nights Entertainment cycle and also the story Eros and Psyche in Apuleius' The Golden Ass.

When adapting these sources to his own tale, Pushkin follows the folkloric model closely. His main changes come in the form of mixing motifs from different texts. But we will be turning our attention to the problem of the tails' ending, which it seems has not been studied as of yet.

In the folk texts that Pushkin draws from, the sisters are punished for their wrongdoing at the end of the tale; the punishment of evil is a common feature in most fairy tales endings. Yet, Pushkin chooses to pardon the villains in his tale. It is our belief that Pushkin's decision to change the ending is connected with his thoughts on the problem of mercy (milosti, miloserdie); he had hoped for a similar pardon for the Decembrists. Later, Pushkin developed the theme of milosti in his poem "Monument" and in his story The Captain's Daughter, both written in 1836. According to Lotman, Pushkin's theory of mercy is based, not on a desire to change despotism to liberalism, but rather a desire to create a government which "vozvodit chelovechnost' v gosudarstvennyj princip."