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Pushkin’s verse ‘fairy tales’, skazki, are enjoyed in Russia by anyone from early school age to centenarian. 

The Bridegroom is actually a ballad – it tells a story in a highly sophisticated way – but it is sometimes classed as a skazka. Using the dynamic metre of  the German Romantic poet Gottfried Bürger’s ghostly ballad Lenore, Pushkin’s original tale promises a sinister merging of dream world and reality but turns out to be an even more sinister whodunnit.

The Tale of the Fisherman and the Little Fish, on the face of it an innocent folk tale with echoes of the Grimms, has a historical subtext. The fisherman’s wife, asking to be granted successively more ambitious wishes by the bounteous golden fish, shares Catherine the Great’s desire to rule over the seas.

The Tale of the Golden Cockerel, with its mysterious terseness and subtextual savagery, in one modern Russian critic’s words ‘isn’t just another fairy tale. It’s another dimension.’  Pushkin develops an idea from a prose tale by the American writer Washington Irving into a fairy story loaded with personal and political meaning – about what happens, or what Pushkin would like to happen, to a ruler who breaks his promises as Nicholas I did to him – and what might happen to him. 

The readers

Kristin Milward has worked at the RSC and National Theatre, on Broadway and in several countries in Europe. She has played a number of major roles including Portia in The Merchant of Venice (Leicester), Tatiana in Eugene Onegin (Young Vic), Maja in When We Dead Awaken (Crucible, Sheffield), Inez in Huis Clos (King's Head) and Hecuba in The Women of Troy (Orange Tree). Her last film was A Little Chaos, directed by Alan Rickman.

Elena Dobson was born in Moscow. She holds a first degree in Philosophy and a PhD in Economic Sociology from Moscow State University. After moving to the UK she taught Sociology, Politics, Soviet History and Media Studies at British universities for a number of years before leaving academia to work in Public Relations. She has been passionate about poetry since school and has performed regularly at concerts and events both in Russia and the UK.

Antony Wood is a translator from Russian and German and also publishes Angel Classics, a list of new translations of European literature. His own translations of Pushkin include the Little Tragedies, the original, uncensored version of Boris Godunov, and a selection of narrative poems. His Mozart and Salieri was produced on BBC Radio 3 with Paul Scofield and Simon Callow, and Boris Godunov, with Prokofiev’s incidental music, at the Berlind Theatre, Princeton. He is preparing two further selections of his translations of Pushkin’s poetry for Penguin.