THE stories in this book are those that Russian peasants tell their
children and each other. In Russia hardly anybody is too old for
fairy stories, and I have even heard soldiers on their way to the war
talking of very wise and very beautiful princesses as they drank their
tea by the side of the road. I think there must be more fairy stories
told in Russia than anywhere else in the world. In this book are a few
of those I like best. I have taken my own way with them more or less,
writing them mostly from memory. They, or versions like them, are to
be found in the coloured chap-books, in Afanasiev's great collection,
or in solemn, serious volumes of folklorists writing for the learned.
My book is not for the learned, or indeed for grown-up people at all.
No people who really like fairy stories ever grow up altogether. This
is a book written far away in Russia, for English children who play
deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the
small singing becks that dance down the gray fells at home. Russian
fairyland is quite different. Under my windows the wavelets of the
Volkhov (which has its part in one of the stories) are beating quietly
in the dusk. A gold light burns on a timber raft floating down the
river. Beyond the river in the blue midsummer twilight are the broad
Russian plain and the distant forest. Somewhere in that forest of
great trees—a forest so big that the forests of England are little
woods beside it—is the hut where old Peter sits at night and tells
these stories to his grandchildren.