Old Peter's Russian Tales

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Old Peter's Russian Tales, cover by Dmitry Mitrohin

Old Peter's Russian Tales is a collection of Russian folk-tales by Arthur Ransome, published in Britain in 1916.

The first chapter tells of Maroosia and Vanya who live in a hut of pine logs in the forest with their grandfather, the forester Old Peter. Their father and mother are both dead, and they can hardly remember them. Twenty stories told by Old Peter to the children follow, including The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship.

Ransome says in a Note at the beginning that The stories in this book are those that Russian peasants tell their children and each other. It was written for English children who play in deep lanes with wild roses above them in the high hedges, or by the small singing becks that dance down the grey fells at home.

Ransome had gone to Russia in 1913, to learn the language, and to escape from his first marriage. The book's introductory note says Vergezha, 1915. He had gone to Vergezha on the river Volkhov as a guest of Harold Williams and his wife Ariadna; to stay in her family home.

Ransome says in his autobiography that the English listeners know nothing of the world that in Russia listeners and storytellers take for granted. So rather than direct translation (as William Ralston Shedden-Ralston did in his 1873 Russian Folk Tales; which he read in 1913) he read all the variants of the story, and rewrote them with Old Peter, Vanya and Maroosia rather than the Ogre, the Elf and the Imp. Publication was delayed, and he thought that the publishers did not expect to sell more than the initial 2000. But by 1956 more than 24,000 copies had been sold plus another 25,000 in cheaper editions and also several American editions, both piratical and legitimate [1]

Hugh Brogan says that it was Ransome's first indubitable literary success. It has never been out of print. Arthur Ransome's apprenticeship was over.[2]

Old Peter's Russian Tales was re-published by the Arthur Ransome Trust in December, 2016.[3] The new edition celebrates Old Peter's centenary. It also brings Old Peter together with The War of the Birds and the Beasts (re-named The Battle of the Birds and the Beasts at Hugh Brogan's suggestion), thereby creating the first combined edition of Arthur Ransome's Russian folk tales. The new edition includes a new introduction by Hugh Lupton, Arthur Ransome's great-nephew, whose own career as a professional story-teller owes much to Arthur Ransome's Russian folk-tales.


  1. ^ The Autobiography of Arthur Ransome edited by Hugh Brogan p179 (1984, Jonathan Cape, London)
  2. ^ The Life of Arthur Ransome by Hugh Brogan p110 (1984, Jonathan Cape, London)
  3. ^ "Old Peter's Russian Tales | Ransome's Folk Lore | Arthur Ransome Trust". Arthur Ransome Trust. Retrieved 2016-12-16. 

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