The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish

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The fairy tale commemorated on a Soviet Union stamp

The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (Russian: «Сказка о рыбаке и рыбке», romanizedSkazka o rybake i rybke) is a fairy tale in verse by Alexander Pushkin, published 1835.

The tale is about a fisherman who manages to catch a "Golden Fish" which promises to fulfill any wish of his in exchange for its freedom.

Textual notes[edit]

Pushkin wrote the tale in autumn 1833[1] and it was first published in the literary magazine Biblioteka dlya chteniya in May 1835.

English translations[edit]

Robert Chandler has published an English translation, A Tale about a Fisherman and a Fish (2012).[2][3]

Grimms' Tales[edit]

It has been believed that Pushkin's is an original tale based on the Grimms' tale,[4] "The Fisherman and His Wife".[a]

Azadovsky wrote monumental articles on Pushkin's sources, his nurse "Arina Rodionovna", and the "Brothers Grimm" demonstrating that tales recited to Pushkin in his youth were often recent translations propagated "word of mouth to a largely unlettered peasantry", rather than tales passed down in Russia, as John Bayley explains.[6]

Still, in Bayley's estimation, the derivative nature does not diminish the reader's ability to appreciate "The Fisherman and the Fish" as "pure folklore", though at a lesser scale than other masterpieces.[6] In a similar vein, Sergei Mikhailovich Bondi [ru] emphatically accepted Azadovsky's verdict on Pushkin's use of Grimm material, but emphasized that Pushkin still crafted Russian fairy tales out of them.[7]

In a draft version, Pushkin has the fisherman's wife wishing to be the Roman Pope,[8] thus betraying his influence from the Brother Grimms' telling, where the wife also aspires to be a she-Pope.[9]

Afanasyev's collection[edit]

The tale is also very similar in plot and motif to the folktale "The Goldfish" (Russian: Золотая рыбка) which is No. 75 in Alexander Afanasyev's collection (1855–1867), which is obscure as to its collected source.[7]

Russian scholarship abounds in discussion of the interrelationship between Pushkin's verse and Afanasyev's skazka.[7] Pushkin had been shown Vladimir Dal's collection of folktales.[7] He seriously studied genuine folktales, and literary style was spawned from absorbing them, but conversely, popular tellings were influenced by Pushkin's published versions also.[7]

At any rate, after Norbert Guterman's English translation of Asfaneyev's "The Goldfish" (1945) appeared,[10] Stith Thompson included it in his One Hundred Favorite Folktales, so this version became the referential Russian variant for the ATU 555 tale type.[11]

Plot summary[edit]

In Pushkin's poem, an old man and woman have been living poorly for many years. They have a small hut, and every day the man goes out to fish. One day, he throws in his net and pulls out seaweed two times in succession, but on the third time he pulls out a golden fish. The fish pleads for its life, promising any wish in return. However, the old man is scared by the fact that a fish can speak; he says he does not want anything, and lets the fish go.

When he returns and tells his wife about the golden fish, she gets angry and tells her husband to go ask the fish for a new trough, as theirs is broken, and the fish happily grants this small request. The next day, the wife asks for a new house, and the fish grants this also. Then, in succession, the wife asks for a palace, to become a noble lady, to become the ruler of her province, to become the tsarina, and finally to become the Ruler of the Sea and to subjugate the golden fish completely to her boundless will. As the man goes to ask for each item, the sea becomes more and more stormy, until the last request, where the man can hardly hear himself think. When he asks that his wife be made the Ruler of the Sea, the fish cures her greed by putting everything back to the way it was before, including the broken trough.


The Afanasiev version "The Goldfish" is catalogued as type ATU 555, "(The) Fisherman and his Wife", the type title deriving from the representative tale, Brothers Grimm's tale The Fisherman and His Wife.[11][12][13]

The tale exhibits the "function" of "lack" to use the terminology of Vladimir Propp's structural analysis, but even while the typical fairy tale is supposed to "liquidate' the lack with a happy ending, this tale type breaches the rule by reducing the Russian couple back to their original state of dire poverty, hence it is a case of "lack not liquidated".[13] The Poppovian structural analysis sets up "The Goldfish" tale for comparison with a similar Russian fairy tale, "The Greedy Old Woman (Wife)".[13]


Explanatory notes[edit]

  1. ^ D. N. Medrish [ru] also opining that "we have folklore texts that arose under the indisputable Pushkin influence".[5]


  1. ^ Chandler (2012), Alexander Pushkin, introduction.
  2. ^ Chandler (2012).
  3. ^ Pilinovsky (2014), pp. 396–397.
  4. ^ Chandler (2012), Alexander Pushkin, introduction and Pilinovsky (2014), pp. 396–397.
  5. ^ Medrish, D. N. (1980) Literatura i fol'klornaya traditsiya. Voprosy poetiki Литература и фольклорная традиция. Вопросы поэтики [Literature and folklore tradition. Questions of poetics]. Saratov University p. 97. apud Sugino (2019), p. 8
  6. ^ a b Bayley, John (1971). "2. Early Poems". Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary. Cambridge: CUP Archive. p. 53. ISBN 0521079543.
  7. ^ a b c d e Sugino (2019), p. 8.
  8. ^ Akhmatova, Anna Andreevna (1997). Meyer, Ronald (ed.). My Half Century: Selected Prose. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. p. 387, n38. ISBN 0810114852.
  9. ^ Sugino (2019), p. 10.
  10. ^ Guterman (2013). Title page (pub. years). "The Goldfish" pp. 528–532.
  11. ^ a b Thompson (1974). Title page (pub. years). "The Goldfish". pp. 241–243. Endnote, p. 437 "Type 555".
  12. ^ Uther, Hans-Jörg (2004). The types of international folktales. Vol. 1. Suomalainen Tiedeakatemia, Academia Scientiarum Fennica. p. 273. ISBN 9789514109638.
  13. ^ a b c Somoff, Victoria (2019), Canepa, Nancy L. (ed.), "Morals and Miracles: The Case of ATU 555 'The Fisherman and His Wife'", Teaching Fairy Tales, Wayne State University Press, ISBN 0814339360
  14. ^ "The Tale About the Fisherman and the Fish (1937)". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  15. ^ "The Tale About the Fisherman and the Fish (1950)". Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  16. ^ "About the Fisherman and the Fish (2002)". Retrieved 1 May 2017.

External links[edit]