There is a common fairytale trope where the hero must go on a quest to rescue a fair maiden from captivity. Now, there are several Russian tales, where this trope is inverted. The maiden must rescue the prince who is being held captive.It is surprising, although, not completely unexpected that Vladimir Prop in this seminal work totally omits these fables. In the book, he claims a a universal typology of recurring events, themes and characters. What does it mean that he omitted the Russian fables of heroic women? For him the functionality of the princess is inextricably tied to her father. That limits the narrative reach of the princess. How can you go out and rescue your husband when you are tied to your father's apron strings?
For instance, The Feather of Finist the Fair Falcon, is a story where the main heroine not only chooses her own bridegroom and spends nights with him, but also must go on a quest to rescue him from a sorceress-queen. This story is, interestingly, very female driven. There are basically only two male characters: Finist and the girl’s father. All the other characters - the evil sisters, the helpful Baba Yagas (in this story there are three of them) and the sorceress-queen - are all women.
Another character is from heroic epics called Vasilisa Mikulishna. Her husband, Stavr, offends Prince Vladimir and is imprisoned. She dresses up as a Tatar envoy and using cunning, dexterity and physical strength rescues her husband and dupes the Prince.
A number of Russian fairytales focus on women who are either extremely powerful sorceresses, Vasilisa the Wise, or warriors, Mar’ia Morevna. I am certain that these stories and female characters are not unique to Russian folklore, but I distinctly remember, as a child, coming across them only in Russian fairytales.
What I find even more interesting is that Vladimir Prop, The Morphology of the Folk Tale, in his classification of narrative seems to have entirely overlooked these tales, even though, supposedly, his classification is based on Russian fairytales.
Image: Ivan Bilibin