Informant: “Every Russian child knows this tale, it’s about um, it’s actually about a piece of dough. It’s like a doughnut which comes alive. So it’s about this old man and an old woman, and they live together and they don’t have children in the village. And so one day, they decide to make uh this type of child from a dough which is Kolobok.”
Me: “Kind of like the Gingerbread Man?”
Informant: “Yes, yes! So that uh, they make this Kolobok. And he starts talking…and then he runs away from them. And he’s basically on a quest, but there’s really no purpose. He’s not trying to save a princess or to get gold or anything. So and it’s rolling down the road and it encounters different animals and everyone wants to eat it and it just tries to get out of it. So first it encounters the bear, and then the bear says oh Kolobok, Kolobok I will eat you. And he’s like no, don’t eat me! And then Kolobok tells his whole story about how he was made from dough and scraps and everything, and then he just runs away from the bear. And then he comes across a wolf, let’s say, and then the wolf says well, I’m gonna eat you. And then he retells again the same story, and he says oh you can’t eat me because even the bear didn’t eat me. So…and then he comes across the fox. I think he tells again the whole thing, let me see. I’m not sure if the fox eats him, somehow he gets away still. In the end he does get away but the idea is that it’s like very repetitive because he just keeps repeating his story and getting away from all these animals. And so then finally he goes back home.”
As I mentioned in the interview, the tale of Kolobok bears many similarities to the tale of the Gingerbread Man. However, there is a key difference here, with the doughnut making it all the way back home instead of being eaten by the last animal it encounters, the fox. Like other heroes of Russian folktales, Kolobok displays wit and quick thinking, telling each successive animal it cannot eat him because the previous one didn’t eat him. My informant mentioned that in Russian animal fairytales, the fox is always the one who possesses the greatest amount of cunning, yet even the fox is taken in by Kolobok here. And although he is a doughnut without any features, he still clearly takes great pride in his identity, since he takes the time to share his story with each animal he meets. One last thing I wanted to point out was the informant’s mention of a lack of purpose to Kolobok’s quest. Usually, when a hero leaves home, there is some greater purpose to his actions, but here Kolobok just rolls out the door and eventually rolls back home. Perhaps the story is meant to suggest to small children that independence will come, but it is good to keep your wits about you when you travel. Of course, that is just one of many possible interpretations.