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The red scarf, known as pionerskii galstuk, emblemized the communist Pioneer movement, a scouting group for young children who would later join the Communist Youth League. As defining feature of Soviet children’s literature, the pioneer’s red scarf provides governmental, ideological context for the plot narrative. (See also the digital library McGill).

The text on the Orthodox Church in the backgroupd reads "Club." Following the Bolshevik revolution and the 1918 decree disestablishing the Orthodox Church, the Soviet center took an increasingly hardline approach to the Russian Orthodox Church, first fomenting a schism between the conservative and more Soviet-sympathetic elements of the clergy (in the Living Church) and then seizing the assets and property of the church. At the same time, the Soviet government worked to establish workers’ clubs to replace the social role of the church and provide worker with a space for socializing and recreation. These parallel attempts to reform the peoples’ daily life and habits (“byt”) coalesced in the conversion of seized Orthodox church buildings into workers’ clubs.

This is a well-known stock character from pre-revolutionary Russian fairytales. He is best known for his appearance in “Tale of Prince Ivan and the Grey Wolf,” which tells the story of a prince who sets off on an elaborate quest for his father, King Vyslav. Along the way he encounters a magical grey wolf who helps rescue him from all of the obstacles he faces, including death. The reader would recognize him through his costume, for it echoes the 1899 illustrations by Ivan Bilibin. His sideways position here emphasizes how he is not a part of the Octobrist’s world but rather, escaping from a children’s book of the past.

This item in the Octobrist’s grasp is later revealed to be a the Pioneer magazine. The magazine of the Communist youth movement, entitled Pioneer, estranged folklore and fairytales, replacing fiction with advice columns and commentary on public meetings and political events. The accordion booklet “Pioneria” (1925) depicts young pioneers at work and at play (see image at McGill University). Encouraged to actively participate in the political process, children undertook what were traditionally adult roles politicization and adultification of Soviet youth swept across the nation [Catriona Kelly, Children’s World: Growing up in Russia, 1890-1991 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007) 67, 76-77].

The perspective depicted in this first illustration could not feasibly exist, and given that the subsequent illustrations follow the rules for depicting realistic events, namely angles and relative sizing, it is worth analyzing this slight departure. While the buildings are all the “correct” size to demonstrate depth, the Octobrist appears monumental. Given that the buildings are drawn as though the viewer were looking directly at them, one can dismiss the possibility that the Octobrist only appears monumental, because the scene is drawn as though the viewer’s eye were at the boy’s feet looking up. Thus, this illustration is a work of mixed perspective employed in order to have the Octobrist appear the same size as the buildings. This monumentalism was common in Soviet Russia, especially when depicting images of the iconic leaders, Lenin and Stalin. It was employed visually to showcase the figure’s relative importance. In this instance, the technique informs the reader that, like other Soviet leaders, the young Octobrist is a fundamentally important figure. Because the reader will identify with this protagonist as a fellow child, the illustrator is also suggesting that the young Soviet readers are “monumental” in terms of their importance for the coming promotion of the Soviet State in their own reality.

Translation:

Thin,

Sonorous,

Like a goldfinch,

Just as merry, just as small

           The Octobrist –

           Imp

Stepped merrily to school.

Suddenly, running –

           Topsy-turvy,

From the showcase

           Of a shop of

Children’s books

           In an instant,-

“Ivan Tsarevich” jumped.

This text first introduces the reader to the metafictional elements of the story, for it shows how a figure from another storybook could “come alive” and enter this narration. The last five lines in particular suggest that this infiltration is not welcome. Ivan is “suddenly running” and “in an instant” jumps, as if he were a fugitive escaping from the children’s book shop.

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