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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fairy Tales Live Happily Ever After




Cinderella and Baba Yaga now live happily together in a former communal apartment near Taganskaya metro station.


Behind the wooden door of a Serebryanichesky Pereulok flat, Russian children enter into the magical realm of Dom Skazok, Moscow's first fairy tale museum.


Four times a day, seven days a week, the museum brings to life characters from Slavic and European folk stories and fairy tales - ranging from Hans Christian Andersen classics to more local legends like the Russian witch Baba Yaga and poet Alexander Pushkin's man-sized cat, Kot Uchyonny.


"The aim is to remind children about their national roots, about national traditions," said Tatyana Piskaryova, the museum's director. "To remind them that they have their culture and their past, and that they need to know and grow from it."


The experience begins from the moment you phone up with a croaky but kindly message from Baba Yaga on Dom Skazok's answering machine. Visiting children are met by a fairy tale character played by a local actor. The character then leads them into a warren of rooms contained within the apartment. In one room, they don peasant shoes and costumes and disappear into a hidden entrance. They then visit a dark, spooky room and eventually crawl through a fireplace into Baba Yaga's wooden hut, where they help tell their own fairy tale.


Seven-year-old Anton, who came with his school class and his grandmother, was so excited by the show that he fell down the stairs in the snug two-level room specially created for the fairy tale finale.


"It was great," he said.


Created in 1995, the museum is deliberately free of exhibits and "Do Not Touch" signs.


"When their hands are in their pockets, children barely listen or watch," Piskaryova said. "Children need to touch, smell, lick. They pick up a pebble from the floor and put it in their mouth. That's the way they understand the world."


The museum also tries to explain the origins of fairy tales and the history behind them.


"[Russian] fairy tales are a source of knowledge from a time when there were no written stories," Piskaryova said. "From the tales, we can know how people worked, what they produced, what they wore, how they celebrated."


While the children play and learn, the parents are holed up in the kitchen, where they are told about the history of fairy tales and how to tell their children about such stories. Like most folk tales, Russian fairy tales weren't always written with children in mind.


The most famous collection, compiled in the 19th-century by Alexander Afanasyev, contains violence, indecent language and sexual undertones alongside the more typical fairy tales.


"We don't want to frighten children," Piskaryova said, adding that the museum's haunted room is more funny than scary.


The stories that make it into the museum's repertoire have usually been adapted somewhat for their young audience. Baba Yaga, originally a much more dark and sinister creature who used skulls for lamps and gobbled up anyone who came near her hut, is given a gentler spin at the museum.


Although Russian parents will still occasionally invoke the threatening image of the witch to help keep their children in line, the Baba Yaga at Dom Skazok is a rubbery puppet with a kindly face, and is a much less frightening figure. No skulls ornament her hut and visiting children show little fear, running up and hitting her floppy nose as she talks.


"Oh, aren't you handsome," said Baba Yaga to one adult visitor before kissing him and then wiping her mouth.


Russkaya Semya, the charitable foundation that created the museum, hopes to organize a festival next year that will bring in interested groups from all over the world. Later this year, it will open a Pinocchio museum in Moscow as well.


The foundation also organizes shows in hospitals and children's homes, and child therapists are encouraged to bring their patients to the museum.


"When a child gets to wear a costume, he's not shy," Piskaryova said. "When he puts on a hand puppet, he's not the argumentative one. He's a fairy tale hero."


Dom Skazok, 11/12 Serebryanichesky Pereulok, daily 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., reservations required. Tel. 917-1943, 212-2736. Nearest metro: Taganskaya.