In his book, ‘Twenty Three tales,’ we see Tolstoy’s love of the short story, whether for children or adults; and witness the secret of simplicity and transparency of style, so evident in the great Russian writers. The children’s stories remind us of Tolstoy’s life-long passion for the schooling and education of peasant children. Of the adult stories, some draw on traditional Russian folk tales, breathe the air old peasant wisdom, and take us deep into the land of snow, bears, heartache and vodka. Other stories reflect Tolstoy’s political and moral concerns, such as war, alcohol and greed.
‘The artist of the future,’ wrote Tolstoy, ‘will understand that to compose a fairy tale; a little song which will touch; a lullaby or a riddle which will entertain; a jest which will amuse or draw a sketch such as will delight dozens of generations or millions of children and adults, is incomparably more important and more fruitful than to compose a novel, or a symphony, or paint a picture of the kind which diverts some members of the wealthy classes for a short time and is then for ever forgotten. The region of this art of the simplest feelings accessible to all is enormous, and it is as yet almost untouched.’