Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Baba Yaga’s Many Faces

This is the third and last post in The King’s Daughters theme series. And this one is about The Baba Yaga, a witch-like character of the Slavic folklore. But let’s go back in time …way back to my childhood in fact.

As a kid, I was first introduced to the Baba Yaga by Fanfreluche, a life-sized rag doll played by actress Kim Yaroshevskaya. In every episode of this Canadian children's television show, Fanfreluche would open her giant storybook and read us a tale—myths and legends from around the world, one of which was the Baba Yaga—and at one point she would enter the story by stepping inside the giant book and join the action. Needless to say, it was my favorite TV show when I was a child.

So I knew that if I was to write a story with a Northern setting, the Baba Yaga would play a role in it. What captivates me the most about this character is that there are so many different versions of her—it’s amazing.

In some tales she is depicted as a hideous old hag with monstrous teeth, in others as an attractive maiden. In many tales she is evil; in some she’s wise and offers guidance to the valorous people. She is also portrayed as a benign, neutral character—a Goddess of wisdom.

And in Russian fairy tales such as Vasilissa the Beautiful, she enslaves young girls.

Even her mode of transportation varies. Most often she is seen flying around on a giant mortar—the pestle serves as a rudder, and she uses a broom made of silver birch to erase her tracks—but there are also accounts in which she rides one of her three magical colts.

According to some versions of the myths, Baba Yaga ages a year every time someone asks her a question. This is why she is often portrayed as a cranky old hag — she is frustrated and angry about having been asked so many questions. The only way for her to de-age herself is by drinking a special tea she brews from blue roses. Heroes who bring her a gift of blue roses are often granted wishes as reward for their aid.

The Baba’s dwelling is, without any doubt, the most unusual and unique home one could imagine: a cabin with chicken legs—yep! There are other interpretations of her house, going from an ordinary log hut to a simple cave, but the cabin on chicken legs remains the most popular version and my favorite.

Although I’ve only scratched the surface, I believe one gets a good idea of how fascinating the Baba Yaga really is. Now if only The King’s Daughters could come out.

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