Baba Yaga: Folklore’s Leading Lady

Welcome back, horror fiends! This week your favorite Gorgon of gore has a very special treat for you. In fact, I'm so excited about this week's topic that my tail won't stop rattling. As many of you horror fanatics know there's nothing scarier than an evil, villainous witch. Even Freddy Krueger would think twice before coming face-to-face with this particular creature you're about to meet. She's a nasty, flesh-eating monster. And no, it's not Kim Kardashian! Step into my lair, get comfortable, and try not to scream…too much. It's time to meet Baba Yaga, the witch of your nightmares!

For many, many years parents have told their children to stay out of the street, never talk to strangers, and stay close to home. These are valuable life lessons that children won't appreciate until they're much older…or until it's too late. In Russia there is a certain piece of folklore that has become a tool for mothers and fathers in order to prevent their children from wandering far away, or talking to strangers. The legend of Baba Yaga, or "the bony-legged one" represents all of the reasons why children should listen to their parents, no matter what. Baba Yaga is a disgusting, flesh-eating witch who lives deep in the darkest part of the woods. She lives in a hut that stands on chicken feet, and preys upon lost travelers or small children. According to many variations of the legend, Baba Yaga has sharp, jagged teeth; some variations claim the teeth are made of iron or metal. Would you wander far from home if your parents told you about this vile witch? Although Baba Yaga is nothing more than a story, there are many who believe she was real. Maybe it's their fear getting the best of them. Or, maybe they wandered too far from home one evening. Scared and alone they felt their blood run cold as they spotted something way off in the distance. Was it? No, it's not possible. A tiny hut that stands on chicken feet. From the window, they saw Baba Yaga, staring right at them…licking her lips.
There have been many different illustrations of Baba Yaga. From oil paintings to charcoal illustrations, artists have used this terrifying legend to create something beautiful, yet utterly creepy. Writers have used Baba Yaga as inspiration for their work, too. Children's author, Joanna Cole, wrote a book called Bony-Legs. The book was released in 1983 and told the story of a young girl who goes deep into the woods and is captured by an old witch who plans to eat her for dinner. While the subject matter hardly seems appropriate for young children, the story never crosses the line. It remains fun and exciting, with a hint of terror. The Brothers Grimm were notorious for creating tales that contained graphic violence, hideous villains and morbid situations. Bony-Legs was illustrated by Dirk Zimmer, who went on to illustrate the book, In A Dark, Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz. Almost thirty years later, Bony-Legs is still well-known by many. Joanna Cole took the legend of Baba Yaga and introduced her to young readers. While the motive was still the same, the actions were much tamer. This allowed children to enjoy the story (and the illustrations), without the possibility of nightmares or psychological damage.

Aside from the villainous side of Baba Yaga, there have been a few stories that portray the character as a kind-hearted old woman. Babushka Baba Yaga by Leah Polacco is one story that depicts the character in a loving, nurturing way. There are no elements of fear in the story. Baba Yaga befriends a young boy named Victor. When terrible lies about Baba Yaga begin to travel through the village, she returns to the woods, certain that her new friend will believe them. In the story Baba Yaga does live by herself, staring out the window of her small hut. This time, however, she's not looking for fresh victims. She's watching over the villagers with love and kindness. Written and illustrated by Leah Polacco, Babushka Baba Yaga is a safe, family-friendly variation of a terrifying tale. It describes the character as lonely, full of love and desperate to fit in. For readers too young to comprehend (or stomach) the true horrific tales, this is definitely an appropriate alternative that still manages to introduce its reader to Baba Yaga.

One book, Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave, goes back to Baba Yaga's horrible nature as the hungry, flesh-eating witch. It tells the story of a young girl named Vasilisa, whose mean-spirited stepmother sends her deep into the woods on a useless errand, knowing very well the witch, Baba Yaga will eat her alive. When the poor girl meets the evil witch she is held captive and abused, forced to become Baba Yaga's servant. After a few days the hag sends the girl home with a special light that destroys her jealous stepmother. What makes the book so incredible is the way Baba Yaga is still a horrific character, yet not the main villain. Vasilisa's jealous stepmother is the true villain here. The artwork is spectacular, shedding new light on Baba Yaga and her ghastly appearance. Everything is painted with such detail you feel as though you are in the story, suffering right along with Vasilisa.
   There are many different variations of Baba Yaga's terrifying legend. In some, Baba Yaga uses every part of the victim, including the bones. She is known to run fast, taking her victims by surprise. While vampires can be fought off with garlic, or stakes through the heart, Baba Yaga is much scarier because there are no special precautions one can take to ensure their safety. If you want to avoid being her next meal, do yourself a favor and stay out of the woods.

Once Baba Yaga spots you…there is no escape!

Slither back into my lair next Tuesday for Terror Toys.


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