Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.
Baba Yaga is an ambiguous character featured in a number of fairy tales over the years. A supernatural being who’s oftentimes deformed, this evil witch doesn’t have a magic mirror or a talking crow. She flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and lives deep in the forest—her hut described as standing on chicken legs! (That’s one way to get around). Never the main focus, she helps or hinders protagonists. In the tale of Koschei the Deathless, she tests the hero Ivan to prove his mettle before giving him a magic horse in order to defeat Koschei.
Vasilisa the Beautiful shares many elements with the more famous Cinderella. However, you won’t find any pumpkins or talking animals when Vasilisa undertakes a quest to find Baba Yaga’s hut to fetch light from it (her stepmother’s shanty—Vasalisa’s current residence—snuffed of its luminescence). As a result, Baba encumbers the young girl with various tasks before giving her the light, conveniently located in a skull-lantern. This time, Baba is not a villain, but rather a way to assist and assess the heroine’s journey, which culminates in Vasalisa’s betrothal to a tsar after her turn as a Russian cloth-maker’s assistant.
Baba Yaga’s most recent iteration is as downloadable content in the 2015 Xbox One video game, Rise of the Tomb Raider. Here, Baba presides over the Vale region of Siberia. Lara Croft accepts a mission to help a young woman find her erratic grandfather who has disappeared while searching for his wife. Lara travels to the Vale, but is incapacitated by portents of her father’s death. It is eventually revealed that Baba Yaga is, in fact, the missing grandfather’s wife using an indigenous hallucinogen to bring about visions, casting herself as Baba as a means of protection against potential Russian oppressors.
This edition of Fairy-Tale Files is brought to you by editorial assistant Jared Hughes and poetry editor Jon Riccio.