Thursday’s Tale: Baba Yaga

baba yaga

I thought I’d share another Baba Yaga tale this week. This one is from Folk Tales from the Russian by Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de Blumenthal, 1903. The story takes place somewhere in Russia.

There was a couple who had twins, one girl and one boy. Of course, mom dies and dad is heartbroken, but eventually remarries. Surprise, surprise, step-mom is not exactly the best person. She decided after being pretty mean to the kids, to send them to the witch’s house and figured they’d never come back. Why the dad doesn’t stop this doesn’t make any sense, but I’ve mentioned before how useless father’s are in fairy tales?” So, she sends the kids to her “grandmother’s” house in the woods, a small cottage with chicken legs. She tells them to do whatever the old woman says and they will be happy.

The kids are not fools, so instead they head off to their own grandmother. Their grandmother feels sorry for them, but she tells them she can’t do anything to help. She does give them probably the best fairy tale advice I’ve read, “Be kind and good to everyone; do not speak ill words to any one; do not despise helping the weakest, and always hope that for you, too, there will be the needed help.” After giving them some milk to drink, she sends them on their way, each with a slice of ham and some cookies.

The find the witch’s hut quickly and the witch tells them to come in, promising that if they do everything she asks them well, she will reward them and if not she will eat them. The girl is set to spinning thread and the boy to filling a tub with water using a sieve. They finish their tasks after receiving help from the mice and birds after giving them some cookie crumbs. They give the cat some ham and it tells them how to escape by using a towel and a comb. They need to run away and when they hear the witch following they should drop the towel behind them and a large river will appear. If they hear her again, they should drop the comb and it would turn into a dark wood that would protect them.

The next morning, after the witch left, the kids ran away, making sure to take the towel and comb. The dogs were after them, but they threw them the cookies that were left; the gates did not open themselves, but the children smoothed them with oil; the birch tree near the path almost scratched their eyes out, but the gentle girl fastened a pretty ribbon to it. So they went farther and farther and ran out of the dark forest into the wide, sunny fields. As the witch followed she asked the dogs, gate, and tree why they let the children pass, but they all told the with that the kids had been nice to them where the witch hadn’t. The witch followed the kids, but they used the towel and comb as they had been instructed.

The children go to the father and tell the whole story. He was very angry and sent away the step-mother. From then on, he watched over the twins, making sure they were happy, and never neglected them again.

I love that the father learns the lesson and resolves to take care of his children.

There’s nothing really redeeming about Baba Yaga in this story. Yu can bet she was going to keep giving the kids more and more impossible tasks until they failed and she ate them. We do get another peek at her hut, which I think is a really striking image, with its hen feet  and at the top, in this story, is a rooster’s head.

Thursday’s Tales is a weekly event here at Carol’s Notebook. Fairy tales, folktales, tall tales, even re-tellings, I love them all.


  1. I like that there are many Baba Yaga stories. She’s not some one-off witch, but a reoccurring personality who can be thwarted, but not entirely defeated. I first encountered the character in grade school. Every year we took a field trip to the children’s theater and, in third grade or so, one of the plays was about Baba Yaga. They skipped the skull-topped fence, but the hut with its chicken feet was prominently featured on stage.

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