Baba Yaga

Here’s a snack for you. And a hint. But the hint, is, well, very hint-like. I’ve mentioned off and on that I’m writing a book based in Russia, so this week I’ve decided to write on a Russian folk tale. Well, Russian folk tale character.

In my research of this omniscient character, the story of Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Fair seems to be the most well-known and researched upon. The character Baba Yaga spans more than her most famous story, however, and she is often written as, not a who, but a what. In various Russian folk tales, Baba Yaga is not a name, but a classification of a crone living in nature. She is written as, not Baba Yaga, but a, or the Baba Yaga. As though there are many of her, or many look-a-likes which reminds me of the witch Yubaba in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. But I’m trying not to digress, as a character with miscellaneous same-faces deserves attention. I say Baba Yaga is not an individual merely because of the way she is introduced to the reader. In Vasilisa the Fair, whenever the witch speaks, it is written as “said the Baba Yaga,” the same goes for the story of Marya Morevna. Baba Yaga is not a name, but a title to describe the indescribable, which would naturally be a problem when speaking of something that is omniscient, omnipotent, and, seemingly, ubiquitous. After all, how can a single creature live in the forest in a home atop chicken legs and a volcano? So, there is no one, single story I am writing about today. Instead, I’m focusing on one character archetype, the Baba Yaga, who owns this archetype with her many twin sisters.

As I was browsing for what others thought on this character, I came across an article stating many scholars believe Baba Yaga is unclassifiable. She cannot be a villain as she has be known to help many of the characters she comes across, take Vasilisa the Fair, for example. She cannot be a mother nature figure, as nature often turns against her, see the story Marya Morevna. She isn’t a death character because she often dies, which is also why I say there must be many of her (unless she’s like Kenny from South Park, but again! Staying on track). So what does that make her? And do we have to classify her? The obvious answer to the latter is no. Of course we don’t have to classify her, she can just be a character who poses as an obstacle which the main character eventually conquers. But she could be pivotal. Which is why she continuously appears in Russian folk tales. For this reason, I am going to —very creatively— call her the pivotal obstacle.

Sure, you may argue that, like life, every obstacle is pivotal. I would agree with you. However, Baba Yaga is the boss character —God, my lack of digressing has caused all sorts of comparisons, hasn’t it?— a culmination of each obstacle the character has faced up until that point. She may not be the last, but defeating or escaping her is what turns the character’s tale. Obviously, if the character can’t defeat her, they’ll most likely get eaten (I forgot to mention that, she likes to eat people) but if they can —and to my knowledge, they all have— they’ve already won. They defeated an omniscient creature who alludes to seeing the past and future, knowing people’s names, and even her foe’s greatest desires. How is it then, she can be defeated? Most often, it is with the help of talking animals, or enchanted dolls, never alone. If we know fairytales were meant to convey foundational messages to whomever listened, what can be gleaned of this character and her appearances? And that she always needs help to be defeated?
Do you see why she could be the pivotal obstacle?

 

Thank you for reading 🙂

-M

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