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Baba Yaga: The Witch Of Russian Folklore

Written by NJames
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Stories about witches have been passed down from generation to generation. We're all familiar with the evil witch from The Wizard of Oz, the old hag from the story, Hansel and Gretel, and of course, the evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. While these characters are terrifying in their own unique ways, none of them are as evil as Baba Yaga.

Originating from Russia, Baba Yaga is the story of an old witch with sharp, iron teeth who wanders the dark woods at night in search of lost travelers and small children to eat. In many variations, Baba Yaga prefers to eat children because they're easier to catch. As the story travels from person to person—like any story does—the details change, but one aspect remains the same: the witch lives in a hut that stands on chicken feet. While the legend of Baba Yaga ("The Bony-Legged One" in Russian), is well-known, parents also find the character handy in order to stop their children from misbehaving, or wandering away from home.

Joanna Cole, a beloved children's author, wrote a story in 1983 called Bony-Legs. Based on the tale of Baba Yaga, the story introduced the witch to its young audience without being too graphic or scary; most of the information found is inappropriate for children, and is even capable of making adults cringe. Bony-Legs gave parents a mild, entertaining story without causing them to worry about nightmares. The scariest part of the book is the creepy, yet silly illustration of the villain. Even as a children's book, the character is described as a witch who "likes to eat little children." The action is attempted but never depicted: this is a children's book, of course. The author took a scary story, and made it family-friendly, which is not an easy task. The little girl, Sasha, must find a way to escape Bony-Legs (and her strange hut), before it's too late. In Joanna Cole's story, the girl befriends a talking cat and dog, and even a talking gate who help her get away because of her kindness. In some versions, Baba Yaga does have a talking animal that assists the child in distress, which tames the story for young readers.

Baba Yaga has been told in many different ways. There are a few stories in which the character isn't a villain at all, but a kind-hearted old woman who helps aid weary travelers. Patricia Polacco wrote the book, Babushka Baba Yaga, in which the character is a lonely old woman desperate for a child of her own. In the original tale, Baba Yaga is a hideous old witch in search of her next meal, however, most parents and educators would prefer the safer stories. While Baba Yaga is only a story, there is a moral to be found: never let your children wander far from home, or harm will come their way.


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