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21 February 2015

Baba Yaga - the Current Hot Paranormal

Have you noticed lately how many books are out with Baba Yaga as the protagonist?  First, you ask, who or what is Baba Yaga?  I leave it to Wikipedia to tell you all the skinny, but in short, she is a supernatural being from the Russian (or Slavic, per Wikipedia) tradition.  As with any folktale, there are conflicting as well as common elements: good/evil, old, ugly, child-eater/finder-of-lost-children, benefactor/help-of-last-resort, living in a hut in the forest which moves around on chicken feet/flying around in a mortar with a pestle as tiller, a single old woman/three sisters with the same name, etc.  And, there is some story involving an egg.  These elements are ripe for reinvention.

I have read recent books by three authors that do just that:

Toby Barlow's Babayaga: A Tale of Witches in Paris clearly establishes that there are more than one Baba Yaga and they can be young, old or very young, but that's all relative, because they live a very long time.  And, actually, they are taken in by a Baba Yaga before them and trained.  So, yes, there are more than one Baba Yaga, and sisters in fate if not blood. A twist here is the policeman who is turned into a flea, but perseveres in his job of investigating the bizarre death by impalement on a curved piece of wrought iron fencing.  The Baba Yaga of Barlow's interpretation are selfish, greedy women who love creature comforts and exploit mere humans, especially men, and will kill (or turn them into fleas) with no hesitation when they feel threatened by human curiosity.

Another version of multiple Baba Yaga by Deborah Blake is also a witchy sisterhood of sorts, in which Baba Yaga is the honored title of magical do-gooders.  And because they can't do everything themselves, they're organized by region and they have dragons transformed into large talking dogs as wise sidekicks and bad bikers helping with the heavy lifting.  This is a romance series with the tagline "A Baba Yaga Novel," each title starting with "Wickedly" and about a different Baba Yaga -- Barbara Yager, Beka Yancy, ...

Gregory Maguire, of Wicked and Out of Oz, writes a more traditional version of Baba Yaga, from the point of view of a monk imprisoned in a tower who writes the story Scheherazade-like as daily letters to the Tsar to keep himself alive and maybe eventually released through his entertaining efforts.  We are not told when this story is, but we know that it's in Tsarist Russia when the court was in St Petersburg and there were trains powered by steam engines.  And, there's a Faberge egg.  Shall we say turn of the 20th century?  There's a Baba Yaga with many of the traditional elements -- an old woman suspiciously wanting a girl to drink borscht which is delicious as a marinade from the inside.

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