Baba Yaga, originally titled “Tereshichka,” is a whimsical story from a collection of Russian fairy tales published in 1866. The Russian stories were gathered by Aleksandr Afanas’ev, who was considered the Russian counterpart of the Grimm Brothers. Afanas’ev was a lawyer by education and his collection of folklore was instrumental in introducing Russian popular tales to world literature.
In Slavic folklore, Baba Yaga is a boney, iron-toothed witch, with an appetite for human flesh. She flies around in a mortar, prodding it on with a pestle, and sweeping her tracks away with a broom. Baba Yaga dwells in a forest and lives in a hut, which stands on chicken legs. She may hurt or hinder the hero of the story depending on which tale is told.
(Russian Fairy Tale)
An old man and his wife led a miserable existence. They had lived together all of their lives, yet had no children. In their younger days they had managed somehow to struggle along; but now that they were old there was no one to give them drink, and they grieved and lamented. One day they cut a little block of wood, wrapped it in swaddling clothes, put it in a little cradle, and began to rock it and sing lullabies to it; and in place of the block of wood there began to grow in the swaddling clothes a little son, Tereshichka, a real little jewel.
The boy grew and grew and reached the age of reason. His father made him a little boat. Tereshichka went to catch fish and his mother brought him milk and curd cheese. She would go to the shore and call, “Tereshichka, my little son, sail, sail to the little shore; I, your mother, have brought you milk.”
Tereshichka would hear her voice from afar, sail to the shore, pour out his catch of fish, eat and drink, and go back to fish again. One day his mother told him, “My darling little son, be careful, Baba Yaga, the witch is after you; do not fall into her clutches.” Having said this she left.
Baba Yaga came to the shore and called in a terrible voice, “Tereshichka, my little son, sail, sail to the shore; I, your mother, have brought you milk.”
But Tereshichka was not deceived and said, “Sail farther, farther, my little boat! This is not the voice of my dear mother, but that of Baba Yaga, the wicked witch!”
Baba Yaga heard him, ran away, and got herself a voice like that of the little boy’s mother. The witch came back, and chanted in the voice she acquired, exactly like his own mother, “Tereshichka, my little son, sail, sail to the shore; I, your mother, have brought you milk.” Tereshichka was deceived and came close to the shore; she snatched him, put him in a bag, and darted off.
She came to a little hut on chicken legs, told her daughter to roast him, and left to steal other treasure. Tereshichka was not a fool; he did not let the girl hurt him. Instead, he put her to roast in the oven and climbed up a tall oak.
Baba Yaga came back, jumped into the house, ate and drank, went out into the courtyard, rolled and wallowed, and said, “I will roll and wallow, having eaten of the boy’s flesh!” And he cried to her from the oak, “Roll, witch, wallow, witch, having eaten your daughter’s flesh.” She heard him, raised her head, looking in all directions, but there was no one to be seen anywhere!
Again she intoned, “I will roll and wallow, having eaten of the Tereshichka’s flesh!” And he again answered, “Roll, witch, wallow, witch, having eaten your daughter’s flesh.” She took fright, looked up, and saw him in the tall oak.
Baba Yaga clung to the tree and sank her iron teeth into it. She gnawed the trunk and the tree cracked. Gray geese flew from the crack to the sky. Tereshichka saw that he was in trouble, beheld the geese, and began to implore them:
Geese, gray geese, take me with you!
Take me on your wings
To my father, to my mother,
They will give you food and drink.
“Qua-Qua!” answered the geese. “A little plucked goose is following us, he will take you home!” Meanwhile the witch was gnawing so the splinters flew, and the oak cracked and shook. The witch would bite a while, then look at Tereshichka, lick her lips, and gnaw the tree again; any time now he would fall down. Fortunately, the little plucked goose came, flapped his wings, and Tereshichka implored him.
The little plucked goose pitied him. They flew to the window of his own father’s house and sat on the grass. Meanwhile the old woman had fried pancakes and had invited guests, and was serving the boy’s funeral repast, saying: “This pancake is for you, my little guest, and this one for you, my husband, and this one for me.”
Tereshichka said beneath the window, “And which one is for me?”
The old man went out, saw Tereshichka, took him in his arms, brought him to his mother – and hearty embraces were exchanged all around. As for the little plucked goose, he was given food and drink and set free. And thereafter he spread his wings wide, flew at the head of the flock, and remembered how he rescued Tereshichka.
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