Today, we’re going to take a look at a Russian folk tale that starts off rather familiar, but then goes completey off the rails.
So, to start off with, we have a merchant and his wife. The two of them have a beautiful daughter named Vasilisa. One day, when Vasilisa is about eight, her mom comes down with an unspecified illness and dies.
Before dying, though, she hands her daughter a doll, and tells her to feed it whenever she needs help. Turns out that the doll is magical and comes to life whenever she gives it food or drink. This comes in very handy later in the tale.
Some time passes, and the merchant decides it’s time for him to find himself another wife. He meets a wido with two daughters, they hit it off, and eventually get married.
And then they live happily every after.
Just kidding, the stepmother and stepsisters proceed to make Vasilisa’s life hell, basically making her a slave in her own home. Why the dad doesn’t put a stop to it, I don’t know, but let’s move on.
Some more time passes, and Vasilisa grows up to be, you guessed it, beautiful. This leads to her getting a lot of male attention, whcih pisses off the stepmother to no end because no one even looks at her own daughters. So, as you can imagine, she decides to plot her stepdaughter’s death.
She gets her chance when her husband leaves for an extended business trip. As soon as he’s out the door, she gathers the other three up and heads to a house at the edge of a very dark, very intimidating forest. Specifically, it’s the forest of the fearsome Baba Yaga.
For context, Baba Yaga is a prominent figure in Slavic folklore. She’sa forest witch with a mobile house and a penchant for eating people. In other words, not really someone you’d want to encounter.
One day, the stepmother and stepsisters blow out all the candles in the house. They’re all like, “Whoops, we have no way to relight these candles. Vasilisa, head out to the woods and see if Baba Yaga has a light.”
Before they can protest, they shove her out the door and shut it. With no real options, Vasilisa heads out into the woods.
While on her way, she comes across three dudes: one in white on a white horse, one in red on a red horse, and a third in black on a black horse. The last one she sees when she comes across Baba Yaga’s hut. Which is decorated with human bones, including a whole bunch of glowing skulls.
Vasilisa is rooted to the spot with fear, so just stands there up until Baba Yaga actually comes home. Baba Yaga asks her why she’s standing in front of her house, and Vasilisa gives her the rundown on her predicament.
Baba Yaga thinks for a moment, then says, “OK, I’ll give you a light if you do some household chores, then spearate out dirts specks from my wheat and poppy seeds. If you fail, I’ll just eat you.”
Vasilisa agrees, and Baba Yaga goes to bed, at which point Vasilisa gives her doll a snack. it wakes up and is like, “Don’t worry, girl, I got this.”
The next day, Baba Yaga leaves to do whatever it is she does, and Vasilisa and the doll get to work. Amazingly, between the two of them, they manage to finish it all before she returns home.
Baba Yaga is disppaointed by this, but knows when she’s beat. She summons three pairs of disembodied hands to take the poppy seeds and wheat before handing Vasilisa one of her skulls to use as a light.
She then asks the girl if she has any questions, and Vasilisa asks about the three horsemen she saw. Baba Yaga explains that they’re the day, the sun, and the night respectively, then asks if she has anything else she wants to ask. Vasilisa is about to ask about the hands, but then decides that she doesn’t really want to know and says, “Nope, I’m good.”
Baba Yaga then asks how Vasilisa managed to finish her tasks so quickly, and she responds that it was through her mother’s blessing. Baba Yaga responds, “Nope, don’t want no blessings around here,” before telling Vasilisa to GTFO.
Vasilisa, skull in hand, makes it back to her house. Instead of lighting the candlles, though, the skull ends up incinerating her stepmother and stepsisters. Which is pretty hardcore.
With her problems murdered, Vasilisa buries the skull. She then heads into town, where she apprentices herself to a weaver and ends up marrying the tsar.
So, as you can see, there are a number of similaries between this story and the tale of Cinderella. If Cinderella didn’t fuck around wiith the shoe nonsense and just straight up killed her horrible family.
Which is pretty god damned metal if you think about it, and totally fitting for Russia.
(So, fun fact: my job is furloughed indefinitely because of the pandemic! Whee! What that means is I have no idea when I’ll be getting my next paycheck. Fortunately, I have Patreon and Ko-Fi, so if you’d like to support the blog, thtat’s where you’d do it. Thanks!)