This tale presents the more familiar image of Baba Yaga — as the evil and potentially cannibalistic monster.
The fact is that’s only one of her aspects, and only when she appears as the antagonist of a female hero. Faced with a male hero, and addressed properly, she becomes a helper — no less dangerous and powerful, but a helper character nonetheless.
The opening to this tale is rather short and dry. There is no elaborate introduction to the magic tale, which is what’s usually expected. Apparently, the day this tale was recorded, the teller of tales was in a succinct mood.
There once lived a man and a woman. The woman died and the man married a second time, but from his first marriage he had a daughter. The mean stepmother didn’t like her, beat her, and tried to think of ways to get rid of her for good.
Once, when the father was away somewhere, the stepmother told the girl: “Go to your step-aunt’s, my sister’s, ask her for a needle and some thread so that I can sew you a shirt.” For that aunt was Baba Yaga with the Bony Leg.
But the girl wasn’t stupid, and first she stopped at her aunt’s.
“Hello, dear aunt!”
“Hello, my darling! What brings you?”
“Mother sent me to her sister’s to ask for a needle and some thread so she can sew me a shirt.”
So her aunt told her what to do. “There will be a birch, dear niece, and it will slap you in the face. You just put a ribbon on it. Then the gates will screech and flap. You just pour some oil on the hinges. The dogs will bite you. You just throw them some bread. The cat will scratch your eyes. You just give it some ham.”
The girl set off. She walked for a long time, and finally arrived.
A small house stood, and Baba Yaga with the Bony Leg sat in it, weaving.
“Hello, dear aunt!”
“Hello, my darling!”
“Mother sent me to ask for a needle and some thread so she can sew me a shirt.”
“All right, well for now, sit down and do some weaving.”
So the girl sat at the weaving loom, and Baba Yaga left to give order to her maid. “Go, heat up the bathhouse and give my niece a bath, and make sure she’s nice and clean. I want her for my breakfast.”
The girl sat still as a statue, frightened nearly to death, and asked the maid: “Dearest! Don’t spend so much time lighting the wood as pouring water on it, and don’t hurry hauling water, use a seive for it!” And she gave her a kerchief.
Baba Yaga was waiting. She walked up to the window and asked: “Are you weaving, dear niece, are you weaving, my darling?” “Yes, I’m weaving, auntie, I’m weaving, my dearest!”
Baba Yaga stepped away. The girl gave the cat some ham and asked it: “Isn’t there a way to get out of here?”
“Here’s a comb and a towel,” the cat said, “take them and run away; Baba Yaga will run after you. You put your ear to the ground, and as soon as you hear that she’s close, throw the towel first. It will turn into a great wide river. If Baba Yaga crosses the river and starts catching up again, put your ear to the ground again, and as soon as you hear that she’s close, throw the comb. It will turn into a deep, dark forest. She won’t be able to get through it!”
The girl took the towel and the comb and ran. The dogs wanted to tear her to pieces, but she threw them some bread, and they let her pass. The gates wanted to close, but she poured some oil on the hinges, and they let her through. The birch wanted to slap her in the face and blind her, but she tied a ribbon around it, and it let her pass.
Meanwhile, the cat sat at the weaving loom and started weaving. He didn’t weave so much as he tied the threads into knots. Baba Yaga walked up to the window and asked: “Are you weaving, dear niece, are you weaving, my darling?”
“Yes, I’m weaving, auntie, I’m weaving, my dearest,” the cat answered in his rough voice.
Baba Yaga ran into the house. She saw that the girl was gone, and the started hitting the cat and yell at him — why didn’t he scratch out her eyes?
“How many years have I served you,” the cat said, “you never even gave me a bone, and she gave me some ham.”
Baba Yaga became furious at the dogs, the gate, the birch, and the maid, and she started hitting and beating them.
The dogs told her: “How many years have we served you, you never even gave us a burnt crust, and she gave us some bread.”
The gate said: “How many years have I served you, you never even poured water on my hinges, and she poured oil on them.”
The birch said: “How many years have I served you, you never even tied a string around me, and she tied a ribbon.”
The maid said: “How many years have I served you, you never even gave me a rag, and she gave me a kerchief.”
Baba Yaga with the Bony Leg quickly sat in her mortar, hurried it along with the pestle, and swept her trail with a broom, and set off on the trail of the girl.
The girl put her ear to the ground, and heard that Baba Yaga was chasing after her, and that she was close already. She threw the towel. It turned into a great wide river. If Baba Yaga arrived at the river and she gnashed her teeth in anger. She returned home, gathered her bulls, and brought them to the river. The bulls drank up the entire river until it was dry. Baba Yaga set off once again in pursuit.
The girl put her ear to the ground again, and heard that Baba Yaga was close. She threw the comb. It turned into a deep, frightening forest. Baba Yaga began gnawing on it, but try as she may, she couldn’t gnaw through it. She turned around and went home.
Meanwhile, the man returned home and asked: “Where is my daughter?”
“She went to visit her aunt,” the stepmother said.
A little later, the girl arrived home.
“Where were you?” her father asked her.
“Oh, daddy!” she said. “This is the way it was. Mother sent me to my aunt’s to get a needle and some thread to sew me a shirt, but her aunt turned out to be Baba Yaga, and she wanted to eat me.”
“How did you get away, daughter?”
So the girl told him. As soon as the man found out everything, he became very angry at his wife and shot her to death. From then on, he lived happily ever after with his daughter, and amassed a great fortune.
And I was there, and I drank mead and beer: it ran down my mustache, but didn’t get into my mouth.