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Annotations for Baba Yaga

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By Any Other Name An Overview of the Russian Fairy Tale in the Fantastic Traditions of the East and West by Helen Pilinovsky

Russian Fairy Tales, Part II: Baba Yaga's Domain by Helen Pilinovsky



The annotations for the Baba Yaga fairy tale are below. Sources have been cited in parenthetical references, but I have not linked them directly to their full citations which appear on the Baba Yaga Bibliography page. I have provided links back to the Annotated Baba Yaga to facilitate referencing between the notes and the tale.

These annotations are not completed yet, but will hopefully be finished in the near future.

1. Vasilissa the Beautiful: Vasilissa, also known as Vasilisa, is a common and often generic name of heroines in Russian fairy tales, similar to Gretel in German tales.
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2. Tsardom: From the American Heritage Dictionary (available on TheFreeDictionary.com):

czardom n. Usage Note: The word czar can also be spelled tsar. Czar is the most common form in American usage and the one nearly always employed in the extended senses "any tyrant" or informally, "one in authority." But tsar is preferred by most scholars of Slavic studies as a more accurate transliteration of the Russian and is often found in scholarly writing with reference to one of the Russian emperors.

czar 1. also tsar or tzar (zär, tsär) A male monarch or emperor, especially one of the emperors who ruled Russia until the revolution of 1917.

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3. A merchant: Note that Vasilissa is not a peasant, but is of the middle to upper class as the daughter of a merchant. This tale, like many Cinderella stories, is a riches to rags to riches story. Beauty in Beauty and the Beast is the daughter of a merchant also.
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4. She must die: Protagonists with dead mothers are common in fairy tales, such as Cinderella, Snow White, Donkeyskin and Hansel and Gretel.
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5. Wooden doll: Maria Tarar writes:

Whereas Cinderella and her folkloric cousins usually receive assistance from nature (trees, fish, brooks) or from a fairy godmother, Vasilisa is given a cultural artifact, a figure that can be seen as a miniaturized version of herself or as a symbolic form of her mother. While the doll protects and helps Vasilisa, it is also something to be nurtured and cared for, thus strengthening the fact of her own agency in escaping from villainy at home (Tatar 173).

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6. Give it something to eat and drink. It will eat and drink a little, and then thou mayest tell it thy trouble and ask its advice, and it will tell thee how to act in thy time of need:
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7. A cup of kvass: Kvass is:

... a fermented mildly alcoholic beverage popular in Russia, Ukraine and other Eastern European countries. Kvass has been a common drink in Russia since ancient times. It has been both a commercial product and homemade. It is consumed widely in Ukraine, and in almost every city there are kvass vendors on the street.

It is made by the natural fermentation of bread made from wheat, rye, or barley, and sometimes flavoured with fruit, berries, raisins or birch sap, collected in the early spring. For modern homemade kvass, most often black or rye bread is used, usually dried or fried beforehand, with the addition of sugar or fruit (e.g. apples or raisins), and with a yeast culture, zakvasskova ("essence of kvass"), added for fermentation. In strength kvass can be almost non-alcoholic and at its strongest is only around 2.2%. It is often flavoured with fruits or herbs such as strawberries or mint ("Kvass" Wikipedia 2006).

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My dear mother is dead and I am lonely for her

Then the doll's eyes began to shine like fireflies, and suddenly it became alive. It ate a morsel of the bread and took a sip of the kvass, and when it had eaten and drunk, it said:

"Don't weep, little Vasilissa. Grief is worst at night. Lie down, shut thine eyes, comfort thyself and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening."

Now after the death of his wife, the merchant sorrowed for many days as was right, but at the end of that time he began to desire to marry again and to look about him for a suitable wife. This was not difficult to find, for he had a fine house, with a stable of swift horses, besides being

A good man who gave much to the poor

. Of all the women he saw, however, the one who, to his mind, suited him best of all, was a widow of about his own age with two daughters of her own, and she, he thought, besides being a good housekeeper, would be a kind foster mother to his little Vasilissa.

She was a cold, cruel woman, who had desired the merchant for the sake of his wealth, and had no love for his daughter. Vasilissa was the greatest beauty in the whole village, while her own daughters were as spare and homely as two crows, and because of this all three envied and hated her. They gave her all sorts of errands to run and difficult tasks to perform, in order that the toil might make her thin and worn and that her face might grow brown from sun and wind, and they treated her so cruelly as to leave few joys in life for her. But all this the little Vasilissa endured without complaint, and while the stepmother's two daughters grew always thinner and uglier, in spite of the fact that they had no hard tasks to do, never went out in cold or rain, and sat always with their arms folded like ladies of a Court, she herself had cheeks like blood and milk and grew every day more and more beautiful.

Now the reason for this was the tiny doll, without whose help little Vasilissa could never have managed to do all the work that was laid upon her. Each night, when everyone else was sound asleep, she would get up from her bed, take the doll into a closet, and locking the door, give it something to eat and drink, and say: "There, my little doll, take it. Eat a little, drink a little, and listen to my grief. I live in my father's house, but my spiteful stepmother wishes to drive me out of the white world. Tell me! How shall I act, and what shall I do?"

Then the little doll's eyes would begin to shine like glow- worms, and it would become alive. It would eat a little food, and sip a little drink, and then it would comfort her and tell her how to act. While Vasilissa slept, it would get ready all her work for the next day, so that she had only to rest in the shade and gather flowers, for the doll would have the kitchen garden weeded, and the beds of cabbage watered, and plenty of fresh water brought from the well, and the stoves heated exactly right.

How to make, from a certain herb, an ointment which prevented her from ever being sunburnt: Maria Tatar writes:

Vasilisa's chief attribute is her "fairness," and the sun represents the greatest threat to her beauty. For this reason the stepsisters try to force her to work outdoors, where the wind and sun can spoil her perfect complexion" (Tatar 175).

Never shall the younger be wed before the older ones!: Historically, Vasilissa's stepmother is well within her rights and tradition to expect the older daughters to marry before the younger one. Many cultures have

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice

Beating her stepdaughter:

It became necessary for the merchant to leave his home and to travel to a distant Tsardom: Note that while the father has been living with the family during the abuse already described, his departure will allow even more to occur at a greater intensity to the threat of death. Absent fathers--both emotionally and physically--are common in tales of wicked stepmothers and their victimized stepdaughters, such as Cinderella and Snow White.

His wife sold his house, packed all his goods and moved with them to another dwelling:

Edge of a wild forest: "Baba Yaga's domain is the forest, widely acknowledged as a traditional symbol of change and a place of peril, where she acts as either a challenger or a helper to those innocents who venture into her realm" (Pilinovsky, Baba Yaga's Domain, 2004).

"The forest of Baba Yaga symbolizes more than the forest; it is also the otherworld, the 'land of the living dead,' also known as 'the thrice-nine kingdom'" (Pilinovsky, Baba Yaga's Domain, 2004).

Green lawn: A green lawn is not as common deep in a forest where little sunlight reaches the ground to nourish the grass. The green lawn implies a magical clearing where Baba Yaga's hut is found.

A miserable little hut on hens' legs:

My favorite usage of Baba Yaga's hut in modern literature appears in Orson Scott Card's Enchantment, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty using Russian folklore, especially Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga travels to the future, hijacks a 747, and returns to the past where the plane is seen as a hut on chicken legs.

Baba Yaga, an old witch grandmother: Helen Pilinovsky writes: "One of the most well known figures from Russian folklore, Baba Yaga's name can be roughly translated as 'Granny Yaga.' In Russian Myths, Elizabeth Warner notes that Baba Yaga brings many of the dominant themes of Russian fairy tales together: she travels on the wind, occupies the domain of the leshii, the forest spirits, is associated with death, and is an acceptable surrogate for the generic ved'ma, or witch" (Baba Yaga's Domain, 2004).

"...she acts as either a challenger or a helper to those innocents who venture into her realm. In Western tales, these two roles are typically polarized, split into different characters stereotyped as either "witch" or "fairy godmother." Baba Yaga, however, is a complex individual: depending on the circumstances of the specific story, she may choose to use her powers for good or ill" (Baba Yaga's Domain, 2004).

She ate people as one eats chickens: In this tale, Baba Yaga is a cannibal, like the witch in Hansel and Gretel.

She might meet the old witch and be devoured: The stepmother is a passive murderer, trying to bring about Vasilissa's death without committing the physical act of murder herself.

A basket of flax to be spun: Spinning appears in many folktales across Europe as a chore that causes deformities and ugliness, most notably in the Grimms' The Three Spinning Women. In that tale, the lazy heroine's husband forbids her to ever spin again after their marriage when he sees the flat foot, fallen lips and broad thumb of three spinners. Perhaps the stepmother assigns the task to Vasilissa with the hopes of damaging her beauty before sending her to Baba Yaga. It also requires neither the steel pins nor steel needles used by the stepsisters for their tasks, hence setting up the scenario in which Vasilissa will be sent out in search of fire.

"Thou, Vasilissa," they both said, "shalt go and fetch the fire, for thou hast neither steel pins nor silver needles and cannot see to spin thy flax!" They both rose up, pushed Vasilissa out of the house and locked the door, crying:

"Thou shalt not come in till thou hast fetched the fire."

Then the doll's eyes began to shine like two stars and it became alive. It ate a little and said: "Do not fear, little Vasilissa. Go where thou hast been sent. While I am with thee no harm shall come to thee from the old witch." So Vasilissa put the doll back into her pocket, crossed herself and started out into the dark, wild forest.

Whether she walked a short way or a long way the telling is easy, but the journey was hard. The wood was very dark, and she could not help trembling from fear. Suddenly she heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and a man on horseback galloped past her.

He was dressed all in white, the horse under him was milk-white and the harness was white, and just as he passed her it became twilight: The second horseman in red represents day time. Later in the tale, Baba Yaga explains: ""That was my white, bright day."

He was dressed all in red, and the horse under him was blood-red and its harness was red, and just as he passed her the sun rose: The second horseman in red represents the sun. Later in the tale, Baba Yaga explains: "That was my servant, the round, red sun."

The wall around the hut was made of human bones and on its top were skulls. There was a gate in the wall, whose hinges were the bones of human feet and whose locks were jaw- bones set with sharp teeth.

A third man on horseback came galloping up. His face was black, he was dressed all in black, and the horse he rode was coal-black: The third horseman in black represents night. Later in the tale, Baba Yaga explains: "That was my servant, the black, dark night."

She was riding in a great iron mortar and driving it with the pestle, and as she came she swept away her trail behind her with a kitchen broom: "Like the witches of other cultures, her [Baba Yaga's] preferred method of transportation is an implement commonly used for household labor, though unlike the witches of the West, rather than traveling upon a broom, she chooses to ride in a mortar, rowing with a pestle, and using a broom to sweep away the tracks that she leaves" (Pilinovsky, Baba Yaga's Domain, 2004).

Little House, little House, Stand the way thy mother placed thee, Turn thy back to the forest and thy face to me!: This refrain is not unique to the tale. Different characters in other tales with Baba Yaga use a similar device to enter her hut or she uses it herself as she does in this instance.

"Izboushka, Izboushka! turn thy back to the forest and thy front to us!" (Izba, a hut. Izboushka, a tiny hut.) is an example from: Blumenthal, Verra Xenophontovna Kalamatiano de. "Baba Yaga." Folk Tales from the Russian. New York: Rand McNally & Co., 1903.:

"Foo! Foo! I smell a smell that is Russian. Who is here?": Reminiscent of the giant's smelling of Jack in Jack and the Beanstalk.

Vasilissa, in great fright, came nearer to the old woman and bowing very low, said: "It is only Vasilissa, grand mother. My stepmother's daughters sent me to thee to borrow some fire."

"Well," said the old witch, "I know them. But if I give thee the fire thou shalt stay with me some time and do some work to pay for it.

Eaten for my supper:

." Then she turned to the gate and shouted: "Ho! Ye, my solid locks, unlock! Thou, my stout gate, open!" Instantly the locks unlocked, the gate opened of itself, and the Baba Yaga rode in whistling. Vasilissa entered behind her and immediately the gate shut again and the locks snapped tight.

When they had entered the hut the old witch threw her self down on the stove, stretched out her bony legs and said:

"Come, fetch and put on the table at once everything that is in the oven. I am hungry." So Vasilissa ran and lighted a splinter of wood from one of the skulls on the wall and took the food from the oven and set it before her. There was enough cooked meat for three strong men. She brought also from the cellar kvass, honey, and red wine, and the Baba Yaga

Ate and drank the whole: A healthy appetite implies strength.

, leaving the girl only a little cabbage soup, a crust of bread and a morsel of suckling pig.

When her hunger was satisfied, the old witch, growing drowsy, lay down on the stove and said: "Listen to me well, and do what I bid thee. Tomorrow when I drive away, do thou clean the yard, sweep the floors and cook my supper. Then

Take a quarter of a measure of wheat from my store house and pick out of it all the black grains and the wild peas: Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

This is a theme to be found in many Cinderella fairy tales and also comes in Amor and Psyche. It is a typical task in mythology for the heroine. Separating the good from the bad grains is a work of patience, which can neither be rushed into nor speeded up. (1972)

. Mind thou dost all that I have bade; if not, thou shalt be eaten for my supper."

Then she went into the corner, took the tiny doll from her pocket, put before it a bit of bread and a little cabbage soup that she had saved, burst into tears and said:

A difficult task

and if I do not do all she has bade, she will eat me tomorrow. Tell me: What shall I do?"

Then the eyes of the little doll began to shine like two candles. It ate a little of the bread and drank a little of the soup and said: "Do not be afraid, Vasilissa the Beautiful. Be comforted. Say thy prayers, and go to sleep. The morning is wiser than the evening." So Vasilissa trusted the little doll and was comforted. She said her prayers, lay down on the floor and went fast asleep.

Then the Baba Yaga shouted: "Ho! Ye, my solid locks, unlock! Thou, my stout gate, open!" And the locks unlocked and the gate opened and she rode away in the mortar, driving with the pestle and sweeping away her path behind her with the broom.

When Vasilissa found herself left alone, she examined the hut, wondering to find it filled with such an abundance of everything. Then she stood still, remembering all the work that she had been bidden to do and wondering what to begin first. But as she looked she rubbed her eyes, for the yard was already neatly cleaned and the floors were nicely swept, and the little doll was sitting in the storehouse picking the last black grains and wild peas out of the quarter- measure of wheat.

Vasilissa ran and took the little doll in her arms. "My dearest little doll!" she cried. "Thou hast saved me from my trouble! Now I have only to cook the Baba Yaga's sup per, since all the rest of the tasks are done!"

"Cook it, with God's help," said the doll, "and then rest, and may the cooking of it make thee healthy!" And so saying it crept into her pocket and became again only a little wooden doll.

So Vasilissa rested all day and was refreshed; and when it grew toward evening she laid the table for the old witch's supper, and sat looking out of the window, waiting for her coming. After awhile she heard the sound of a horse's hoofs and the man in black, on the coal-black horse, galloped up to the wall gate and disappeared like a great dark shadow, and instantly it became quite dark and the eyes of all the skulls began to glitter and shine.
Then all at once the trees of the forest began to creak and groan and the leaves and the bushes to moan and sigh, and the Baba Yaga came riding out of the dark wood in the huge iron mortar, driving with the pestle and sweeping out the trail behind her with the kitchen broom. Vasilissa let her in; and the witch, smelling all around her, asked:

"Well, hast thou done perfectly all the tasks I gave thee to do, or am I to eat thee for my supper?"

"Be so good as to look for thyself, grandmother," answered Vasilissa.

The Baba Yaga went all about the place, tapping with her iron pestle, and carefully examining everything. But so well had the little doll done its work that, try as hard as she might, she could not find anything to complain of. There was not a weed left in the yard, nor a speck of dust on the floors, nor a single black grain or wild pea in the wheat.

The old witch was greatly angered, but was obliged to pretend to be pleased. "Well," she said, "thou hast done all well." Then, clapping her hands, she shouted: "Ho! my faithful servants! Friends of my heart! Haste and grind my wheat!" Immediately

three pairs of hands appeared

The Baba Yaga sat down to supper, and Vasilissa put before her all the food from the oven, with kvass, honey, and red wine. The old witch ate it, bones and all, almost to the last morsel, enough for four strong men, and then, growing drowsy, stretched her bony legs on the stove and said: "Tomorrow do as thou hast done today, and besides these tasks take from my storehouse a half-measure of poppy seeds and clean them one by one. Someone has mixed earth with them to do me a mischief and to anger me, and I will have them made perfectly clean." So saying she turned to the wall and soon began to snore.

When she was fast asleep Vasilissa went into the corner, took the little doll from her pocket, set before it a part of the food that was left and asked its advice. And the doll, when it had become alive, and eaten a little food and sipped a little drink, said: "Don't worry, beautiful Vasilissa! Be comforted. Do as thou didst last night: say thy prayers and go to sleep." So Vasilissa was comforted. She said her prayers and went to sleep and did not wake till next morning when she heard the old witch in the yard whistling. She ran to the window just in time to see her take her place in the big iron mortar, and as she did so the man dressed all in red, riding on the blood red horse, leaped over the wall and was gone, just as the sun rose over the wild forest.

As it had happened on the first morning, so it happened now. When Vasilissa looked she found that the little doll had finished all the tasks excepting the cooking of the sup per. The yard was swept and in order, the floors were as clean as new wood, and there was not a grain of earth left in the half-measure of poppy seeds. She rested and refreshed herself till the afternoon, when she cooked the supper, and when evening came she laid the table and sat down to wait for the old witch's coming.

Soon the man in black, on the coal-black horse, galloped up to the gate, and the dark fell and the eyes of the skulls began to shine like day; then the ground began to quake, and the trees of the forest began to creak and the dry leaves to rustle, and the Baba Yaga came riding in her iron mortar, driving with her pestle and sweeping away her path with her broom.

When she came in she smelled around her and went all about the hut, tapping with the pestle; but pry and examine as she might, again she could see no reason to find fault and was angrier than ever. She clapped her hands and shouted:

"Ho! my trusty servants! Friends of my soul! Haste and press the oil out of my poppy seeds!" And instantly the three pairs of hands appeared, seized the measure of poppy seeds and carried it away.

Presently the old witch sat down to supper and Vasilissa brought all she had cooked, enough for five grown men, and set it before her, and brought beer and honey, and then she herself stood silently waiting. The Baba Yaga ate and drank it all, every morsel, leaving not so much as a crumb of bread; then she said snappishly: "Well, why dost thou say nothing, but stand there as if thou wast dumb?"

"Well," said the old witch, "only remember that every question does not lead to good. If thou knowest overmuch, thou wilt grow old too soon. What wilt thou ask?": From Wikipedia:

According to some versions of the myths, Baba Yaga ages a year every time someone asks her a question. This is why she is often portrayed as a cranky old hag — she is frustrated and angry about having been asked so many questions. The only way for her to de-age herself is by drinking a special tea she brews from blue roses. Heroes who bring her a gift of blue roses are often granted wishes as reward for their aid ("Baba Yaga" Wikipedia 2006).

"That was my servant, the black, dark night," answered the old witch furiously; "but he also cannot harm thee. Ask me more.": Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

The divine rank of this figure [Baba Yaga] is clearly proved by the fact that she has three riders at her disposition--"My Day," "My Night," and "My Sun." She is a cosmic Godhead. (1972)

But Vasilissa, remembering what the Baba Yaga had said, that not every question led to good, was silent.

"Ask me more!" cried the old witch. "Why dost thou not ask me more? Ask me of the three pairs of hands that serve me!"

"It is well for thee," said the Baba Yaga, "that thou didst not ask of them, but only of what thou didst see outside of this hut. Hadst thou asked of them, my servants, the three pairs of hands would have seized thee also

"The blessing of my dead mother helps me."

"I want no one who bears a blessing to cross my threshold!": Marie-Louise von Franz writes:

...Baba Yaga, who here is almost completely evil, though when she hears that the girl is a "blessed daughter" she tells her she does not want her in her house. So, in a hidden way, she [Baba Yaga] is not thoroughly evil, and sometimes even helpful; she wonderfully portrays the Great Mother in her double aspect.

Vasilissa ran to the yard, and behind her she heard the old witch shouting to the locks and the gate. The locks opened, the gate swung wide, and she ran out on to the lawn. The Baba Yaga seized from the wall one of the skulls with burning eyes and flung it after her. "There," she howled, "is the fire for thy stepmother's daughters. Take it. That is what they sent thee here for, and may they have joy of it!"

Vasilissa put the skull on the end of a stick and darted away through the forest: Ivan Bilibin created a well-known illustration of Vasilissa with the skull on the stick. You can see it here.

Whether she ran a long way or a short way, and whether the road was smooth or rough, towards evening of the next day, when the eyes in the skull were beginning to glimmer, she came out of the dark, wild forest to her stepmother's house.

Now since Vasilissa had gone, the stepmother and her two daughters had had neither fire nor light in all the house. When they struck flint and steel the tinder would not catch. and the fire they brought from the neighbors would go out immediately as soon as they carried it over the threshold, so that they had been unable to light or warm themselves or to cook food to eat. Therefore now, for the first time in her life, Vasilissa found herself welcomed. They opened the door to her and the merchant's wife was greatly rejoiced to find that the light in the skull did not go out as soon as it was brought in. "Maybe the witch's fire will stay," she said, and took the skull into the best room, set it on a candlestick and called her two daughters to admire it.

The merchant's wife and her two wicked daughters took fire and were burned to ashes:

dug a deep hole in the ground and buried the skull

Old woman who was poor and childless: Maria Tatar writes:

The crone in this final episode represents another surrogate mother, one who brings Vasilisa's skills as a spinner and seamstress to the attention of the tsar. The host of maternal figures and maternal substitutes strengthens the argument that 'Vasilisa the Fair' is about the empowerment of the daughter through the mother" (Tatar 183).

My hands want work to do:

Flax: From Wikipedia:

Flax is grown both for seed and for fibre. Various parts of the plant have been used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets and soap. In addition to the plant itself, flax may refer to the unspun fibres of the flax plant.

Flax fibre is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of flax plant. Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fibre is also a raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the use of printed banknotes and rolling paper for cigarettes ("Flax" Wikipedia 2006).

Vasilissa sat down to work: Note that while the doll performed most of the tasks for her in the earlier part of the story, Vasilissa performs her own work in making the linen and subsequent clothing for the tsar. The doll provides aid in building the frame upon which to weave the linen, but Vasilissa does the rest of the work herself. Her impeccable work, suited only for a tsar, demonstrates her domestic qualities and worthiness to be a wife.

. So well did she spin that the thread came out as even and fine as a hair, and presently there was enough to begin to weave. But so fine was the thread that no frame could be found to weave it upon, nor would any weaver undertake to make one.

Then Vasilissa went into her closet, took the little doll from her pocket, set food and drink before it and asked its help. And after it had eaten a little and drunk a little, the doll became alive and said: "Bring me an old frame and an old basket and some hairs from a horse's mane, and I will arrange everything for thee." Vasilissa hastened to fetch all the doll had asked for and when evening came, said her prayers, went to sleep, and in the morning she found ready a frame, perfectly made, to weave her fine thread upon.

Linen: From Wikipedia:

Linen fabrics have a high natural luster and their natural color ranges between shades of ivory, tan, or grey. Pure white linen is created by heavy bleaching which is not good for the fabric. Linen typically has a thick and thin character with a crisp and textured feel to it, but can range from stiff and rough to soft and smooth. When adequately prepared, linen has the ability to absorb and lose water rapidly. It can gain up to 20% moisture without feeling damp. When freed from impurities it is highly absorbent and will quickly remove perspiration from the skin. Linen is a stiff fabric and is less likely to cling to the skin and when it billows away it tends to dry out and become cool so that the skin is being continually touched by a cool surface. It is a very durable, strong fabric and one of the few ones that are stronger wet than dry. It does not stretch and is resistant to damage from abrasion. However, because it has very low elasticity it can break if it is folded at the same place repeatedly. Mildew, perspiration, and bleach can also damage the fabric, but it is resistant to moths and carpet beetles. Linen is relatively easy to take care of since it resists dirt and stains, has no lint or pilling tendencies and can be dry cleaned, machine washed or steamed. It can withstand high temperatures and only has some moderate initial shrinkage. A characteristic often associated with linen yarn is the presence of "slubs", or small knots that occur randomly along its length. However, these are actually defects associated with low quality. The finest linen has a very consistent diameter with no slubs ("Linen" Wikipedia 2006).

of a texture so fine that it could be passed, like thread, through the eye of a needle. When the spring came she bleached it, so white that no snow could be compared with it. Then she said to the old woman: "Take thou the linen to the market, grandmothers and sell it, and the money shall suffice to pay for my food and lodging." When the old woman examined the linen, however, she said:

"Never will I sell such cloth in the market place; no one should wear it except it be the Tsar himself, and tomorrow I shall carry it to the Palace."

Next day, accordingly, the old woman went to the Tsar's splendid Palace and fell to walking up and down before the windows. The servants came to ask her her errand but she answered them nothing, and kept walking up and down. At length the Tsar opened his window, and asked: "What dost thou want, old woman, that thou walkest here?"

"O Tsar's Majesty" the old woman answered, "I have with me a marvelous piece of linen stuff, so wondrously woven that I will show it to none but thee."

The Tsar bade them bring her before him and when he saw the linen he was struck with astonishment at its fineness and beauty. "What wilt thou take for it, old woman?" he asked.

Seamstresses were called to make shirts for him out of the cloth; but when it had been cut up, so fine was it that no one of them was deft and skillful enough to sew it. The best seamstresses in all the Tsardom were summoned but none dared undertake it. So at last the Tsar sent for the old woman and said: "If thou didst know how to spin such thread and weave such linen, thou must also know how to sew me shirts from it."

And the old woman answered: "O Tsar's Majesty, it was not I who wove the linen; it is the work of my adopted daughter."

"Take it, then," the Tsar said, "and bid her do it for me." The old woman brought the linen home and told Vasilissa the Tsar's command: "Well I knew that the work would needs be done by my own hands," said Vasilissa, and, locking herself in her own room, began to make the shirts. So fast and well did she work that soon a dozen were ready. Then the old woman carried them to the Tsar, while Vasilissa washed her face, dressed her hair, put on her best gown and sat down at the window to see what would happen. And presently a servant in the livery of the Palace came to the house and entering, said: "The Tsar, our lord, desires himself to see the clever needlewoman who has made his shirts and to reward her with his own hands."

Vasilissa rose and went at once to the Palace, and as soon as the Tsar saw her, he fell in love with her with all his soul. He took her by her white hand and made her sit beside him. "Beautiful maiden," he said, "never will I part from thee and thou shalt be my wife."

So the Tsar and Vasilissa the Beautiful were married, and her father returned from the far-distant Tsardom, and he and the old woman lived always with her in the splendid Palace, in all joy and contentment. And as for the little wooden doll, she carried it about with her in her pocket all her life long.


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Baba Yaga: The Wild Witch of the East in Russian Fairy Tales

Baba Yaga by Andreas Johns

A Question of Magic by E. D. Baker

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

A Long, Long Time Ago and Essentially True

Dreaming Anastasia by Joy Preble

A Question of Magic by E. D. Baker

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg

Baba Yaga and Vasilisa the Brave  by Marianna Mayer illustrated by Kinuko Y. Craft

The Flying Witch by Jane Yolen

Baba Yaga by Eric A. Kimmel

Babushka Baba Yaga by Patricia Polacco

Baba Yaga illustrated by Paul Zelinsky

Alice Nizzy Nazzy by Tony Johnston

Baba Yaga  and the Wise Doll

A Perfect Pork Stew


The Dream Stealer by Gregory Maguire

The Black Geese

Baba Yaga by Katya Arnold

Baba Yaga

The Tzar's Bird by Ann Tompert

The Russian Folktale by Vladimir Yakovlevich Propp (Series in Fairy-Tale Studies)


©Heidi Anne Heiner, SurLaLune Fairy Tales
Page created 1/2005; Last updated 7/25/2013