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Literature: Baba Yaga
Baba-Yaga (Баба Яга in Russian and also translated Baba Jaga) is a witch-like character in Slavic folklore. She flies around using a giant mortar and pestle, kidnaps (and presumably eats) small children, and lives in a forest hut, which stands on chicken legs. In modern days, she is often depicted not as a villainous, but simply a sociopathic or even gentle and friendly person. And in almost any tale she is very knowledgeable. The 'Baba' word can be translated as impolite 'old woman' or 'big woman' or simply 'woman' — usually the first one is correct for this trope; while 'Yaga' is a form of a certain name, it is thought to be a corruption of Slavic root for 'hag', making 'Baba Yaga' mean something like 'old hag', or perhaps 'hag hag'. Baba Yaga is depicted as an old, knowledgeable, and geeky character with mystical servants.

She is a common antagonist in Slavic folklore, known for kidnapping and eating children (and serving as a cautionary tale for small children against wandering off or talking to strangers). Some tales alternatively revolve around characters seeking her out for her wisdom or having her offer guidance to lost souls, though they are notably less in number. She features in Vasilissa the Beautiful.

The character of Baba Yaga has made dozens of appearances in popular culture and modern works including Orson Scott Card's novel Enchantment, the Fables and Hellboy comic series, innumerable Russian cartoons and tales, Runescape, Quest for Glory, Pathfinder, Bartok the Magnificent, and (as "Barbara Jagger") Alan Wake. Baba Yaga is also a brand of beer from the Massachusetts-based brewery.

Associated tropes:

  • All Witches Have Cats: Has one, at least in some stories. But she has other animals as well.
  • Bizarrchitecture: Baba Yaga's chicken-legged home. It even apparently moves.
    • Truth in Television: The Sami evidently used this style of architecture.
      • This architecture style is called nili and it is usually used for storages and barns, to prevent animals from reaching foodstuffs stored inside and stealing them. The legs are usually made from pine stumps and either tarred or smoked to prevent them from rotting.
    • Alternatively, the odd look of her house is connected to the Slavic tradition of putting some of the wooden houses on stumps with chopped off roots to prevent the wood from rotting.
    • Another alternative version is that her house is sort of a watchtower between the human world and the world of spirits. This is why the hero or heroine will sometimes say "Hut, hut, turn your back to the forest and your facade to me". Because the forest is a straight way to the underworld. And guess in the middle of what Baba-Yaga lives?
    • One more version suggests that her house is actually a "domovina" - a special type of building that was put on the high stump with roots where ancient Slavic people used to bury their dead. Also domovinas had no doors and no windows so that a) the dead couldn't return to the world of living b) so that the living didn't disturb the dead for no good reason c)so that no element was tainted. This makes Baba-Yaga a priestess who leads the rite of cremation.
  • Black Magic
  • Cool Old Lady: In the stories where she is a helpful character rather than the villain.
    • This is often explained by there being multiple Baba Yagas.
  • Curiosity Is a Crapshoot: Baba Yaga sometimes displays a propensity to eat the overly curious. Notably, it's not a good idea to ask her about the spectral disembodied hands serving her in her hut.
  • Eats Babies: Most of the time.
  • Elemental Embodiment: while not an embodiment per se, according to That Other Wiki Baba Yaga represents the element of fire. Though it's not explicitely made clear in most tales, her ambiguous nature (sometimes helpful, sometimes destructive) hints towards this, so does the fact that her hut is based on the funerary huts where ancient Slavs cremated their dead. Not to mention those Flaming Skulls.
  • Evil Aunt: In some stories, Baba Yaga has a beautiful, younger (but still evil) sister who seduces and marries widowed fathers in order to send her new stepchildren off to their new "aunt." Don't worry, they will usually escape with the help of their dead mother or something...
  • Evil Old Folks
  • Familiar: Usually has several, either animals, or her invisible servants, or both.
  • Fair Folk: fits the description quite nicely.
  • Flaming Skulls: in "Vasilissa the Beautiful", Baba Yaga's fence is adorned with skulls with glowing eyes. The title character's evil stepmother sends her to the Baba's hut to get some fire, but Baba is not about to grant favors easily. When Vasilissa completes the hag's impossible tasks (her late mother's magic helping), Baba lets her go (more like kicks her out when she learns Vasilissa is blessed) and gifts her with one of the skulls to serve as fire. When Vasilissa brings the skull home, its scorching gaze burns her evil steprelatives to ashes.
  • Flying Broomstick: Sometimes, but she's usually depicted flying with the mortar and pestle.
  • "Hansel and Gretel": Localised varieties of this fable sometimes make her be the witch the two meet.
  • Holy Burns Evil: Just tell her you are protected by a blessing and she will leave you alone.
    • While technically not holy, it is often explained that she can only eat the flesh of naughty children, and she is somehow forbidden to touch good children. Good children who end up in her clutches are then forced to be her slaves and often made to perform an Impossible Task, so if they fail she has the excuse they were being "naughty." This never works.
  • Iconic Item: She flies around in a giant mortar and pestle. Some later tales (and toys) depict her flying with the usual for witches - a broomstick.
    • It is common to see Baba riding in the mortar (on the ground), whipping the mortar with the pestle to make it go faster, and using the broom to cover up her tracks.
    • The hut on bird legs is also quite iconic.
  • Leitmotif: "The Hut on Fowl's Legs" by Mussorgsky, which is a musical tribute to a picture of Baba Yaga's abode. That Other Wiki notes that it is supposed to invoke the hag herself riding on her mortar.
  • Lost in Translation: From ancient Russian into modern Russian and then into other languages. The "chicken legs" are not chicken at all. "Куриный" (chicken) is warped from "курий", which can also mean chicken but also "smoked", so the hut should be "on smoked piles" (The wooden piles that supported huts were saturated with smoke to make them resistant to rot).
    • Not exactly. Since the house is called "Избушка на курьих ножках". You probably meant "окуренные ножки" which would mean "smoked piles/legs". So originally "о" could be lost in time and legs became "куренные ножки" now let's move emphasis a little, take away "н" and change "е" into "и". And you will get "куриные" (сhicken) instead of "окуренные"(smoked).
  • Never Mess with Granny: She is an old powerful witch after all. Though in some stories, she suffers from Badass Decay.
  • Psychopomp: Baba Yaga sometimes acts as a guardian between the world of the living and the realm of the dead.
  • Public Domain Character Has shown up in Dungeons & Dragons, Quest for Glory, Fables, Naru Taru (which, being Japanese, makes her a beautiful teenage girl and her chicken house a Mon) and now Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated.
    • SCP-352 is another alternative take on the character. Being an SCP object, it's even more disturbing than the traditional depiction.
    • One story, The Chaos, had her hut and the phoenix fall in love.
  • Sacred Hospitality: Sometimes, when the hero arrives, and she questions him, he complains that she has not given him food and drink first. She approves of this courage and will provide them.
  • Sapient House: Her hut is able to move on its own with its chicken legs.
  • Wicked Witch
  • Wizards Live Longer: No one knows how old she is, but in some stories she's been around for a very long while.
    • In some stories, however, it is said she ages one year every time she is asked a question. Goes a long way to explain why she lives far away from civilization and is not always too excited to help out.
    • In many stories she is effectively a goddess. For one thing, Day, Sun and Night ride out of the doors of her hut, and are apparently her manservants.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • The English dub of InuYasha episode 31 has this exchange between Inuyasha, Kagome, and the mother of Jinenji:
    Inuyasha: Wait. So if you're saying the father was the demon, then the human parent was you?
    Jinenji's mother: What did you think I was?!
    Kagome: (thinking) I thought you were Baba Yaga!

    Comic Books 
  • Baba Yaga appears in the Hellboy comics as an ally of Grigori Rasputin and one of Hellboy's rogues.
  • While visiting Fairyland, the hero of Books of Magic wanders off the path and gets captured by Baba Yaga for the stewpot.
  • Unsurprisingly, Baba Yaga turns up in Fables as an agent of the Adversary. She spends most of the early issues disguised as Little Red Riding Hood.

    Film 
  • Baba Yaga is a villain in the film Morozko. The US release "Jack Frost" changes her name to the Hunchbacked Fairy.

    Literature 
  • In Jane Yolen and Midori Synder's Except the Queen, Baba Yaga is an important character. Her appearing old among the fairies, who can look young, is reflective of her judgment. She hires one of the main characters to manage the house she rents out as apartments.
  • Baba Yaga is mentioned several times in Dark Reflection Trilogy as protecting Russia in the same manner the Flowing Queen protected Venice. It's suggested several times that she may be actually one of the old gods that once walked the Earth.

     Live-Action Television 
  • In the series Lost Girl, Baba Yaga haunted Kenzi since she was a child. While drunk, Kenzi summons Baba Yaga to curse Dyson for hurting Bo.

     Tabletop Games 
  • Baba Yaga was a villain in several Old World of Darkness games. Baba Yaga was a shamaness who had been turned into a vampire by the Antedeluvian Absimiliard. To free herself from Absimiliar's control, Baba Yaga summoned Wyrm creatures to fight for her, including the seven Zmei. In the 20th century, Baba Yaga was a powerful Nosferatu vampire who ruled Russia with an iron fist, bloodbinding mages and making life difficult for Russia's werewolves. She was eventually killed by Vasilisa.
  • Baba Yaga is a fairly important part of Pathfinder's Golarion setting, though she is originally from Earth. Centuries ago she arrived and conquered the nation of Irrisen, covering it in an Endless Winter. Then she seemed to lose interest in the place, installed one of her many daughters as queen, and departed for parts unknown. She returns every 100 years to replace the daughter with a new one, ostensibly taking the previous queen with her on her journeys.
    • The Reign of Winter Adventure Path reveals that this is not true. Yaga actually drains her offspring's life force to extend her own immortality. The story kicks off when the current daughter gets suspicious and attempts to conquer all of Golarion in order to usurp her mother, forcing the heroes and Baba Yaga into an Enemy Mine scenario, lest the whole world be frozen.
      • The same adventure path also reveals that Grigori Rasputin is her long-abandoned and highly resentful son.
    • Baba Yaga is also important to Golarion because she inadvertently created the misogynistic Demon Prince known as Kostchtchie, whose primary goal is to eventually exact revenge upon her for turning him into a powerful but hideously deformed mock-giant.
  • Of course, Dungeons & Dragons did it first; not only did she have references cropping up in several places (she also had a role in the creation of the D&D Kostchtchie), she even had a dedicated supplement once (The Dancing House of Baba Yaga, detailing her eponymous house as an adventure locale), and had a hand in several events pertaining to the world of Greyhawk. Her most enduring legacy in that world would be her daughter Natasha, former pupil and lover of The Archmage Mordenkainen, who invented the classic D&D spell Tasha's hideous laughter and who later on betrayed her mentor, took on the alias Iggwilv, became known under that name as a terribly potent necromancer and demonologist (her book, "The Demonomicon of Iggwilv", is still centuries later the definitive source for info about demon lords), seduced and ensnared mighty demon prince Grazzt, and bore him a son who went on to become demigod, Evil Overlord extraordinaire and general Greyhawk Big Bad Iuz the Evil. Oh, and and her death centuries ago was faked, she's surpassed Mordenkainen in spellcasting power, she still entertains a love/hate relationship with Grazzt, and she'll occasionally use her son's Evil Empire to further her own plans. Whew. Her relationship with her mother is generally left unexplored, though.

    Video Games 
  • Baba Yaga is a recurring antagonist in the Quest for Glory series. She is the Big Bad, (or arguably the Bigger Bad) of the first game, and reappears in the fourth as a side character. Both games can end with her killing and possibly eating the hero character, and in both the hero has to essentially bribe her out of eating him by bringing her something better to eat. Getting her to help you is key to successfully completing the fourth game, (fortunately she thinks that trying to summon the Dark One out of its dimension into ours is going too far) but even when she's being helpful she's definitely not the type you want to hang around too long, since regardless of how powerful your hero is she can have him helpless and at her mercy in an instant.

    Western Animation 

Autumn VisitsRussian LiteratureBeetle in the Anthill
Ara the HandsomeFairy TaleBearskin

alternative title(s): Baba Yaga
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