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Literature / Vasilissa the Beautiful

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Vasilissa the Beautiful (Василиса Прекрасная) is a Russian Fairy Tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in Narodnye russkie skazki (Народные Русские Сказки) and William Ralston Shedden-Ralston in Russian Fairy Tales: A Choice Collection of Muscovite Folk-lore.

Vasilissa is the youngest, and a stepdaughter, and her stepmother and stepsisters set her tasks she manages with her mother's blessing and the doll her dead mother gave her. When she comes of age, all the young men wish to marry her, rather than her older stepsisters, which the stepmother forbids. Finally, having sent her into the woods many times in hopes that Baba Yaga would eat her, she has her sent directly to the witch to get fire after they had deliberately quenched all their fires.

She finds her in a hut set on chicken legs, surrounded by skulls on posts that glow at night. Baba Yaga sets her Impossible Tasks, but when she finds out that Vasilissa succeeds with the help of her mother's blessing, she evicts her, giving her a lantern made from a skull for fire, because no one with a blessing can stay with her.

When she returned, she found that the stepmother and stepsisters had been unable to light a fire all the time she was gone. The witch's skull quickly set the entire house on fire and burned it to the ground with the stepmother and stepsisters.

Vasilissa found shelter with an old woman and began to spin flax and weave the thread. When the old woman brought it to market, she brought to the Tsar, who could not find seamstresses capable of sewing it. It was brought back to Vasilissa, who could. Whereupon the Tsar insisted on seeing her, fell in love, and married her.

Full text can be read here, here and here. Some editions have been illustrated by Ivan Bilibin.

Received a comic adaptation by Archaia Entertainment in 2014 from an unproduced script of The Storyteller.

Vasilissa the Beautiful provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Big Eater: Baba Yaga is described eating enough for ten.
  • Flaming Skulls: Baba Yaga's house is surrounded by stakes bearing skulls with burning eyes. She takes one home, where its gaze burns her stepmother and stepsisters to ash.
  • Happily Ever After: Vasilissa end up married to the Tsar once he falls in love with her
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The inability to light fires. Then, Vasilissa brings back fire and it does last... long enough to burn her step-family into ash.
  • Holy Burns Evil: The moment Baba Yaga hears that Vasilissa has a blessing upon her, she literally kicks her out.
  • Impossible Task: Baba Yaga sets them.
  • Inconsistent Spelling: Vasilissa, Vasilisa, Vassilissa.
  • Karmic Death: The stepmother and stepsisters send Vasilissa to Baba Yaga in the hopes that she'd be killed. She comes back with a lantern that incinerates the three of them.
  • Living Toys: Vasilissa is comforted and advised by her childhood doll, which also helps her with her Impossible Tasks.
  • Love at First Sight: At the end, the Tsar wants to see the girl who made the fabric and the clothes for him. The moment he does, he proclaims he's never letting her go.
  • Stealth Mentor: One interpretation of Baba Yaga in this story. While presented as cruel, it's noted that she keeps Vasilissa in her house instead of sending her back to die of cold at her old place or eating her as the stepmother intended, "conveniently" doesn't notice the blessings until AFTER they've helped Valissa (Even though you would think that a powerful witch would notice magic being used in her domain), and even when they're discovered, she STILL doesn't eat Vasilissa, but instead sends her home with exactly what she needs to escape her abusive family. Some stories imply it's some sort of Holy Burns Evil going on. Baba Yaga doesn't really have the power to harm someone as good as Vasilissa until she does something wrong. Killing her for failing to do her work is apparently enough of a loophole (and we never learn if it would have worked), and so would Vasilissa asking anything about the inside of the house. Realizing Vasilissa is protected by her mother's blessing is enough to tell her not to mess with the girl any further...
  • Step Servant: The heroine has to do all the housework, managing only with her magical doll, until her stepsisters send her to get fire from Baba Yaga.
  • Textile Work Is Feminine: Vasilissa does it both before and after her adventure.
  • Uriah Gambit: The stepmother sends Vasilissa to get fire from Baba Yaga, fully expecting her to die in the attempt.
  • Wedlock Block: Vasilissa is forbidden from marrying, despite having multiple suitors, because her stepmother doesn't want her to marry before her older stepsisters do.
    Never shall the younger be wed before the older ones!
  • Wicked Stepmother: With two daughters close to Vasilissa in age.
  • Wicked Witch: People who wander close to Baba Yaga's house don't tend to be heard from ever again.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Despite the stepmother's attempts to marry off her own first.