One Does Not Say No to Baba Yaga



There are moments in writing that feel so spontaneous that it is hard to believe they have come from oneself but instead are descended in the form of a writerly-grace. When Jane Yolen and I wrote Except the Queen, we began by separately creating characters, each with their voice and chapters, intuitively stitching them together to form one narrative. It was fun as it invited an advantageous approach to writing. I always assumed a direction, a motive, a line in the plot until Jane sent me her most recent chapter, and everything went out the window, and I had to react to her chapter with something entirely different than I had imagined. I also returned the favor to her on some occasions -- and that process was incredibly fruitful. 

Baba Yaga showed up unannounced in a boxcar, slowing down just long enough to allow a terrified and transformed fairie to get hauled aboard by a pair of broad-fingered hands. I hadn't planned her appearance at all. It was as though she stepped in and demanded of me to include her in the novel. Despite her dangerous reputation, she had a killer sense of humor, demonstrated by her attempts to educate the new arrival to the human world on the art of blending in, beginning with a lesson on the casual use of the word "fuck" and "shit" on the college campus.

Another moment occurs when one of the main characters, Meteora, recalls a confrontation between the Fairie Queen and Baba Yaga at the court. I am not the first writer to imagine her as a singular creature, her archetype, out of time and eternal. But the written expression of such a unique status surprised me once I had written it down as she instructed. 

"She leaned back, all the while sucking on her lower lip, scraping her tusks against the purple flesh. She was wearing odd clothes--odd in that she was wearing any at all -- for the little I knew of her, Baba Yaga was not beholden to the fashions of the Seelie court or man himself. She was old enough to have roamed the pristine forests in gleaming nakedness when the first man and first woman still wore their skins in innocence. She could not forgive their betrayal, the death of those perfect forests, and now wore the skin of old age, of mortal corruption, to remind those who encountered her that she had not forgotten. 

"Serena and I had seen her once Under the Hill. Accustomed to the cloth of beauty and youth, we were goggle-eyed at her withered hide, her long, sagging breasts hanging low over her bony chest. Her hips jutted like the pelvis of a starved cow, and the loose skin of her belly lapped in folds over the tangled fur of her sex. But her strong arms were wound with taut ropes of muscles, her hands broad as spades with thick fingers that ended in black nails, sharpened to razor points. She had refused all gifts of clothing the Queen had offered her: the finely woven cloaks with silver clasps, the green silken gowns, the lace chemises, and pretty dresses. 

"Serena and I had talked about nothing else for days. From a leather pouch slung low on her hips, Baba Yaga had withdrawn a necklace of little bones and knuckles and placed it around her neck. The court had cringed at the sight of it. Even Red Cap, there as an emissary from the Unseelie court, bowed his head before the mocking challenge in her flaming eyes. All fell back from her, all except the Queen, who bloodied her delicate garments, carrying the carcass of a newly slaughtered fawn and placing it as an offering in Baba Yaga's hands. "



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Midori Snyder

  • Midori Snyder is the author of nine books for children and adults, published in English, French, Dutch, and Italian. She won the Mythopoeic Award for The Innamorati, a novel inspired by early Roman myth and the Italian "Commedia dell'Arte" tradition....more

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