Monsters

One Does Not Say No to Baba Yaga

Baba_yaga_and_vasilisa_diptych_by_miloneuman_670

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 writerly-grace. When Jane Yolen and I wrote Except the Queen, we began by separately creating characters, each with their own voice and chapters, and intuitively stitching them together to form one narrative. It was fun as it invited a serendipitous 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 think I returned the favor to her as well on some occasions -- and that process turned out to be incredibly fruitful. 

Baba Yaga showed up unannounced in a boxcar slowing down just long enough to allow a terrified and transformed fairie 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. 

There was another moment that also wrote itself, when one of the main characters Meteora recalls a confrontation between the Fairie Queen and Baba Yaga at the court. I am certainly not the first writer to imagine her as a singular creature, her own archetype, out of time and eternal. But the written expression of such a unique status came as a surprise to 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 the sense that she 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 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, the loose skin of her belly lapped in folds over the tangled fur of her sex. But her spindled 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 to her: the finely woven cloaks with silver clasps, the green silken gowns, the lace chemises and pretty petticoats. 

"Serena and I had talked about nothing else for days. How 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. How the court had flinched 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 fine garments carrying the carcass of a new slaughtered fawn and placing it as an offering in Baba Yaga's hands. "

 

Art: Baba Yaga and Vasilisa Diptych by Milo Neuman.


August 28, 2018

June 25, 2013

May 24, 2009

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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