Baba Yaga, the witch

Witches in books and popular fiction have been portrayed as evil looking, with crooked noses, long claws, flying around on brooms.

Baba Yaga, the witch in Slavik folklore is all this and more! So, why is she such a recurring character in folk tales from Slavic nations and from Russia?

A sculpture of Baba Yaga (Source: Public Domain)

There’s a fascination with the morbid that draws us to such characters. Evil is needed to set off the good in the stories. Sometimes the evil characters are grey, sometimes bad and sometimes good.

Let’s get a picture of Baba Yaga. Scrawny, long crooked nose (in some stories, the nose touches the ceiling as she lays to sleep), a good appetite for humans, especially little children (possibly to scare the little listeners of these bed time tales). She does not have an ordinary broom to take her around, rather she travels in a mortar with a pestle by her side. (Phallic imagery again, as in case of brooms but that’s another subject, another day).

Baba Yaga, flying in her Mortar

What I loved best about her stories was her house. It was almost always in a deep jungle, a house on chicken legs (!) that could move around and even turn it’s back on people coming to seek her out. There’s a rooster’s head on top, and (gasp) a fence made of human bones!

She is the one who sets people to tasks. Her criteria for eating someone depends on whether that person is able to complete exaggeratedly difficult things she asks them to do. Like emptying a river with a bucket, combing a grassland to find a small object etc. You get it done efficiently and she rewards you! Travelers seek her out and she replies to their questions if she is in the mood.

To triple up the pleasure of encountering a witch in a story, sometimes Baba Yaga appears as a trio of sisters, all bearing the same name.

As an avid reader of Russian literature for children (ah, those days of Indo-Soviet friendship and cultural exchanges), I found Baba Yaga as one of the most fascinating characters in folk tales. Add to it the beautiful illustrations that can set off a child’s imagination wonderfully.

This post is written as part of the A2Z challenge.

Asterix, the Gaul

Asterix, the smallish guy, no smart looks either, unkept hair (or is it because of the feathered helmet?) is an unlikely superhero, looks-wise. The one thing that he’s got going is the presence of a side-kick and a monstrous one at that. Okay, okay, Obelix is only huge-ish but gentle at heart. Why is he always ferrying menhirs though?

Asterix and Obelix

I grappled with these thoughts for a while as I discovered Asterix the Gaul in comics. Comic books were considered bad influence in my childhood, things that took you away from studies and didn’t let you be the doctor or engineer that you ought to be. It was frivolous to be reading comically drawn things with their dialogues in call outs. Literature was in the books that had closely spaced words, came as hardbacks and had archaic sounding words.

But once I got hold of these curious comics, there was no looking back. There was a snoot factor at work here. Most of my friends couldn’t figure out the storylines, let alone the puns, of which there were plenty. The hard hitting wit and the sarcasm is what I loved most about Asterix and characters.

At that time, I could have pointed out to my parents and my varied aunts and uncles who were so worried about my studies and ‘overall development’ that these books (not just comics) were educative. So many historical characters, so many places the superheroes traveled to. It was where I learnt about Cleopatra’s iconic nose. And chuckled when I read Caesar’s ‘Et Tu Brute’ in quite another scenario.

The names of the characters that told a story from their names – Cacofonix (the bard, sings badly), Geriatrix (oldish) Getafix (has a magical potion or a fix), Dogmatix (the dog, who else), the light-hearted way the conflict (bloody in reality) was presented where nothing more violent than tying up Cacofonix happened and the happy-go-lucky attitude of the occupants of the Gaulish village have been the hallmark of the series of Asterix comics.

The trio – Asterix, Obelix and Dogmatix

Recently, the illustrator and creator of Asterix comics, Albert Uderzo passed away, bring an era to an end. Another creative team may take up the project to keep the comic books coming. I am sure, Asterix and friends would continue to enthrall young and old readers across countries and cultures.

This post is part of #BlogchatterA2Z where I would be talking about my favourite fictional characters through the month of April.