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1867 (pub): Four Heroes meet Baba-Yaga

The following description of a Russian folk-tale was first presented in English by William Ralston Shedden Ralston in 1880:

In one of the numerous stories about the Baba Yaga, four heroes are wandering about the world together, when they come to a dense forest in which a small izba, or hut, is twirling round on "a foul's leg." Ivan, the youngest of the party, utters the magical formula "Izbushka, Izbushka! stand with back to the forest and front towards us," and "the hut faces towards them, its doors and windows open of their own accord." The heroes enter and find it empty. One of the party then remains indoors, while the rest go out to the chase. The hero who is left alone prepares a meal, and then, "after washing his head, sits down by the window to comb his hair." Suddenly a stone is lifted, and from under it appears a Baba Yaga, driving in her mortar, with a dog yelping at her heels. She enters the hut and, after some short parley, seizes her pestle, and begins beating the hero with it until he falls prostrate. Then she cuts a strip out of his back, eats up the whole of the viands he has prepared for his companions, and disappears. After a time the beaten hero recovers his senses, "ties up his head with a handkerchief," and sits groaning until his comrades return. Then he makes some excuse for not having got any supper ready for them, but says nothing about what has really happened to him.

        On the next day the second hero is treated in the same manner by the Baba Yaga, and on the day after that the third undergoes a similar humiliation. But on the fourth day it falls to the lot of the young Ivan to stay in the hut alone. The Baba Yaga appears as usual, and begins thumping him with her pestle; but he snatches it from her, beats her almost to death with it, cuts three strips out of her back, and then locks her up in a closet. When his comrades return, they are surprised to find him unhurt, and a meal prepared for them, but they ask no questions. After supper they all take a bath, and then Ivan remarks that each of his companions has had a strip cut out of his back. This leads to a full confession, on hearing which Ivan "runs to the closet, takes those strips out of the Baba Yaga, and applies them to their backs," which immediately become cured. He then hangs up the Baba Yaga by a cord tied to one foot, at which cord all the party shoot. At length it is severed, and she drops. As soon as she touches the ground, she runs to the stone from under which she had appeared, lifts it, and disappears.

        The rest of the story is very similar to that of " Norka," which has already been given, only instead of the beast of that name we have the Baba Yaga, whom Ivan finds asleep, with a magic sword at her head. Following the advice of her daughters, three fair maidens whom he meets in her palace, Ivan does not attempt to touch the magic sword while she sleeps. But he awakes her gently, and offers her two golden apples on a silver dish. She lifts her head and opens her mouth, whereupon he seizes the sword and cuts her head off. As is usual in the stories of this class, his comrades, after hoisting the maidens aloft, cut the cord and let him fall back into the abyss. But he escapes, and eventually "he slays all the three heroes, and flings their bodies on the plain for wild beasts to devour." This Skazka ['folk-tale'] is one of the many versions of a widespread tale, which tells how the youngest of a party, usually consisting of three persons, overcomes some supernatural foe, generally a dwarf, who had been more than a match for his companions.

        ...

        The practice of cutting strips from an enemy's back is frequently referred to in the Skazkas — much more frequently than in the German and Norse stories. It is not often that such strips are turned to good account, but in the Skazka with which we have just been dealing, Ivan finding the rope by which he is being lowered into the abyss too short, ties to the end of it the three strips he has cut from the Baba Yaga's back, and so makes it sufficiently long.

This tale was translated from the Russian folk and fairy tales collection of Alexander Afanasyev, published in eight volumes from 1855-1867. This is from volume viii, and is tale no. 6.