Baba Yagah and Her Magic Shoes

Jack and Jill Magazine, June 1943

Jack and Jill Magazine, June 1943: “Baba Yagah and Her Magic Shoes,” by Jenia Miller, with illustrations by the author.

The first page of 'Baba Yagah and Her Magic Shoes,' page 1, from the June 1943 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine.

In this story, Baba Yaga’s magic shoes have worn holes through the bottom. They were given to her as a gift from her Uncle Bogatir– more about him shortly– and she cannot take them to a cobbler because everyone’s terrified of her. Stenka the cat tells Baba Yaga of a poor but talented cobbler who lives on the outskirts of town, so Baba Yaga visits him in the dark of night, doesn’t show her face, and pays him to fix the shoes.

The cobbler has a wife, who doesn’t get a name, and a daughter named Mania. He tells his family he has important work to do, and they can’t ask questions. This, of course, only stokes Mania’s curiosity. He works all day repairing the shoes, and then he and his wife go to a village dance, leaving Mania alone. She finds the shoes, puts them on, and walks around her father’s pitiful shop, with its “shabby work bench which held a few poor tools.” Mania, a nice girl despite putting on a stranger’s shoes, wishes her father could have some nice new tools and new leather to work with.

On the work bench, in place of the old tools, appeared a set of shining new ones. And standing on the floor was a big sunduk, or chest, full of fine leathers, all different colors.

Thanks, magic shoes!

Mania wishes for some nice clothes for her mom, and they appear. Then she hears her parents returning home, so she rushes to bed– still wearing the shoes– and goes to sleep.

Baba Yaga returns, but the shoes are nowhere to be found. She’s furious. The cobbler begs for another day, which she grants:

“Very well,” agreed Baba Yagah. “I’ll give you until tomorrow at this same hour. But if you don’t have my shoes ready for me then, I’ll sweep your house, and everything that is yours, to dust.” And with a howl of rage the witch disappeared.

Mania, hearing all this from her bed, is understandably very freaked out. She waits until everyone else has gone to sleep, then returns the shoes to the workshop. In the morning, however, the shoes have disappeared again. The family mounts a search, but comes up empty-handed. Baba Yaga returns, furious, and raises her broom to sweep everything away.

At that moment, the family’s dog, Barboska, runs out from under Mania’s bed carrying the shoes. Baba Yaga grabs the shoes and flies away in her mortar.

The shoes were not damaged at all, and while Baba Yagah and Stenka were flying away, she put them on. She buttoned them up to the last button, and all at once she began to feel better. 'Well, that's that,' she said. 'But it's a lot of trouble, being a witch.' And thus the flying Stupka took Baba Yagah and Stenka back to the chicken-leg house. As for the shoemaker, his wife and little Mania, they might have thought the whole thing a bad dream had it not been for the new dress with ten strings of beads, the new set of tools and the sunduk full of fine colored leathers.

And that’s that.

This story was reprinted in the May 2014 issue of Jack and Jill, substantially condensed and watered-down, and with new images by Chuck Gonzalez. The images are beautiful:

Illustration by Chuck Gonzalez for Baba Yaga and Her Magic Shoes, Jack and Jill Magazine, May 2014.

This is the first time Uncle Bogatir shows up in a Jack and Jill Baba Yaga story. He appears many more times in other stories. In several of the stories he appears as a dragon with seven heads, although by 1967 he’s just “the most wizardly wizard in all of Russia,” although even in this version he remembers being a seven-headed dragon.

Uncle Bogatir is a strange mash-up of two slavic mythical figures. The first is a bogatyr, which is a catch-all term for Russian folk heroes, although these characters are largely just Herculean heroes who have to go on epic quests. The second is a zmei, or a dragon. In most folklore stories of zmeis, they have multiple heads, but they’re usually in multiples of three.

Usually, bogatyrs have to fight zmeis, so it’s very odd to have them combined into one creature, especially since Uncle Bogatir appears to literally be Baba Yaga’s uncle. Baba Yaga’s parentage– or the family tree of Bogatir– has not appeared in any of the Jack and Jill stories I’ve read thus far, although that may change as I find more.

Baba Yagah and Stenka the cat fly away from the shoemaker's family.

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Baba Yagah and the Children

Jack and Jill Magazine, May 1943Jack and Jill Magazine, May 1943: “Baba Yagah and the Children,” by Jenia Miller and Maria Van Vrooman, and with illustrations by Miller.

Jack and Jill Magazine has been running Baba Yaga stories since the early 1940s. I’m a massive nerd for Baba Yaga– if that isn’t already evident– and so I’ve begun an effort to try and collect all of the issues featuring Baba Yaga stories.

Baba Yaga flying in her mortar, from the May 1943 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine. Illustration by Jenia Miller.

It’s a lot of fun. They’re hard to find, but they’re relatively inexpensive. The fun of the research and the chase is deeply satisfying, and it doesn’t really cost me an arm and a leg when I come across an issue I don’t have. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was a little worried that starting a series of blog posts about it wouldn’t make them harder to find, though.

Jenia Miller wrote many of the early Baba Yaga stories. This is the only one I’ve found that lists Maria Van Vrooman as a co-author. This is also the very first Baba Yaga story ever published in Jack and Jill, as far as my research can determine.

The first page of 'Baba Yagah and the Children,' from the May 1943 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine.

It’s an interesting story, as many of them were. It injects lots of interesting touches that I haven’t been able to find analogues for in the actual myths and legends of Baba Yaga, including the idea that she carried a lightning bolt around in her cloak, which made her look like a hunchback. It also introduces Baba Yaga’s cat, named “Stenka” in these early stories. Stenka, it seems important to note, has an eyepatch and a peg-leg. In later stories, the cat loses its name, the eyepatch, and the pegleg, which is somewhat disappointing.

Also for some reason, the early Jack and Jill stories called the main character “Baba Yagah” until at least 1949, when the author of the stories changed to Nancy K. Ford.

This story itself is an odd one– it presents Baba Yaga as a misunderstood kindly old witch, who flies around with her mortar and pestle, watching children play and longing to play their games. When she flies down to join them, they are horrified and run away.

Baba Yaga startles and terrifies children. Image by Jenia Miller.

Baba Yaga is very sad about this, so she intentionally terrifies the children. You know, like you do. Because of this, her woodland creature friends don’t want to hang out with her anymore, and instead they find Vania, a small boy who lives in the woods.

So Baba Yaga finds Vania and tries to murder him with her thunderbolt. It doesn’t work, and she gets sick without the lightning bolt keeping her warm. Vania tucks her into his bed and takes care of her, at which point she bursts into tears. Vania plays with her, fulfilling her desire to play with the children.

Baba Yaga, Vania, and Stenka the Cat riding in a mortar under the full moon.

Baba Yaga winds up acting as a sort of Santa Claus, sneaking into the homes of the children and leaving them little treats.

It’s extremely bizarre:

When the children found the candy and cookies and presents they cried, 'Who put these here for us?' But they never found out. When Baba Yagah saw what fun it was to surprise children instead of frightening them she hid things everywhere. The peasant children and the city children began finding toys and flowers and shiny red apples about their houses. But still the children never suspected that these gifts came from the ugly witch. On every fine night, even now, Baba Yagah and Vania and Stenka the cat go riding in the magic mortar. And everywhere in Russia children watch for them somewhat fearfully against the Russian moon.

Vania hasn’t shown up in any of the other stories yet.

Maybe she ate him when he became disagreeable.

This story was reprinted in the January 2014 issue of Jack and Jill, significantly condensed and watered down, and with two new illustrations by artist Chuck Gonzales. Here’s one of those illustrations:

Baba Yaga, illustrated by Chuck Gonzales, for the January 2014 issue of Jack and Jill Magazine.

Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of these things, and I’ll slowly be working my way through them. Finding a complete list of Baba Yaga stories in Jack and Jill has proven to be extremely difficult, so the work will be ongoing for a while, I suspect.

Baba Yaga's hut, Izbushka.

This is the first of three stories about Baba Yagah that will be in Jack and Jill. Watch for 'Baba Yagah and Her Magic Shoes' next month.

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BABA YAGA’S MORTAR APPEARED

I’ve been collecting old issues of “Jack and Jill” magazine, which ran a lot of Baba Yaga stories over the years. Here’s the splash page from the first episode of “Baba Yaga’s Three Helps,” published in the February 1963 issue of Jack and Jill.

This story was written by Lois Epps. The art is by Ursula Koering, who illustrated many of these stories.

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SHE WENT INTO THE OTHER ROOM TO SHARPEN HER IRON TEETH

The newly-mixed “Baba Yaga” recording, built to recreate and improve upon the KVRX-broadcast version, is now complete. The music is all new, per Dan. I cannot thank all the contributors enough for their work, and I hope I’ve done them justice.

The Union of the Hideously and Improbably Deformed – The Baba Yaga

Check it out!

(PS: I’m categorizing this under “Horrible Little Fables” because one of the stories in the podcast, “The Forest Gym,” was written expressly for this; it’ll be published here in text form eventually, I’m sure, but for now this is how it’s available.)

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TWO DAYS JOURNEY THROUGH THE WOODS

Where the wind blows; being ten fairy-tales from ten nations.” 1910, by Katharine Pyle.

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