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.

This entry was posted in Baba Yaga. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *