There are numerous Russian folktales that tell tales of the creepy, witch-like Baba Yaga. Although she is sometimes nice, most of the tales of Baba Yaga are terrifying. In all the stories, she’s a skeletal, ancient creature that enjoys eating people. In many stories, Baba Yaga lives in an enchanted house that wanders the forest on giant chicken legs. In this folktale, that’s precisely what the house was doing when Marusia happened by.
Marusia was a good little Russian girl who was on her way to buy turnips at the market for her family. Along the way she inadvertently passed through Baba Yaga’s corner of the forest. Baba Yaga’s house was strutting by on its giant chicken legs just as Marusia entered the woods. Shocked and terrified of the walking house, Marusia froze. Baba Yaga easily captured the little girl and dropped her directly into a giant soup pot.
“I love to eat bad little Russian girls,” crowed Baba Yaga as she salted and peppered the little girl.
“But I’m not a bad girl,” protested Marusia while trying not to sneeze, “I’m a good girl!”
“Well, I can’t eat a good girl for my dinner,” exclaimed Baba Yaga.
“But I can make her cook my dinner.” And that’s what Marusia did along with some cleaning.
After Baba Yaga ate, she fell into a deep sleep. It was the perfect time for Marusia to escape. But she was quite trapped. Baba Yaga had magically locked the gate and Marusia could not get out.
Day after day, Baba Yaga flew out on her mortar and pestle in search of a special flower. This flower, she told Marusia, would enable her to live for another 200 years.
Trapped in Baba Yaga’s house, Marusia was forced to continue to cook and clean for the old hag. One morning, Marusia asked, “Baba Yaga, may I have some turnips? My mother sent me to buy turnips, but I lost the money and...”
“You lost the money,” exclaimed Baba Yaga. “Then you are a bad Russian girl.” With that Baba Yaga swept up the small girl and dropped her in the giant soup pot. Baba Yaga was delighted that she’d get to eat a bad little Russian girl for dinner. The old crone then went outside to get some mushrooms and greens to add to her special soup. While she was outside, Baba Yaga came across a hedgehog and decided he’d make a tasty addition to her soup, too. Into the pot went the mushrooms, the greens, and the hedgehog.
Marusia was surprised to learn that the hedgehog could speak quite well. Marusia asked him how he learned to speak. The hedgehog explained that he was actually the son of the tsar and tsarina. The tsar and tsarina couldn’t have any children. This made the tsarina very sad. One day the tsarina stood near a very special flower in the royal gardens. She wished for a son, even if he was only the size of a hedgehog. And that’s when the hedgehog appeared. At first, the royal couple was thrilled to have a child. In time, though, they became embarrassed of him. The people made fun of their hedgehog son and of the royal couple for keeping him. So the tsar and tsarina put the hedgehog on a rooster and sent him off into the woods to live on his own.
As Marusia listened to the hedgehog, she had an idea. “This special flower, what did it look like,” she asked the hedgehog.
“It was a black sunflower,” said the hedgehog.
“Baba Yaga,” Marusia called, “if I tell you where to find your black sunflower, will you give me the turnips I need and release us?"
“Why yes,” said Baba Yaga.
“Hedgehog, can you show us where to find the flower,” Marusia asked.
The hedgehog agreed. Baba Yaga threw Marusia and the hedgehog into her giant mortar and pestle, and off they went. They flew over forests and mountains. Finally they came to the palace garden. As soon as Baba Yaga picked the black sunflower, the hedgehog turned into a real boy named Dmitri. Baba Yaga was too excited about her flower to even notice and, together, the three flew back to Baba Yaga’s house. Marusia got her turnips and she and Dmitri were free to go at last. The two children went to Marusia’s house where they made turnip soup and lived happily ever after.