The Baba Yaga
Treatment Rough Draft
Vasilisa the heroine
BABA YAGA is an adaptation of the Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel and the traditional
Russian folklore of the ‘Baba Yaga’, the wise woman and cannibal witch. It is a fantasy action and horror-drama in the style of Pan’s Labyrinth. In the 1905 Siberian famine a Russian family struggle for survival in the bitter winter. The peasant family is torn apart by desperation and the horrors of starvation and destitution. The children and father are eventually reunited by salvation, self-sacrificial love and prosperity borne through hardship.
BABA YAGA is about portraying the darker elements of human experience that give rise to folk tales such as Hansel and Gretel—the desperation of poverty, the insanity of suffering, and the power of trauma in storytelling as a rite of passage and growth. Reality and fantasy are deliberately confused.
Vasilisa is the teenage daughter of the family. As the elder of the two children she is clever, responsible, caring, motherly, and beautiful. Her name, derived from a third-century Christian child-martyr, alludes to early Russian princesses. She is based on both the characters of ‘Gretel’ and ‘Vasilisa the Beautiful (and Wise)’ who, according to Russian legend, outsmarted the witch Baba Yaga and brought justice and peace to her family. Vasilisa emerges from the story having traveled a rite of passage into adulthood.
Baba Yaga is the Russian witch who eats lost children. Her name means ‘old woman, grandmother’ in many Slavic languages and ‘old hag with broken teeth’ in Romanian. She is hideous to behold—her nose is hooked with flared nostrils, her figure like twisted iron, her fingers are needles and her eyes are two small red dots burning within black cavernous sockets. She flies in a cauldron, beating the wind and covering her tracks with a branch of silver birch tree. She lives deep in the woods in an enchanted hut that moves on chicken legs. She was a wise woman once but famine has transformed her into a demon.
The Grandmother is the allusion to Baba Yaga in the real world. Her face is hardened by crevasses of age that betray a life of little joy, like a mask of sorrow behind which two glinting black eyes glare conspiratorially. Her daughter, the children’s mother, died in childbirth with Taras, and the grandmother has since become a selfish, weak, conniving, and bitter woman whom starvation has driven into madness. The relationship between the Grandmother and Baba Yaga, and whether they are one in the same, is deliberately ambiguous.
The Father (‘Batko’)2 of the family is a kind, simple, loving and selfless man. He works hard for the good of the family, particularly for his two children, Vasilisa and Taras. He is suspicious of the Grandmother, whom he knows thinks only of self-gain.
Taras is Vasilisa’s child brother. He is vulnerable, naïve, and very trusting—he has not lived long enough to understand the savagery of human nature nor the injustice of suffering. He looks to Vasilisa as a child would his mother.
The Enchanted Hut is an ancient, enchanted log cabin perched on chicken legs. Its design is described in folklore and believed to have derived from the storehouses and pagan funerary monuments of the hunter-nomadic indigenous peoples of Siberia. These huts were built on stilts fashioned from tree stumps in order to protect from damp and wild animals. The Enchanted Hut is loyal only to the most wise.