Folktales > Vasalisa and Baba Yaga

Russian Vocabulary

Baba Yaga: A grandmotherly ogre

Kookla: doll

Babushka: grandmother

Vasalisa (Kimberly Goza) Baba Yaga (Dennis Goza)

Many, many years ago in Russia, there lived a girl named Vasalisa. She lived alone with her mother on the outskirts of the forest. Even though they didn't have a lot of money, they lived quite well.

When her mother would go to gather food, Vasalisa would often sit and look at kookla, a doll on the top shelf. Her mother had made it very clear from an early age that she was not to touch the doll. He was a curious looking little doll. His hair was unkempt and messy, but somehow the dust that gathered on the top shelf never touched him. He seemed to shift positions, too. One day she would look, and he would be sitting cross-legged. The next day he'd be reclining. There was always a magical, mischievous air about him, and he had a slight twinkle in his eye. Vasalisa was very curious about the doll.

One day, Vasalisa's mother announced that she was getting married. They had lived alone for years, so this came as a surprise to Vasalisa. She lay awake all night wondering what her new stepfather would be like.

At last the day of the wedding came. It was a grand wedding, and great fun. There was dancing, food and drink, storytelling, music, and jokes, and Vasalisa loved the stories. Everyone had a great time and went home smiling.

Except Vasalisa. She sat brooding by herself in a corner once they arrived at home. She didn't like her new stepfather at all. He seemed quite nice at first, but he was only pretending. He kept glaring at Vasalisa as though she'd done something wrong. He drank and swore when Vasalisa's mother wasn't around.

Vasalisa gets Kookla from her mother

A year passed. Vasalisa's mother was struck with some strange sickness. She seemed very weak. In her last hours, she called Vasalisa to her. "Vasalisa," she said. "I want you to have something." Saying this, she took down kookla the doll from the very top shelf. "Take this doll. If you are ever in trouble, all you must do is feed kookla some bread, crackers, or whatever you have on hand. He will come to life and help you. Use him only when you need him. Trust me." her mother trailed off there, and with a smile, closed her eyes, never to open them again.

Well, Vasalisa didn't believe her mother about the doll. She thought her mother's disease had made her say some crazy things about a silly old doll. But, the very next morning, she could have sworn it winked at her.

Life was quite hard for Vasalisa the next few days. Her stepfather didn't like her, and she didn't like him, but there wasn't a lot she could do about it. Her stepfather, however, could boss her around. He would tell her to clean the dishes, and clean the windows, and chop the firewood, and sweep the floor, and fetch some water, and fix him meals, and gather food, and any other difficult task he was likely to think of, especially if there was a likelihood she would get lost and never come back. And if she complained of doing something he said to do, he would tell her about a scary ogre who lived in a hut in the woods. The hut rested on chicken legs, and had a fence made of bones. And its occupant, the female ogre, Baba Yaga, would cook and eat bad children.

Vasalisa was a good girl, and she didn't want any trouble, so she always did as she was told. After many days of this hard labor, Vasalisa's stepfather finally thought of a plan to get rid of her. Blowing out the candles, he told her that the wind had blown out all the fire, and she needed to fetch more from the forest.

Now, Vasalisa had an idea that this was a lie, but she was eager to please, so she set off into the dark, spooky forest with her doll. She wandered for a long time until, at last, she realized she was lost. She finally gave up, and decided that maybe her mother wasn't so crazy after all. Reluctantly, she got out some bread from her apron (which she kept because she never got much to eat) and awkwardly fed the doll.

Vasalisa's doll Kookla, comes to life

And, strangely enough, it came to life. It was just a flicker at first, but then the spark jumped, and so did kookla. It came up and stretched, walked a moment, in sort of an awkward, drunken manner, and Vasalisa got the impression that it had not come to life in a long time. At last, he shook himself out, and said to Vasalisa, "Well? Can I help you?" So she told him her troubles, and why she desperately needed fire. The doll gave a short, rhyming answer, "There are fires that you cannot see! Vasalisa, follow me!", and he took off in a flash through the forest, bumping into a thing or two. "Sorry," he said. "It's been a while since I've been out." They ran on and on, until at last they reached a strange, scary looking hut. It seemed to rest on chicken legs, and the fence was made of bones-- human bones. And, sure enough, there was a skull with a torch inside. Vasalisa didn't think this was such a great idea. She recognized this hut from the stories her stepfather had told her. And she was not about to waltz right up and grab a human skull full of fire.

Vasalisa arrives at Baba Yaga's house

She only decided to try and grab the fire when the doll reassured her that he would help her out of any trouble she got into. Carefully, slowly, she walked up. She reached out and touched the skull ever so lightly.

"You there!"A voice shouted from behind her. Vasalisa jumped, whirling around.

And there stood a fearsome, terrifying ogre, Baba Yaga. "What are you doing here?" She demanded of Vasalisa. Vasalisa looked to the doll for help, but once again he was a still, silent, inanimate doll. So she spoke up, "P-Pardon my trespassing, babushka b-but I just wanted to borrow some of your f-fire."

Baba Yaga

"Borrow my fire, eh? How dare you ask me such a question! I'm an evil old ogre who eats bad children!"

"But I'm a good girl! I was going to r-return it later."

"Good, eh? Well, you'll have to prove it!"

"Prove it? How?"

"By working for me for three days! If you do all the chores that I give you, you can have your precious little fire and be on your way! But if not, then I get to have you for dinner!"

Vasalisa didn't have much choice but to agree, so she followed the ogre inside. There were scary things on the shelf. Jars of eyeballs, gargoyles, strange potions, and on the wall was a weird candelabra that twisted itself into strange shapes, and seemed to have glowing eyes peeking from between the flames. On the other side of the room was a grandfather clock reading thirteen o'clock.

"All right, now get to work!" snapped the ogre.

The work was near impossible. Vasalisa had to do things like pick flour out of a bucket of sand (The doll did it for her), carry six buckets of water in one trip (The doll took three),and many other such chores. After three days of this labor, Baba Yaga left for a little while, and Vasalisa was told to have the fireplace clean by the time Baba Yaga got back. Now, the fireplace was covered with years and years of soot and grime. It would have been impossible, were it not for the doll. She fed him some bread crumbs, and sure enough, he came to life. She told him her problem.

"Vasalisa, don't despair!" he cried. "We'll get help from another pair!"

"Another pair? What does that mean?"

"I've heard she has a pair of magical hands that come out whenever she claps her hands three times! If you do this, you can get the magical hands to work for you!"

And so Vasalisa clapped her hands three times. And sure enough, a pair of magical hands appeared. She asked them to clean the fireplace until it shined. And the hands went right to work. They cleaned and cleaned, and they cleaned so fast, Vasalisa could barely see them moving.

Vasalisa gets a helping hand. The hands are played by an audience member.

Before long, she saw Baba Yaga approaching. She quickly told the hands to leave, but they didn't budge. She told them again. She told them to go and hide. They still didn't move. Baba Yaga was coming closer. Vasalisa tried every word she could think of. "Get out of here! Go! Shoo! Scram! Leave me alone!" Baba Yaga was at the edge of the clearing. "Please go! Goodbye! See you later! See you later alligator!" Baba Yaga was halfway to the door. "So long! Dismissed! As you were! You're done!"Baba Yaga was right outside the door! "Go home! Red! Blue! Periwinkle!" Right as she said periwinkle, the hands vanished in a puff of smoke, the door opened and Baba Yaga stepped in.

Baba Yaga was quite shocked that anyone could have cleaned the fireplace in such a short time. The truth was, Baba Yaga didn't like clean things. Unless they could get little children in trouble. So, Baba Yaga clapped her hands three times. And the magical hands appeared. "Make my fireplace dirty again," she said. "Wait a minute! Let me look at you. you're all covered with grime! Periwinkle!" And the hands disappeared.

Vasalisa, however, was not so lucky. She was stuck where she was. And that was simmering in a pot over a hot fire. Baba Yaga was not very forgiving. Vasalisa sat in boiling water as Baba Yaga added some spices. It would have been a comfortable, relaxing bath if not for the situation. Then, Vasalisa spied her doll on a shelf next to a withered, bony old hand.

Kookla and Vasalisa getting cooked

Vasalisa begged Baba Yaga for the doll, saying that children tasted better with their favorite toys in hand. Baba Yaga gave her the doll, and as soon as her back was turned, Vasalisa was asking for advice. "The answer's really nothing special." The doll was cut off as Baba Yaga yanked him out of the pot. Vasalisa would have been saved right there, had she had a second or two longer.

All hope was lost. There was no chance of escaping now. Vasalisa sat in the boiling pot for a while pitying herself until she remembered her mother saying good children don't weigh themselves down with self-pity. Then she realized a way out of the pot.

"Um, excuse me, babushka?" She asked.

"What, what?" said Baba Yaga.

"I thought you only ate bad children!"

"That's right."

"But I'm a good girl! I clean my room! And I do all my homework without being asked! And I make dinner! And I help people when they need it!"

"No! You're just trying to trick me!"

Is Vasalisa going to get cooked?

"But if you really must eat me, I forgive you."

That was the last straw for Baba Yaga, who whisked her out of the pot. Baba Yaga refused to eat a good child, so she sent Vasalisa on her way with her doll and the fire.

So finally, after a long walk, they were back home. Vasalisa's stepfather heard the front door creak open, and he wasn't expecting Vasalisa. So he poked his head around the corner into the dark room and saw a flaming skull! He was off faster than a horse set on fire. And he never came back again.

And so Vasalisa lived with her doll, and the house and all its belongings belonged to her. And her doll.

@ Your Library

Look for more stories from Russian at your library in the 398 section if your library uses the Dewey Decimal System. Also keep an eye out for Cinderella stories. Such as:

  • The Egyptian Cinderella
  • The Story of Niagara (Native American)
  • The Story of Princess Hasse (Japan)

Read more Act!vated Folktales

Have you read Rumplestiltskin?

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About this Story

"Vasalisa and Baba Yaga" originated in Russia. Some call it the Russian Cinderella story. This online version was adapted by Zephyr Goza (when he was 13), who played Kookla, (Vasalisa's doll) in the nationally touring production "Eureka! Tales of Discovery" 2003-2004. Kimberly Goza plays Vasalisa and Dennis Goza was the stepfather and Baba Yaga. All of the photos on this page are from the nationally touring stage production. This story was added to our Web site December 2003.

Watch a slide show from the stage production of the Vasalisa and Baba Yaga story!

Click here to see the slide show of Vasalisa

Featuring photos from the 2005-06 touring production, taken at the library in Hannibal, MO. The slide show will loop. Just X out when you are done.

Act!vated Story Park

Vasalisa, a young Russian girl and her magical doll Kookla run away into the woods. Look out lest you fall into the clutches of Baba Yaga, the fearsome ogre! Will Kookla's quick thinking be able to save you?

Come Play at the Activated Story Park. Roller Coaster Tycoon 2 enthusiasts explore rides and attractions based on folktales from around the world.