Skull and Pes­tle: New Tales of Baba Yaga

Kate Wol­ford (Editor)

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Fiction - LETITIA MONT­GOMERY-RODGERS

World Weaver Press (JAN­UARY) Soft­cover $13.95 (194pp), 978-1-73225-462-6

Skull and Pes­tle, edited by Kate Wol­ford, gath­ers seven short sto­ries that re­vive Baba Yaga’s leg­end, al­ter­nately retelling her orig­i­nal tale or trans­port­ing her through time and space to un­ex­pected places.

Women find Baba Yaga in nexus mo­ments, the points where nat­u­ral tran­si­tions and ex­treme need cross. An enig­matic fig­ure, she’s a “crone who ruth­lessly uses the needy and greedy for her own de­vices,” and each tale finds its own way to ex­plore her com­plex, con­tra­dic­tory, but al­ways fair na­ture.

Sev­eral sto­ries delve into Baba Yaga’s yearn­ing for the girls she helps. Al­though the sub­tex­tual ho­mo­eroti­cism is pal­pa­ble, it’s re­solved via pla­tonic or fil­ial re­la­tion­ships, with one notable ex­cep­tion: Char­lotte Honig­man’s World War II re­venge tale, where the hero­ine is helped by her lady love.

The mem­o­rable sto­ries al­ways trans­form some el­e­ment of the leg­end. Lissa Sloan’s “A Tale Soon Told” es­tab­lishes a pedi­gree for Baba Yaga in a beau­ti­ful kin­ship story about women claim­ing each other on the jour­ney to be­come them­selves. Szmer­alda Shanel’s “The Swamp Hag’s Ap­pren­tice” re-en­vi­sions the leg­end as black Amer­i­can folk­lore. But the col­lec­tion’s crown­ing achieve­ment is Jes­samy Corob Cook’s “Teeth,” which turns the tra­di­tion in­ward to ex­plore Baba Yaga’s re­la­tion­ship with her own sis­ter. Its haunt­ing con­clu­sion high­lights the fact that there’s no pun­ish­ment worse than the psy­chic pain a per­son lav­ishes on her­self.

These are women’s sto­ries in that they’re about the bar­gains women make and the cost of the knowl­edge and sal­va­tion that women buy for them­selves as they make their way through the world. Al­though Baba Yaga func­tions as a men­tor, her guid­ance is bru­tally re­al­is­tic: You’ll be asked to do the im­pos­si­ble in or­der to sur­vive, and there will al­ways be a cost.

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