I’ve been asked a lot lately about my inclusion of the Russian folklore witch, Baba Yaga, in Dreaming Anastasia. You know initially, she had not been part of the novel. But when I began working with my then agent Michelle to get the novel ready for submission, it really began to feel apparent to both of us that there was a missing element. The basics were there – the Anne/Ethan story; the Anastasia story; the search for Anastasia and the quest for Anne to rescue her. It was a good story – good enough to have snagged me an agent obviously – but it wasn’t complete. And so I dug in deeper and realized that the fantasy needed grounding in something organically Russian/Slavic. Baba Yaga and the Vasilisa the Brave fairy tale came into the picture soon there after.
I love this crazy witch with her metal teeth! She is the perfect symbol, really, for so much in the novel. She is neither wholly good nor bad. You can’t quite define which side she’s on. Once characters enter her forest in the various fairy tales in which she plays a role they never emerge – if they live, that is – without having changed. She is in fact an instrument of change. She is also a reflection of society’s perception of women and beauty and age – there’s a lot of wisdom in this old crone, but her ugliness is definitely off-putting. For a story that has its literary feet firmly in the “girl power” arena, this is something of importance and my female characters all reflect it. Both Anne and Tess are often underestimated in the novel. There is most certainly a reverse fairy tale – princess saves the prince element that speaks to this as well. (that’s all I’m saying right now because to say more would be all spoilery unless everyone’s read) And Baba Yaga herself – well, let’s just say I hope to be able to write at least one sequel to Dreaming Anastasia, because I’m definitely not done with the old girl – there is more to her power and more to how it has affected Anne and possibly Tess.
In short, Baba Yaga really was the missing link for Dreaming Anastasia. Women play such a key role in everything that happens in the story. Yes, it’s the men of the Brotherhood that have set a lot of things in motion. And it’s a man – Ethan – who’s been searching for Anne. But it’s a girl that’s got to save the day. And the choices of the women and girls in the novel figure so strongly – from Tsarina Alexandra to Anastasia to Anne to Tess to Baba Yaga herself.
I didn’t start out writing a story about this Russian witch. But that’s the thing about her, I guess. She doesn’t always follow the rules. And when she decided she needed to be part of the novel, I guess she just climbed in her mortar and flew on over to me.