REVIEW: Skull & Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga, edited by Kate Wolford

Review of Kate Wolford, ed., Skull & Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga (World Weaver Press, 2019) — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman.

In this anthology, folklorist Kate Wolford collects seven tales of Baba Yaga, the dangerous and deceptive crone-witch figure of Slavic mythology. The collection is introduced by Amanda Bergloff, who delves into the history of the Baba Yaga character, and the subversive ways in which she acts, both in historical myth and in the present set of stories. The stories themselves range from retellings of the classic Baba Yaga tales, including the most well-known of them, “Vasilisa the Beautiful”, found in Alexander Afanasyev’s 19th century Russian Fairy Tales, to ones that depart from the classic tradition much more, focusing on Baba Yaga’s origins, or transferring her from the Slavic myth to World War II history.

Three of the stories (Forsyth, Sloan, Shanel) are straight up re-tellings of the original story, although sometimes extended or transplanted. Two (Honigman, Coates) are stories of Baba Yaga in modern times. Two (Ross, Cook) explore Baba Yaga’s history. As isolated stories, each can more than stand on its own merits. However, rather perversely for a themed anthology, having three tellings of the same story in the same book got a bit repetitious. The ones I loved the best were the ones that reinvented the story, rather than merely retold it, and made something wholly new. On this count, Honigman’s story is the bright shining jewel of the anthology.

The seven stories are listed below, and we will review each in turn, linking them back to this post when the reviews are published.