Skull & Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga

Kate Wolford
World Weaver Press (2019)
ISBN 9781732254626
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (5/19)

“Skull & Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga,” is an anthology of stories edited by Kate Wolford about an old witch from Slavic mythology. She lives in the forest, in a hut that stands on chicken legs. The legs constantly keep the hut turning, unless one knows the magic words to get it to hold still so that they can enter. A fence, made of skulls and bones, surrounds the home. Baba Yaga has a head of long, wild gray hair, a long nose, and a mouth full of metal teeth. She uses these teeth to eat people who fail to do her bidding. She flies around riding in a giant mortar using a pestle for a rudder. She uses a broom to erase her path. Baba Yaga can either be your worst enemy or your greatest asset. When one makes a deal with her, they must do all that she says to get their wish fulfilled. Many of her requests are impossible to fulfill, so the petitioner usually ends up as her meal.

In this collection of seven stories, most go into the past, and readers can gain a clearer understanding of why Baba Yaga becomes the way that she is. One story happens in the present. All of them are fascinating and well written. I see a common theme, among many of them, of a Cinderella type story where there is a wicked stepmother, a widowed father who has a daughter that has to slave for others, and some evil stepsisters. I was intrigued to learn about Baba Yaga, and despite her evilness, I felt empathy towards her. I also enjoyed the darkness of these stories. Tales from old folklore tend to be grim and these do not disappoint. These stories are like the style of the original Grimm’s Fairy tales, not the recent ones that have happy endings.  I found them all to be a fun escape from my mundane world.

I highly recommend reading “Skull & Pestle: New Tales of Baba Yaga” edited by Kate Wolford. I do not recommend reading it out loud as bedtime stories for children – unless you really don’t like them!