Vasilisa the Beautiful

Vasilissa the Beautiful is a Russian fairy tale collected by Alexander Afanasyev in "Narodnye russkie skazki". [Alexander Afanasyev, "Narodnye russkie skazki", [ "Vasilissa the Beautiful"] ]

Another of the many versions of the tale also appears in "A Book of Enchantments and Curses" (under the title "Vasilissa Most Lovely"), by Ruth Manning-Sanders.

Aleksandr Rou made this fairy tale into a film, "Vasilissa the Beautiful" in 1939; it was the first large budget feature in the Soviet Union to use fantasy elements, as opposed to the realistic style long favored politically. [James Graham, " [ Baba Yaga in Film] "]


A merchant had, by his first wife, a single daughter, who was known as Vasilissa ("Βασίλισσα" Queen in Greek) the Beautiful. When she was eight years old, her mother died. On her deathbed, she gave Vasilissa a tiny wooden doll with instructions to give it a little to eat and a little to drink if she were in need, and then it would help her. As soon as her mother died, Vasilissa gave it a little to drink and a little to eat, and it comforted her.

After a time, her father remarried, to a woman with two daughters. Her stepmother was very cruel to her, but with the help of the doll, Vasilissa was able to perform all the tasks imposed on her. When young men came wooing, the stepmother rejected them all because it was not proper for the younger to marry before the older, and none of suitors wished to marry Vasilissa's stepsisters.

One day the merchant had to embark on a journey. His wife sold the house and moved them all to a gloomy hut by the forest. One day she gave each of the girls a task and put out all the fires except a single candle. Her older daughter then put out the candle, whereupon they sent Vasilissa to fetch light from Baba Yaga's hut. The doll advised her to go, and she went. While she was walking, a mysterious man rode by her in the hours before dawn, dressed in white, riding a white horse whose equipment was all white; then a similar rider in red. She came to a house that stood on chicken legs, and was walled by a fence made of human bones. A black rider, like the white and red rider, rode past her, and night fell, whereupon the eye sockets of the skulls became luminous. Vasilissa was too frightened to run away, and so Baba Yaga found her when she arrived in her mortar.Baba Yaga said that she must perform tasks to earn the fire, or be killed. For the first task, Vasilissa must clean the house and yard, cook supper, and pick out black grains and wild peas from a quarter measure of wheat. Baba Yaga left, and Vasilissa cooked, while the doll did everything else. At dawn, the white rider passed; at or before noon, the red. As the black rider rode past, Baba Yaga returned and could complain of nothing. She bade three pairs of disembodied hands seize the grain to grind it, and set Vasilissa the same tasks for the next day, with the addition of cleaning poppy seeds that had been mixed with dirt. Again, the doll did all except cooking the meal. Baba Yaga set the three pairs of hands to press the oil from the poppy seeds.

Vasilissa asked about the riders's identities and was told that the white one was Day, the red one the Sun, and the black one Night. Other details are not explained, on the grounds that Baba Yaga preferred to keep them secret. In return, Baba Yaga inquired into the cause of Vasilissa's success. On hearing the answer "by my mother's blessing", Baba Yaga sent Vasilissa home. With her was sent a luminously-eyed skull, to provide light for her in-laws. The light burned the in-laws to ashes.

Later, Vasilissa became assistant to a maker of cloth in Russia's capital city, where she became so skilled at her work that the czar himself noticed her skill. He later married Vasilissa.


In some versions, the tale ends with the death of the stepmother and stepsisters, and Vasilissa lives peacefully with her father after their removal. This is unusual in a tale with a grown heroine, although some, such as "Jack and the Beanstalk", do feature it. [Maria Tatar, "Off with Their Heads!" p. 199 ISBN 0-691-06943-3]


The white, red, and black riders appear in other tales of Baba Yaga and are often interpreted to give her a mythological significance.

In common with many folklorists of his day, Alexander Afanasyev regarded many tales as primitive ways of viewing natures. In such an interpretation, he regarded this fairy tale as depicting the conflict between the sunlight (Vasilissa), the storm (her stepmother), and dark clouds (her stepsisters). [Maria Tatar, p 334, "The Annotated Classic Fairy Tales", ISBN 0-393-05163-3]

Clarissa Pinkola Estés interprets the story as a tale of female liberation, Vasilisa's journey from subservience to strength and independence. She interprets Baba Yaga as the "wild feminine" principle that Vasilisa has been separated from, which, by obeying and learning how to nurture, she learns and grows from. [cite book
last = Estes
first = Clarissa Pinkola
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Women Who Run with the Wolves
publisher = Ballantine Books
date = 1992
location =
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 978-0345409874

Popular Culture

Vasilissa appears in Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" universe in the miniseries entitled "Darkness Calls" published by Dark Horse Comics in 2007. She appears in issue #4. The story is written by Mignola and drawn by Duncan Fregredo.

ee also

*Bawang Putih Bawang Merah
*Rushen Coatie
*Hansel and Gretel
*Frau Trude
*The Witch
*The Two Caskets
*Udea and her Seven Brothers


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