- Dreaming Anastasia
What really happened to Anastasia Romanov?
Anastasia Romanov thought she would never feel more alone than when the gunfire started and her family began to fall around her. Surely the bullets would come for her next. But they didn't. Instead, two gnarled old hands reached for her. When she wakes up she discovers that she is in the ancient hut of the witch Baba Yaga, and that some things are worse than being dead.
In modern-day Chicago, Anne doesn't know much about Russian history. She is more concerned about getting into a good college—until the dreams start. She is somewhere else. She is someone else. And she is sharing a small room with a very old woman. The vivid dreams startle her, but not until a handsome stranger offers to explain them does she realize her life is going to change forever. She is the only one who can save Anastasia. But, Anastasia is having her own dreams…
Today, I have a guest post with author Joy Preble. I asked her to tell us a little more about the witch Baba Yaga.
So here’s what happened while I was looking for a way to entwine the fantasy of Dreaming Anastasia in the world of Russian folklore. I found a deliciously and impossible to defeat witch named Baba Yaga.Yaga is her name. The Baba is a pejorative term for grandmother or granny – it has implications of “loose” women or girls who’ve lost their virginity. Kind of shows you how the patriarchy viewed things – and females. It’s from the same root we get the Russian word, “babushka” which refers to the head scarf worn by old women.
I love so much about Baba Yaga. She’s unpredictable. Maybe she’ll eat you for her supper. Maybe she won’t. It’s really hard to predict. And not necessarily dependent upon your behavior. Physically, she’s quite imposing. Huge iron teeth, hands that can detach from her body to do her bidding, enormous stature. She lives in a hut that stands on chicken legs so that she can always evade those who would go after her. (If you’ve ever seen the amazing anime movie, “Howl’s Moving Castle,” the eponymous castle is modeled after Baba Yaga’s forest home) When she rides through the air, she does so in a giant mortar, stirred with an equally giant pestle. No broomstick for this Russian witch!
In Dreaming Anastasia, Baba Yaga is many things. She is Anastasia’s captor as well as her protector. She is the old woman who is underestimated by those who would attempt to use her and control her. She is frighteningly ugly and fearsome, but she is still a woman and one who has motherly instincts. She is who Anne believes she must defeat in order to save Anastasia. But as she tells Anastasia in the opening pages of the novel, “They don’t really know me… They think they know what evil is… But they do not. They think it is all so very simple. That I am a witch and that is that. But it is not as they tell it. I am not what the think I am.”
Dreaming Anastasia plays with that luscious duality. Who is good? Who is evil? Nothing is as cut and dried as the characters think. I loved working with that idea. Each character – not to give too much away until everyone’s read – has a piece of that duality. Anne is just a high school junior. But she’s much more than that. Ethan looks like an ordinary eighteen year old guy. But is he? Anne’s family seems whole and functioning. But is it? And Baba Yaga, well, she’s just a witch. Or is she?
Interestingly, Baba Yaga did not exist in my first draft of Dreaming Anastasia. But when I knew I wanted to add the layer of Russian folklore, she was the first character who came to mind. What better than an unconquerable witch who brings change to the characters who confront her? Like in the well known fairy tale, Vasilisa the Brave, in which Vasilisa’s stepmother sends her to Baba Yaga’s hut to fetch light. Unlike the counterpart Hansel and Gretel, Vasilisa goes into the forest alone, with only her doll to protect her. And with the doll’s help she outwits the witch and gets her happily ever after. Or maybe the witch just lets her think so.
I hope that readers will enjoy my depiction of Baba Yaga. That they will see her as she sees herself – part witch, part woman, part mother and under the ugly exterior, one old but still kick ass female!
Thanks so much Joy for that great guest post!