The witch in the woods

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2011, 12:00am

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Deep in the dark forest lived the most hideous witch you could ever imagine, and her name was Baba Yaga. This evil old hag inhabited a wooden hut that stood on chicken legs, and whenever Baba Yaga was in the mood for a change of scenery, she simply shouted at her house and it walked to a new part of the forest like a monster bird.

All the families in the villages near the forest warned their children never to go into the forest. Baba Yaga loved to cook, and she loved to eat. Her favourite food was children. But children sometimes do the opposite of what their parents tell them, and Baba Yaga was never short of meat to boil in her cooking pot.

Twelve-year-old Vasilisa lived with her father, stepmother and two stepsisters in a village on the edge of the forest. Her mother had died a few years ago, and her father had remarried, but his new wife and her two daughters hated Vasilisa and treated her very badly. The father pretended nothing was happening when Vasilisa cried every night alone in her bedroom.

Before she died, the girl's mother had given Vasilisa a rag doll, telling her to feed the doll every day with some milk and a biscuit. Her mother told her that the doll would help her if she ever were in trouble. Every night, in secret, the doll came alive, had her supper and then went back to being a doll.

One day, when Vasilisa's father was away on business, the step-mother thought up a clever plan to get rid of Vasilisa forever. She ordered the girl to go into the forest to get some light from deep in the woods. Vasilisa dared not disobey, and she set off into the forest. She hid her doll under her cloak before she left the house.

Vasilisa wandered through the forest, but she could not find any light. Suddenly, she saw a strange wooden hut standing on chicken legs. It was surrounded by skulls filled with fire. The door creaked open and the ugliest woman Vasilisa had ever seen rushed out and dragged her inside.

'Well, child! Have you come to be my servant?' croaked the witch, pinching Vasilisa's plump arm. Vasilisa was so terrified she could not reply. 'You will do these jobs for me, and if you do them well I will set you free! If you fail, I will eat you.'

Over the next few days, Baba Yaga set Vasilisa a list of impossible tasks. She had to fill the tank with water from a stream with a bucket full of holes. She had to count all the stars in the sky and give the witch the correct number. She had to pick all the black peas out of 10 sacks of white ones. But she completed each task, because the little doll helped her.

Baba Yaga kept her word and on the seventh day, she set Vasilisa free. She gave the girl one of the fire skulls and told her the way back to the village.

When Vasilisa arrived home, the stepmother and sisters were sitting silently in the shadows. Vasilisa lifted up the skull, and as the light fell on the three women, they turned to dust.

The house was suddenly filled with light, and Vasilisa went upstairs into her bedroom. She climbed into bed, and holding her doll tightly in her arms, she closed her eyes whispering 'thank you' over and over again before she finally fell asleep.

Comprehension

1 Where did Baba Yaga live?

2 Why was her house very strange?

3 Why did people in the villages at the edge of the forest fear Baba Yaga?

4 What was the real reason Vasilisa's stepmother sent her into the woods?

5 What did Baba Yaga make Vasilisa do?

6 How did Vasilisa escape Baba Yaga's clutches?

Answers:

1 She lived in the middle of a dark forest.

2 Because it was on chicken legs.

3 They were afraid of Baba Yaga because they thought she ate children.

4 She sent the girl into the woods hoping Baba Yaga would eat her.

5 The witch made her do some impossible tasks.

6 With the help of her doll, Vasilisa did what Baba Yaga told her and so the witch set her free.