When I was small, Bony Legs by Joanna Cole was one of my two favorite story books. In it, a little girl named Sasha is sent by her mother to borrow needle and thread from the old lady who lives in the hosue on chicken feet in the woods. Naw, nothing bad could happen in that scenario. Of course Bony Legs captures Sasha and makes her clean and cook. But Sasha befriends Bony Legs’ cat and dog, and when Sasha escapes the animals give her a magic comb and magic mirror. As Sasha flees the the witch’s pursuit, she throws the mirror back over her shoulder and it becomes a great lake that Bony Legs has to traverse. Then she throws the comb, and it grows a wall of thin trees so close together Bony Legs can’t get through.
I loved the nastiness of Bony Legs: her chicken hut, the bone fence, her rotting teeth and tattered hair (she obviously never used the comb). The story had all the basics: be nice to animals and they’ll help you in return, have faith in the commonest of objects, witches are bad, moms are crazy. I thought of mirrors as smooth water for the longest time.
I forgot about Bony Legs. And it wasn’t until I was much older that I read a story about Baba Yaga that I remembered her. Because it was the witch, much more than Sasha, who had left an impression. And here she was, an ancient, famous witch from a bunch of Eastern European fairy tales.