Depending on the fairy tale, Vasilisa may be a priest’s daughter, a despised stepsister, or even a frog princess. She may be Vasilisa the Fair--or the Brave--or the Wise. But there’s another thing she is, no matter the story. She is Vasilisa the Young.
For fairy tales are the domain of the young, aren’t they? There are exceptions, but most of the characters climbing beanstalks, riding white bears, questing after firebirds, or taking cake and wine to their grandmothers fall somewhere between child and young adult. Their stories are about finding themselves and their place in the world.
In the story where she meets the baba yaga, Vasilisa does exactly that. She enters the wood a girl: beautiful, blessed, and a bit passive. But by the time she leaves it, she is a woman to be reckoned with. She very shortly dispatches her abusive step-family, finds a loving mother figure, and proves her worth to the tsar, ending up a queen in the bargain.
But before I wrote my Vasilisa story, A Tale Soon Told, I had a good long think about what happens next for Vasilisa the Young. You know this one: Happily Ever After, of course. But for how long? That’s my question. The reason I love fairy tales is that, despite their fantastic elements, they still feel so true. But only until the end. Happy, I can believe. But Ever After is the fantasy. That’s not the way life works.
Yes, we go into the wood. We face witches, ogres, and wolves. We achieve independence; we find true love. We come out of the woods sadder and wiser than before. We get that job, that house, that baby, that whatever we are after. We win.
But only for a while.
Nothing is permanent. Children grow up, true love is not true after all, we move or change jobs, loved ones die. We lose. And then? Then we must go back to the wood and find ourselves all over again. Because fairy tales are for all of us, even those who are not so young as we used to be.
So every now and then we must wrap our sore ankles and find a stout walking stick. We must pick up the basket or sharpen the sword. We must put on the iron shoes. And so must Vasilisa the Not-So-Young. We must all go back to the hut that runs on chicken’s legs, back to face the red-eyed witch with iron teeth. Our tale may be soon told, but it is not over yet.