Despite her appearances in numerous folktales, Baba-Yaga is one of the few creatures of fairy tale that I first encountered strictly through paintings and images, rather than through text or animated cartoon. In part, this is because she was left out of my various collections of western fairy tales, especially since it was years before I encountered the Andrew Lang collections. The ones I had largely focused on English, French, German, Norwegian and Italian fairy tales, with the occasional Spanish or Arabic (or probably faked Arabic, in the case of Aladdin and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves) story thrown in. She is, after all, from Russia, and although the occasional Russian or Slavic element crept into my collections, these appearances were rare.
But I did see the pictures: horrific images of a person more skeleton than person, really, reaching out with clawed hands towards terrified children; tiny bizarre houses resting on—could those be bird feet? Chicken feet?—hidden deep in the woods; fiercely ugly old women with long noses using skulls as lanterns.
They were powerful. They were mesmerizing.
Clearly, they had a story.