Fairy-Tale Files: Talking Wooden Dolls

Fairy-Tale Files, published once weekly, feature three variations of a fairy tale chosen by one of Fairy Tale Review’s editors, readers, editorial assistants, or contributors.


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In the Slavic fairy tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” a dying mother gives her young daughter Vasilisa a wooden doll. The mother tells Vasilisa: “When you need help, go somewhere quiet and give it something to eat and drink and it will tell you what to do.”

After her mother’s death, Vasilisa gives the doll some food and water. To her surprise, the doll’s eyes shine and it comes to life. The doll not only offers advice, she protects Vasilisa from both her wicked stepmother and Baba Yaga. In some versions, the wooden doll even helps Vasilisa eventually marry a Tsar.

Max Westwell as the Nutcracker fighting rats. Dress rehearsal for the ballet The Nutcracker at the London Coliseum. Set to music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the traditional Christmas ballet is choreographed by Wayne Eagling based on a concept by Toer von

One of the most popular ballets of all time, The Nutcracker, based on an 1816 tale by E.T.A. Hoffman, also features a wooden doll that protects the protagonist.

Clara receives a wooden nutcracker from her godfather as a Christmas present. When she falls asleep under the Christmas tree, the nefarious Mouse King and his minions show up. But the  Nutcracker comes to life to protect Clara. With his army of animated toy soldiers, he manages to vanquish the Mouse King before transforming into a handsome prince.

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In contemporary TV and movies, wooden dolls that come to life tend to be more sinister rather than protective—think of Chucky or Annabelle. But in the first season of Buffy, The Vampire Slayer, a wooden doll helps vanquish a demon. Episode 9, “The Puppet Show,” features a ventriloquist dummy named Sid who is possessed—not by a demon, but a demon hunter. Sid offers sage advice, helps Buffy track and identify the demon, and even drives a knife through its heart.