Two Acts and a Couple of Witches

I’m writing a two-act play. Each act is two scenes long, and I only have the final scene left to write. That’s mapped out pretty well, so it looks like this will be the first full-length play I’ll actually complete. I started one long ago, but never finished it, and I’ve finished several short plays for the stage and for audio. (If you’re interested, I list them and offer some of the scripts at the bottom of my writing résumé in the About section.)

I suspect many writers wind up with at least a slightly different story than what they sat down to write. It’s part of the process and part of the fun. For instance, I hadn’t fully realized that my play was, at its heart, a tale of witchcraft. In fact, two legendary witches are named. The first one is Moll Dyer, whose legend is told here. This tale presents her as a vengeful victim of a witch hunt rather than a practicing witch. Dyer is accused of witchcraft, she’s driven out of her house on a bitter cold night, and she freezes to death. However, her handprint is found pressed into a rock, and that rock is said to curse anyone who touches it. There’s an older telling of the legend here, one which becomes a ghost story. In regard to this witch-and-ghost-legend blend, Maryland’s Moll Dyer has some basic similarities to Tennessee’s Bell Witch, the latter legend being something I wove into one of my Vera Van Slyke novels.

From Chapter X of A Famous History of the Lancaster Witches (1780)

Moll Dyer and her cursed rock play only a minor part in my play. Baba Yaga is revealed in the end to have had a more central role in all that happens. This figure from Slavic folklore is complicated and contradictory. At times, Baba Yaga is terrible, but other times, she’s helpful. She might guide you through the woods — or eat you. Moody, in other words. This ambiguity works nicely with the story I’m dramatizing: a group traveling through rural Wisconsin gets hit by a blizzard. They find refuge in an old farmhouse whose previous owner had a notorious reputation — think Ed Gein. The guests come to discover they’re trapped. This is supposed to sound like a familiar premise — something in the “old dark house” vein — but I think I put a pretty good twist on it.

Oh, did I mention it’s a comedy?

I’m now fascinated — dare I say bewitched? — by Baba Yaga. I want to learn more about how she appears in various forms in various folktales. Though not exactly promised, it’s quite possible that I’ll share what I find here. And if I stumble across any other witchy legends, such as the one about Moll Dyer, I’ll probably share them, too. In other words, is now home to ghosts and witches.

— Tim

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