You know your screwed when the head of a crime family has to take a drink to explain who you just messed with — and why you should be shitting bricks in your pants. John Wick is a man who will inspire such unsanitary action. If the words baba yaga and John Wick were said in the same breath, you would do the same knowing what “baba yaga” means.
But Hollywood being Hollywood — land of creative license abuse — does the Russian folklore character mean what it means in “John Wick”?
What Does Baba Yaga Mean in John Wick?
John Wick as baba yaga is wild. Unless John is planning to go from a he to a she, “baba yaga” may not be the right moniker for the avenging assassin forced out of retirement.
“Baba yaga” means an ogress. She likes children — and by “like,” I don’t mean in that Facebook sort of way; this creature likes kids the way Hannibal Lecter likes a particular kind of meat.
So baba yaga isn’t a boogeyman as defined in “John Wick.” The baba yaga Russians have come to know is a kind of unpleasant looking witch who lives in an uber-Goth hut, with a fence made of people’s bones and skulls. Yes, she sounds a hell of a lot like the witch in “Hansel and Gretel.” No, she probably doesn’t have John Wick’s menacing back tattoo, or any kind of skin art on her.
And a baba yaga in Russian folklore is not likely to appear as posh as John’s well-groomed beard and head of hair.
The meaning of baba yaga isn’t limited to a witch. Russians may also use the term for an authoritarian teacher or a hateful old lady. Essentially, any lady who isn’t pleasant to be with or look at may be referred to as baba yaga.
It is said that baba yaga goes with Death on his trips. This must be one of the reasons for the confusion in “John Wick.”
The mention of John’s name spooks a lot of people because they know that if he’s around, Death is bound to follow. Some dudes are going to get a pencil pierced into their ear or neck. Others are going to get shot in close range with John Wick’s gun, or by their own gun. And then plenty may get several knives stuck in them in multiple places.
John Wick’s kill count varies in each of the three chapters, with the first one having the lowest casualties at 91 and “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum” having the highest, so far, at 167.
What Should They Have Called John Wick in Russian?
An accurate moniker for John Wick could be “babay” or “babai” or “babaika,” all of which are Russian for boogeyman. But that’s not the boogeyman — just a boogeyman, who typically inhabits the streets and makes noises if he finds out some kids aren’t sleeping. In some tales, this boogeyman may also creep into homes and take kids.
Russian folklore features several types of boogeyman. There is the leshij, who’s a spirit that looks like an old man living in the forest; the domovoi, who’s a kind ghost resembling a little man living in houses, and the korschei, who’s an evil magician that looks like a skinny guy.
Anyone who’s seen “John Wick” repeatedly knows that the hit man extraordinaire is no old man, or little and skinny. John Wick’s tattoo declares he’s not some boogeyman who’s content lurking in forests or hiding in other people’s houses.
Although John’s execution of Viggo Tarasov’s son, Iosef, would be comparable to what some babais would do. It may even be similar to what some baba yaga tales illustrate, which is a witch taking away willful children. And that may be another reason for the movie using (misusing) the term.
John Wick as Baba Yaga and Boogeyman
No one can blame John for punishing Iosef. The punk did kill Daisy, the beagle pup John’s wife left him posthumously, and steal his 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 429.
Never touch another man’s sweet ride and never, ever mess with his dog. Not especially when he has the ability to weaponize a pencil.
It makes sense then for Viggo, knowing what John’s capable of, to whisper a warning to his son, “John will come for you.” It’s probably how some frustrated Russian parents would scare their wayward kids back in the day, “Baba yaga will come for you.” Or is it “Babai will come for you.”
Russian boogeyman or witch, John Wick will still give you a fright no matter what moniker is used to describe him. Because when he shows up, all quiet and styled up with a bulletproof tailored suit, you know there will be blood.