Fear Has Big Eyes

Princess Lesnenka has ventured out into the forest to gather mushrooms, but has gotten lost. She happens upon a hostelry deep in the tanglewood, and accepts its hospitality. The old proprietress takes her mushrooms and makes her some soup – which means the lovely young Princess is about to make a big mistake…

strach ma elke oci

For her hostess is not the kindly soul she seems, but the wicked witch Baba Magi, and the soup makes the Princess lose her memory. By day she slaves away as the witch’s servant at the inn, and at night she is transformed into a fairy who lures other unsuspecting travelers to come and taste of Baba Magi’s soup – and be turned into ghosts!

There is consternation at the castle when Lesnenka doesn’t come home. Two young men venture into the woods in search of her, but when they find her, she’s in fairy form – which means they end up unhappily spectral. But the third youth to look for the Princess is more steadfast, and more cunning: the brave woodsman Filip, who has long loved her from afar, and ultimately succeeds in rescuing her and getting the witch’s other victims changed back. Naturally he will also get the girl in the end.

But before that, there’s one last ordeal for Lesnenka, when her father arrives at the inn, and, though he’s glad that she has been found, he isn’t altogether pleased that she got herself lost in the first place…

Jaroslav Pacovsky originally wrote Strach ma velke oci (Fear Has Big Eyes) as a television fairytale in 1980, combining elements of horror and comedy to create a vehicle for a bravura performance as Baba Magi by Iva Janzurova (who fourteen years earlier was offered the role of the stamp-spanked Zdenka in the film version of Closely Watched Trains, but turned it down). Lesnenka was Jana Bouskova, an actress with a long track record of playing fairytale princesses,

a type of role which (in the Czech Republic, at least) gives an actress a better than average chance of ending up like this:

But now it’s time to acknowledge one salient and disappointing fact: although Josef Langmiler raises his hand to spank her,

he doesn’t follow though. It’s the narrowest possible escape for Princess Lesnenka! But never mind, we can still enjoy the scene for what it is:

Like many another Czech fairy tale of both the big screen and the small, Strach ma velke oci went on to a long and successful life in the theater. Pacovsky created a stage adaptation in the 1980s, and it has remained popular in recent years. Here’s a production from 2016, which handles the abortive spanking in a rather perfunctory way:

And here’s something a whole lot better from 2018:

And that just goes to show that, even though unspanked, Lesnenka may still feel her father’s stern hand across the seat of her traditional blue-and-white dress!

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