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Cover of 1915 edition of Peter Pan and Wendy with illustrations by F. D Bedford.

Cover of 1915 edition of Peter Pan and Wendy with illustrations by F. D Bedford.

“Purl two together . . . knit one . . . knit two,” Sagacia mumbled in a slow rhythm, working her needles.

Simplia was trying to read and trying to be patient.

“Purl two together . . . knit one . . . two.”

Finally Simplia gritted her teeth and shuddered aloud! “R-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.” Her hands shook!

“What!” Sagacia said, slapping down her knitting. Murzik was startled.

“I’m trying to read Vasalisa’s letters,” Simplia said. “This is a hard question, this one from Speculating in Spearfish,” she explained, “And it takes all my concentration just to understand what people are saying, and you’re over there just mumbling away!”

“Sorry,” Sagacia said sincerely. “I know it’s a hard question. That’s why I’m knitting.”

Murzik closed his eyes again, but Simplia looked puzzled.

“Well, sort of why,” Sagacia explained. She put her knitting aside and scooted to the end of the chesterfield, near her friend. “I keep waiting for sometime when my brain will hold all that stuff together,” she said. “I’ll try again right now. With you. Read to me!”

Simplia snapped one of the letters stiff.

“Ahem!” she said. “This one is from Granny Sue Holstein.”

I hope Vasilisa has some wisdom to share, and some antidotes for the damage being done to our stories and our children. Stories can and will change with time and tellings, but we are the poorer when the heart is cut out of them for the sake of a more shocking, mainstream, funny, etc etc tale.

“The very heart of them!” Sagacia sighed empathetically.

“Right!” said Simplia. “And this one, from Megan Hicks, speaks to Granny Sue’s point.”

At the same time, as an ardent parodist whose favorite written and recorded work is comprised of fractured fairy tales, I am “hoist by my own petard.” (Whatever the heck a petard is…) There’s this enigma and I’m caught on the horns of it.

“I see her point,” Sagacia said. “But the truth is, parody and fracturing only work when people know the originals, so that seems like all the more reason to present, preserve, and perpetuate them in their truest and most complete forms.”

“You should definitely tell Megan that!” Simplia said.

Sagacia nodded. “I will! Now, read another!” she said. “I think I’m on a roll!”

“Okay; this one is from Csenge Zalka.” Simplia said, snapping up another letter.

I don’t think it’s too late. It definitely shows, and it’s heck of a huge effort, but I think people at any age are receptive to storytelling, even if they had not been exposed to it before. You mentioned video games, comics and movies. They are definitely not the same as face-to-face storytelling, HOWEVER they do speak to people’s eternal need for story. They crave stories, they seek them out, they play with them, and they are passionate about them. While it is not oral tradition, it is a good starting point. It is a connection between the things they grew up with, and what we do as storytellers. If you find the stories that connect to that point of entry, it is actually easier to draw them into the world of storytelling than one would think.
I don’t think it’s a lost cause. I think it’s a very worthy quest.

“Ah!” Sagacia said. “‘A very worthy quest!’ That’s the spirit! Let’s get questing!”

“Okay!” her friend chimed in. “And this one is from Mario Rups:

Peripheral to your question, but there is a far larger problem buried within that I think worth noting: the lack of fairy tales and fairy tale knowledge is only part of the growing loss of a common culture of any kind outside of the largely television-driven popular one. References to mythology, legends, art, the “classics” of literature, all increasingly lack resonance for much of the modern audience.

Even when what was once common culture is translated into popular culture forms, it is not always for the better. How many people today, for example, realize that Peter Pan is an essentially tragic figure? The story of a boy who cannot grow up and is fully aware, deep within himself, of what he has lost as a consequence is replaced by the more superficial story of a boy who, because he remains a child, always gets to go on carefree adventures.

“He’s right, you know! It’s a phenomenon larger than just fairy tales, but the example he gave is a perfect fairy tale example. What if we went tale by tale and considered the common mis-remembers, mis-translations, misapplications of fairy tale wisdom in popular culture?”

“That’s one way to approach the quest,” Simplia said, “Conquering one fairy tale misunderstanding at a time until we reach the shining truth at last.”

“Like Rapunzel, for starters,” Sagacia began. “Mostly, people remember the long hair or identify with being “kept in a tower” by a parent, but how many remember that lonely, pregnant teenage girl who lost the only home she ever knew and then had to find her own way in the world. How many remember her faithfulness to her beloved? And his faithfulness to her? It’s a story about losing and regaining family. That is what is so important in the original, whole tale!”

“Yeah! It’s just that that’s not as dazzling as long hair and towers,” Simplia asserted.

“Exactly! I can see we’re going to need some help from our magical friends to work through this one,” said Sagacia, leaping up from the chesterfield. “Come on, let’s go post this question at the Fairy Tale Lobby and see if anyone can help us with other examples.”

Simplia gathered up the letters and fell in behind Sagacia, then out the door they tripped.

And when the door slammed, who should leap up onto the chesterfield and circle Sagacia’s half-knit garment but Murzik! What good is a hank of wool without a few cat hairs? he thought as he nestled himself in.