“It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall.”


If you’re doing an internet search for a particular story and you want to read it now, try tacking the word “gutenberg” on the end of your search.

“…or tracking the path of a dust mote. Or drawing a cloud shaped like an elephant before it turns into a tractor. It’s like trying to capture a dream after you’ve had your first cup of tea.”

Sagacia looked at Murzik. The cat looked at her. They both cast their eyes in Simplia’s direction and then back to each other. One of them shrugged. One of them rolled his feline eyes and attended to his grooming.

“Whatever are you talking about?” Sagacia asked.

“Trying to nail down this periodic table of fairy tale elements. Like it’s scientific or something.”

“And what’s wrong with scientific thinking?”

“Nothing. Nothing. In fact, it’s a good thing. When it’s applied to the natural world.”

“And fairy tales are unnatural?”

“They’re supernatural. Or extranatural. Thinking about this question from Wondering in Winedale, I finally have a grip on the meaning of the word metaphysical. I’ve been giving myself a headache trying to think about essential elements that make one fairy tale more authentic than another, and my brain doesn’t feel big enough or deep enough or sharp enough for that.”

“But don’t you need a standard … or some standards by which to recognize one when you encounter it?”

“Yeah,” Simplia agreed. “It’s just that I don’t feel up to the task of zeroing in on them. I’m reading a contemporary book right now, by a known author, and it’s taking me to a realm of faerie that’s as satisfyingly ‘fey’ as any fairy tale I can think of. The Harry Potter stories took me there. As did The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. And The Golden Compass. American Gods. All those stories take me to the places I hope a good fairy tale will take me. And I wonder — but I can’t define — what it is about them that works as the vehicle.”

“Do you think deeper study of the old tales would reveal that?”

Simplia grinned and attempted an Ironic Raising of an Eyebrow. “Yeah,” she admitted. “Probably. But like I said… My brain doesn’t feel big enough…”

Sagacia interrupted, “Or maybe you’re a little bit lazy?”

Simplia sighed. “That, too. I don’t want to study them. I want to swim in them.”

Murzik jumped off the chesterfield and sauntered over to his dish. In the cat-shaped indentation he left behind, the Simpletons discovered a crumpled sheet of paper. They blew off the cat hair and, having identified the handwriting, they smiled and read aloud to each other:

Mirror, mirror on the wall… In that reflection we see ourselves in the fairy tale. For the benefit of our ears, the fairy tale is spoken in the language of the night.

What is stripped from that language are the words used for character development, motivation, and other literary devices. Why should they be part of this language, given that the fairy tale is more akin to poetry and the ballad?

The words spoken—simple, to the point—serve the image they create: The elderly queen pricks her finger, letting three drops of blood fall unto a white handkerchief. The princess scraps out the mortar between the stones of her imprisoning tower. The heroine unlocks the mysterious box to see a snake skin and has her magical world dissolve into the commonplace.

The fairy tale smells of the garden when we pluck its fruit. Sometimes it tastes of the forbidden. But when we touch the fairy tale, we touch it with our hearts.

I have not answered the question, What is the fairiest of fairy tales. I cannot answer. I would be choosing among my children. I am the father of the tale when I tell it.

This one was signed, Charles Kiernan

Simplia nodded and smiled. “Yeah. What he said.”