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From Walter de la Mare's "Old Tales Told Again," Alfred A. Knopf, 1927. Illustration by A. H. Watson.

“What’s that, Simplia?” Sagacia said, not breaking stride, not looking back. “You’re mumbling again,”

“I said, ‘They’re as far apart as day from night,’ and I am not mumbling, I’m gasping for breath trying to keep up with you.”

Sagacia stopped and turned around.

“I’m sorry, dear,” Sagacia said. “I guess I was just excited at the possibility of visiting with our magical friends. I forget how short your legs are.

“And you forget that I am easily distracted. Look at the posters for those two new movies about the same fairy tale.” She pointed to the movie theatre across the street.

Sagacia studied them for a moment and said, “Strange. It appears one is a light-hearted comedy and the other one… The other one appears to be a rehearsal for Armageddon.”

Sometimes Simplia didn’t understand Sagacia’s big words, but it sounded as though her friend agreed with her. “Like I said, as far apart as day from night. I’d be scared to see the Armor-Get-On one, with the monsters and the spiky queen. But the other one looks like fun. How can it be the same story?”

Sagacia said, “Remember The Princess Bride?”

“Of course I do! It’s one of my favorite fairy tales, but I know it’s not real. It’s a Lego fairy tale.”

“What? Lego?”

“Yeah. The guy who wrote it…”

“William Goldman.”

“Him. The guy who wrote The Princess Bride assembled that story with bits and pieces — the good parts — that he took from a bunch of real fairy tales.”

“And that’s what all these new fairy tale movies are. ‘Good Parts Versions.’ Scary good parts. Potentially funny good parts. And I imagine sometimes they have to invent some new good parts.”

“Is that what some of our magical friends mean when they talk about ‘the folk process’? You make up your own version of a story using only the bits you like?”

Sagacia started to respond, but she had to stop for a quick ponder. The ponder lengthened into serious consideration. And serious consideration soon was overshadowed by a brown study. For once, Simplia had asked a question that stumped her smarter, wiser friend.

Simplia went on… “Because then, At a Loss in Altoona could tell one version of the story for tender ears and another version of the same story that would be grownup. Same story. Different good parts.”

The aroma of ginger cookies filled the air and reminded the two friends that they had arrived at The Fairy Tale Lobby.

“Oh look!” Sagacia said. “We’re there. Let’s go inside and see what our magical friends are talking about.”

Charles Kiernan was reading out loud as he proofread a letter he was writing:
“Dear At a loss in Altoona,

A problem for us tellers-of-tales has always been the dismissive verbal gestures of our fellow adults, or as our kids more accurately call us—in their economy of speech—’dolts.’

The kids are poised for understanding; we need only tell them the tales. It is our fellow dolts, who hear the tales through their filters that miss the understanding. Once upon a time they knew. They were kids. Unless they did not hear the tales when they should have heard, or have since schooled themselves to forget the fairy tale messages, they should still have vestiges of half forgotten fay wisdom to call upon.

We dolts who have afforded ourselves the luxury of allowing these tales to live with us, occupy special places in our homes and our heads, have relearned some of our child-wonder. For that the fairies, fallen from heaven though they be, bless us.

How can we explain our passion for fairy tales to skeptical dolts?

Maybe we can find the words to remind them of what they once knew. Perhaps words like ‘Once there was and once there wasn’t a land that neither you nor I can visit…’ But I fear that might not be enough to penetrate the dolt mind, and say to them, ‘Herein live secrets.’”

Marion Leeper was holding forth to her friends at the bar:

“Well now this is an old old complaint. In 1802 Mrs. Trimmer condemned fairy tales: she was upset that although she had written carefully composed moral tales that would help children grow up balanced and virtuous, instead the children would sneak down to the kitchen, listen to horrific stories from the cook, and then be up all night with bad dreams.

Maybe Mrs. Trimmer and the school teacher have a point.

I think it’s really important to tell children stories containing conflict and difficulty: they are no fools and can see through a story where only happy things are allowed – life’s not like that!

But I also think we have a duty to adjust the grim versions of old stories to contemporary expectations. I once listened to someone tell a family audience with very young children the old traditional Jacobs version of Henny Penny, in which Foxy Loxy grabs each animal as it comes into his den, bites off its head, and throws its body into the pile at his back. I watched the young mothers turning pale with horror, while the children were a little bemused: this kind of violence was outside their terms of reference. Once country children would have routinely seen animals killed and butchered: now this is not part of their experience.

So keep the conflict but soften the violence, would be my feeling.”

j. a. kazimer was sitting behind a table near the ginger cookies, signing her new book Curses! She told a fan:

“What kind of world would there be without these tales and retellings? Fairytales are too graphic for a 2 year old, but they serve a real purpose in society, which is why so many sudden retellings have emerged.”

Tarkabarka, nodded her agreement and said:

“Try to scare, disturb or gross out a fifth grader. I DARE you. Try. They are going to be all ‘THAT’S SO COOOOL!!!!'”

Simplia and Sagacia were too busy chewing to add any comments of their own. Besides that, what with all that food for thought, their brains were as full as their bellies.

Finally Sagacia leaned over to her friend and said, “Well, at least At a Loss in Altoona will know there’s plenty of support among her storytelling peers. Still, I wish someone would come up with a snappy comeback for that teacher and that festival producer.”

To which Simplia, mouth full, replied, “Mmmpf.”

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