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“We’re not zeroing in on a consensus, are we?” Sagacia said under her breath as yet another of their magical friends held forth on whether, why, why not, and when a storyteller might legitimately diddle with the content and conclusion of a fairy tale.

Simplia said, “Not only that, but they aren’t coming to any sort of agreement, either.”

Before Sagacia could deliver a much needed vocabulary lesson to her friend, Csenge Zalka spoke up:

I tried to change the ending of a folktale once; I thought the punishment for the evil queen was too cruel, so I just had her run away into exile and never return. The kids, however, ended up being deeply disturbed by this, and kept coming back to me to tell me the queen should have died…. I don’t think it was some morbid fascination either. I think they did not feel safe, as if the story did not come to a satisfying conclusion, and the queen could still return to take revenge. Kids don’t roll around in the gory details either. They just need to know evil gets punished, and the punishment is final.

Sheila Arnold concurred — I think we can’t tell anything more gross than real life to our kids. Let’s use our stories about monsters to help kids know that monsters are real and sometimes can be beaten; and, foolish behavior leads to foolish results. We love “real” tv, why not a little “real” story.

Nicolette Nordin Heavey added: I too change the ending…. For example, “Little Red Hen:” now I know her friends … did not help, but would she, a mother, on top of being a friend, really deny them bread (well, I’ve already changed that to making cake with the wheat)….”

“So now not only are the Little Red Hen’s friends all deadbeats, she’s a sap,” Simplia observed.

Sagacia exclaimed, “Simplia! I’m shocked! Shocked, I tell you!”

But before Simplia could reply, Camille Born chimed in: Before I change the ending of a story, I ask myself: “will this change make the message of the story more relevant/understandable/thought-provoking for the audience?” If this answer is yes, then I change the ending. If I … wonder if I am being true to Story, I remind myself that if the stories had never been written down, they would have continued to change. Who’s to say that it might not have come out the way I’m telling it now?

…to which Julie Moss Herrera responded, I often do change the “Happily Ever After” ending to “So with a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck, they lived Happily Ever After!” Ever so much more satisfying to one who has seen through the veil of “Happily Ever After” when one partner does all the work herself.

And Cathy Jo Smith added: I have changed the ending of a tale or two in my time–but always acknowledged that the original ended somewhat differently and called it “an original tale based on traditional themes.”

Sagacia said, “Well, it sounds to me as if they all agree that altering a story is sometimes called for. And let’s please withhold judgement about whether or not the motivation behind the change is valid.”

Simplia said, “You know, maybe these stories aren’t about how things should be, or how they would be if we were making a perfect world. Maybe we’re trying to turn everything into a fable. You know, with a moral.”

“I know what a fable is,” Sagacia stated evenly.

“When really, what fairy tales do best, maybe, is just tell about the way it is. Or was. Maybe their job is to simply reflect the way things were in the days before they were folklore.”

At this point, Sagacia’s brow was tightly knitted, her lips pursed, her body language screaming, “What on earth are you talking about?”

Read what Charles Kiernan says about it,” said Simplia. “That’s not exactly what I’m trying to say. But it’s close.”

Dear Evolving in Evanston,

Change a traditional tale? Make it speak our minds? Well, we are the tellers. We cannot tell a story unless we ‘own’ it. When we come across the same story in a different time and place, it has changed and we call it a variant. However, when we find Wilhelm Grimm changing a story from edition to edition we point the finger and say we have caught the culprit red-handed.

When I am faced with conundrums like this, I turn to my familiar. (I apologize to friends in Kansas, where I understand you don’t do such things.) Being the conservative person that I am, my familiar is a black cat.

She licked her dark paw casually, but held me with a steady gaze as I proposed your question.

“Change the story,” she said, “to fit present mores? Don’t you see that as rather convenient?” her gray strips positively rippled.

“But,” I argued, “should not a story, as it travels from place to place, reflect the values of the home in which it now resides?”

“Do foreigners reflect the values of their new home? Do they not bring along and cling to the culture of their origin? Would you take that away from them?”

“Foreigners acclimate,” I said cautiously as I saw her orange fur bristle.

“For every change there is a proposed benefit and always a loss.” Her amber eyes turned green. “You make your changes at your peril.”

“Isn’t change inevitable?” I proffered.

“Never change,” she said and transformed into a Bengal tiger.

From this exchange I have determined that conferring with one’s familiar may not always be wise. I understand people from Kansas are friendly and steady; you may want to talk to them. I must now go and attend to my wounds.

Good luck in finding an answer to your question. Charles K.

Sagacia folded this final response and slipped it into the fat envelope addressed to Evolving in Evanston. Before she handed it over to the postmistress, Simplia drew a crayon from the pocket of her pinafore and scribbled on the back, “And ever after, they had their good days, and they had their bad days. The end.”