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You really don’t want to be awake for some stories. Best to remember them as you remember a dream.

“Gotcha who?” said Sagacia.

“No,” Simplia said. “I gotcha. I got you to put down the letters you’re reading, respond to a verbal cue, and brace yourself for a bad pun.”

“And that makes you proud of yourself?”

“Not particularly. I was just trying out my new vocabulary word: ‘invocation.’”

Sagacia said, “Next time you interrupt my reading you’ll invoke my wrath.” But she wasn’t really angry. She handed the letters to her friend and said, “These are for Stymied in Steilacoom. Have a read.”

“Oh yeah, the guy who falls asleep whenever he hears ‘once upon a time.’ So what wisdom do our Magical Friends have to offer in this batch of mail?”

Camille Born wrote: Just as every story has its own heart, each has its own opening. “Back when animals could talk and trees could move…” or simply “Once…” As important as the words that are said, so is the attitude of the teller: “look into the eyes of the audience – all around the room, smile at them, stand up, straighten your shoulders, let the inside energy flow out,” is what I tell myself before each story, and then just…. start.

“Once upon a time” still serves its function with the kids I tell to, wrote mythicgene. And when I say ‘“and they lived happily ever after” even when the story has a sad ending, they know the story is over. But I have a large collection of openings and closings to choose from when they seem appropriate.

Marion Leeper seemed okay with the idea of people sleeping through some stories, as long as the storyteller put them in that state of deliberately: It’s important to decide, as a storyteller, whether you need people to be awake in your story or not. Beginning storytellers sometimes confuse the heightened language that is sometimes used for myths and folktales with a rich, sing-song voice that sends people to sleep straight off. The two are not the the same at all. But you can very often tell which voice it is going to be from the very first sentence.

Brian “Fox” Ellis wrote: I once read that the aboriginal folks in what is now called Australia begin with… “In the land where dreams come from…

Sagacia reread this one a couple of times and said, “Maybe Stymied isn’t cursed at all.”

“Yeah,” said Simplia. “Maybe he has a head start on the rest of us.” She pulled one last letter from her pocket and showed it to Sagacia. “The Tooth Fairy must have brought this one last night,” she explained. “I’ve heard she sometimes moonlights for the postal service. I found it under my pillow when I woke up this morning.”

Sagacia saw the return address and smiled.

“Ah,” she said. “Charles Kiernan.”

Dear Stymied in Steilacoom,

There is perhaps some wisdom to your fairy godmother’s curse. Should not “Once upon a time…” or “Once there was and once there wasn’t…” put us all into dreamtime? Should we not be stepping over the threshold of the ordinary into the unfolding world of the fantastic at the sound of these opening words?

The term that comes to mind is “invocation.” Following it, we will tread where we otherwise cannot go. We will follow the maiden with no hands, the lad who knew no fear, Vasilisa with the glowing skull from Baba Yaga.

In that time and space we come face to face with the ultimate, the desperate, the forbidden, and we are not destroyed by it. Rape, incest, death, as well as unconditional love, faithfulness, and purity come to dance before us. Beauty unmasks the beast: the glass slipper fits only Cinderella; Snow White awakes with a kiss.

The messages of fairy tales are surreal. To receive them, we might do better to be asleep and dreaming.

Sagacia folded the letter and gave her friend a good-natured eye roll.

“Could this letter have been the inspiration for your little vocabulary experiment?” she asked.

“Yeah,” said Simplia. “Maybe if I learn enough fancy words, I’ll be as wise as our Magical Friends.”

“Well, here’s another fancy word for you. It does the ‘happily ever after’ job.”

“What”s that?”


Illustration: Donkeyskin by H. J. Ford (1860-1941)