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Ivan Bilibin’s Baba Yaga

Sagacia was stretched out on the Davenport reading letters from magical friends in response to Faithful in Fairbanks. Simplia was at the corner desk, poring over her laptop.

Camille Born is on Facebook talking about them, too,” she said. “Witch stories, I mean. She’s saying…”

I don’t use any with witches or devils (but I don’t use any of those any time for kids); in old folk tales the nasty woman is always a hag, crone, henwife (which I describe as someone people went to for special potions, etc). I don’t use stories with lots of blood and guts, relying instead on suspense… jump stories, urban legends.

It may not even do any good to talk about witches and devils,” Sagacia said, waving a letter in her hand. “Kids may not even know what they are. Listen to this report from Julie Moss Herrera.”

I told a story to kindergartners that had four “bad-guy” characters in it; one was a ghost, one a witch, one a monster, one a devil. The heroine outsmarts them all. But the kids had no idea what a devil was. We talked a little bit after the story about how the “bad-guys” represent all the problems we might face in our lives. The kindergartners got that!

Then today I was talking with high school students who weren’t sure why a story named “Pedro y Diablo” had two men thinking about St. Peter (who’s that?) and the devil. So I think Priscilla Howe is right: the adults are more afraid of things that go bump in the night than the kids are. At least the adults seem to think they are more knowledgeable.

Simplia sighed. “Adults! Is it stereotyping to say that adults cause all the trouble?” She went back to reading Camille Born’s postings:

It’s never surprised me that schools have asked for spooky/scary stories. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is read as literature in many an American classroom….Our public school culture has been spooking themselves silly for years, not to mention around youth group campfires. While gore, violence, witches and devils may be politically, socially, religiously incorrect in our times, a good paranormal ghost story – a story of the unexplained – is still kosher, and has not yet been relegated to the realm of “Those Things That Must Not Be Mentioned.”

“‘Things that must not be mentioned’?” Sagacia articulated.

“I know!” Simplia avowed. “Sounds like censorship to me!” Just then, her laptop pinged in a new piece of email. “Which is to say ‘adults causing trouble’ again,” she added, clicking open the new letter.”

“Ah!” she said. “It’s from Charles Kiernan, and it looks pretty timely! Listen up!”

Ah, the heavy hand of censorship falls clumsily on the fragile art of storytelling, sending certain words scattering outside the circle of hearing.

I am uncomfortable hypothesizing on the dimensions of censorship. What words should not be spoken?  I can put forth the theorem that I do not censor, but I can make no proof of it. If not words, there are things, for me, unspeakable. I am intersecting the arc of censorship at a different point than “Faithful in Fairbanks”, but I draw my line nonetheless. We differ only by degrees. That “Faithful in Fairbanks” draws that line inside the perimeters of fairy tales I find obtuse.

Censorship is a kind of math. It is exact, precise, calculated. It is a cold thing, bearing none of the warmth of the spoken word.

“And that’s another thing!” said Sagacia. “It seems as if, more times than not, the adults causing the trouble are not actually present when the story is told. They don’t experience the warmth of the spoken word or the protective company of the storyteller and other listeners along with the chill of the ghastly events! I bet that old hag Faithful in Fairbanks scared her kids herself!”

“So,” said Simplia, slamming her laptop shut with a whump. “Who’s the witch, now?”