“So far, so good,” replied Simplia.
“No! Not that!” Sagacia barked, waving some sheets of writing paper lined with her tiny cursive hand. “This:
“Dear Post-Industrial in Potsdam,
“We put your query to our readers and magical friends, and they have suggested many types of crafts and trades persons who appear in fairy tales. This broad group seems to cover just about everyone from serf to royalty, or, at least, every male, given the social construct of those once-upon-a-times.
“Some listed common craftsmen who might be found in any town, if not every village: baker, barber, basket-weaver, butcher, button-maker, carpenter, cobbler, miller, spinner, shoemaker (not the same as a cobbler, says Jonathan Kruk), stonecutter, tailor, tinker, weaver, woodcutter.”
“I’d say the ‘B’s’ are ahead,” Simplia observed.
Sagacia disregarded the interruption but took a sip of tea, then continued.
“As Camille Born said,
“‘Perhaps the most common occupations were used as examples most often because the stories were meant to engage the common people and used the jobs they all could relate to.’
“Jack Abgott gave perspective to the choice of these common craftsmen by asking about those not so easily found in Fairy Tales:
‘How about joiners, masons, colliers, sawyers, farriers, locksmiths, coopers, vintners, glaziers,…wigmakers, braziers, needlemakers, furriers, printers and many more?’
“And you, PIP, asked why there were no potters in fairy tales. (Or were you simply hoping someone would direct you to a clay-spattered protagonist?)”
Sagacia licked her finger, pulled away the top sheet, laid it face down on the table, and continued:
“Others identified some tradesmen: accountant, innkeeper, merchant, and peddler, as well as thieves and pirates, to look at the dark side of the trades.
“Also mentioned were entertainers such as troubadours and jesters, to which we could add players of various instruments, jugglers and magicians. And there were various religious callings named, for example, hodjas, rabbis, and priests. And perhaps we should include storied laborers such as soldiers and sailors, farmers, shepherds, and fishermen.
“So, there you have it, dear Post-Industrial in Potsdam. Thank you for writing! Your humble columnist,…”
Sagacia looked up. “So, shall I sign Vasalisa’s name and send it on?” she asked.
“Well,” Simplia began. “Your reply lists crafts and trades and other livelihoods, but that was only part of Post-Industrial in Potsdam’s question. Don’t we also want to know what those jobs suggested to the medieval mind? What occupational stereotypes they played upon?”
“Well, yes,” said Sagacia. “But that’s another step, and a harder one to think about,” she argued.
“True,” said Simplia. “But it matters. I mean, Chaucer clearly builds on common stereotypes when selecting tales to be told by each of his pilgrims in The Canterbury Tales, and they were all individuals known primarily by their occupations. The Miller, the Reeve, the Pardoner, the Manciple, the Clerk, the Man of Law…”
“Do you think they are like contemporary stories and jokes which revolve around characters in different occupations? Used car dealers, lawyers, bank presidents, politicians,…even librarians bring up immediate stereotypes, true or not,” asked Sagacia.
“Yes. A teller can skip lots of explanation just by naming one of those characters,” Simplia said.
“And there are plenty of stories that begin ‘a priest, a rabbi, and a Baptist preacher….’” Sagacia added. “I guess it’s important to know what those jobs are and what they signify to others.”
“Right!” Simplia affirmed. “We heard some insights about the nature of certain trades such as woodcutters, needlemakers, millers, and tinkers from Camille, Jack, Megan Hicks, Naomi Baltuck, and Mary Grace Ketner, but perhaps there are other little known facts or medieval stereotypes related to other kinds of work.”
“Indeed,” Sagacia said, riffling the stack of letters on the table. “It’s like Simon Brooks says–where is that…. Here!: ‘Were the stories about the common folk, and therefore the occupations were common? Were vintners, needle-makers and wig-makers above commoners? Colliers were too knackered to tell tales at the end of the day! Vintners too pissed?’”
“What would change,” Simplia pondered, “…if ‘The Shoemaker and the Elves’ became ‘The Tailor and the Elves?’ or ‘The Haberdasher and the Elves’?”
“Or, if ‘The Peddler of Swaffham’ became ‘The Troubador of Swaffham?’” Sagacia uttered pensively.
“I can’t come up with a fairy tale about a cooper,” Simplia acknowledged, “but that old song “Wee Cooper o’ Fife” is about a man who beats his wife. Is wife-beating a stereotype people had about coopers?”
“…or was it just so common that the occupation didn’t matter as long as it rolled out in anapestic tetrameter and rhymed with ‘wife,’” Sagacia lamented.
“Hmmm…Was the third little pig a master mason? or an apprentice?” Simplia pondered. “And what does a collier do, anyway? Or a manciple?”
“I wonder if some of our magical friends know what those jobs entailed and why a particular craftsman or tradesman was chosen for the particular fairy tale he was in?” Sagacia inquired.
“Well,” Simplia said confidently, “We could ask!”