“So what about the other times?” Sagacia inquired.
“What other times?” Simplia wanted to know.
“You said ‘Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes a miller is just a miller.’ That means sometimes they’re not! So, what are they?”
Simplia pondered. “Well, a cigar could be a status symbol. It could be a moment of utter relaxation. It could be that stinky smell that makes your eyes water. It could be a reminder of your cousin Wendell.”
“I don’t have a cousin Wendell!” Sagacia snapped. “But I see what you mean. A miller could be a self-employed father who works long hours but loves his kids, or he could be a rascal who needs watching lest he weight the scales against you.”
“And hearing the old stories in old settings adds a whole new dimension to whatever the people are,” she added. “Modern listeners hear them in a different way than their contemporary audiences heard them. Where is that letter from Csenge Zalka?”
Sagacia reached into the pouch of letters they’d brought home from the fairy tale lobby mail to Post-Industrial in Potsdam.
“Here!” she exclaimed, pulling it out. The word “Tarkabarka” shimmered in many colors on the return address label. Sagacia unfolded the letter and read:
Kids can learn about the way life used to be a hundred years ago, and can get an idea of how things were made – not a bad thing to start on in a day when children think cows are things that come in a box. Also, a lot of these professions became family names in many languages, and a lot of kids find it very entertaining to find out what the profession is behind a name.
“Hm-m. Family names! I wonder what profession ‘Simpleton’ came from?” Simplia mumbled pensively.
Sagacia ignored her. “It’s like Adam Hoffman said:
Kids should understand that life wasn’t like what it is today and that some of the things that they take for granted as just coming from a store (like shoes or clothes) took some degree of skilled labor to produce.
“That’s important!” Simplia affirmed. “Still, those old fairy tale occupations must have more to do than to just be didactic content for twenty-first century children. They are too charming to just…, too charm-ing…. They charm too much to…Say, do you think…?”
At that moment, the doorbell buzzed. Sagacia put down the letter pouch and scurried toward the door. She returned with an arrow and a piece of folded parchment sealed with wax–and a very puzzled look on her face!
“No one was there,” she said, “But this arrow was stuck in the doorbell button, and this…,” she waved the parchment, “…was on the doormat.”
Simplia took the arrow. “O-oh! An excellent fletcher made this!” she bubbled, running her finger along the shaft and over the vanes.
Sagacia broke the wax seal and unfolded the parchment. “It’s from Charles Kiernan,” she said. And she began to read:
Dear Post-Industrial in Potsdam
Does tenaciously sticking with the old forms serve a good purpose in the fairy tale? Are the unfamiliar occupations and other antiquated constructs unnecessary stumbling blocks? Let me propose we update the internal references in these tales and re-present the stories in present-day familiar terms. I will try this experiment on “Hansel and Gretel.”
* * *
Once there was a poor Walmart greeter, who smiled for strangers from sun up until sun down, and returned home, in the dark, feeling glum.
His wife said to him, “My unemployment benefits are running out, and ever since your ex dumped her kids on us, we haven’t been able to make ends meet. We will starve to death unless we get rid of the children.”
“What do you propose?”
“We tell the kids we are going for a nature hike on the weekend, and then leave them in the forest.”
The greeter was not happy, but his wife insisted and he had to relent. But Hansel and Gretel overheard their argument.
“Don’t worry, Gretel,” said Hansel. “I will find our way back.”
When everyone was asleep Hansel snuck out to the car and came back with the GPS….
Sagacia looked up to see Simplia smiling, then she read Charles’s closing words:
On second thought, maybe we should leave well enough alone. Fairy tales needs that “other worldliness” as its atmosphere to allow us to suspend our disbelief. It may not be important that the reader/listener understand what tinkers, spinsters, or goose girls do. These are charming words, and to charm is all that is needed.
“Well, my friend,” Sagacia said, putting down the letter. “You and Charles may have a point. The imagined past has a charm all its own! Naming old half-remembered crafts and trades takes us right out of the here-and-now into the otherwhere, and if any practical good comes of it, well, that’s just a bonus. It’s like Erica Taraporevala said…” Sagacia shuffled through the box of letters, until she found the one with the “Modhukori” return address. She read:
Fairy tales can charter us through unknown territory….. one day , when we have consumed all our resources and have go back to spinning wheels :P , these stories will help…. who knows…..:)
“And if they don’t,” Simplia smiled, “Who cares? Charm is enough!”
William Tell mosaic from the Swiss National Museum and Wikimedia.