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From Forty-Four Turkish Fairy Tales collected and translated by Dr. Ignácz Kúnos with illustrations by Willy Pogany

“What have you got there?” Simplia inquired as Sagacia came stumbling up the back steps.

“Remember when Miriam Nadel mentioned Once Upon a Midlife? Well, our library had it and also another of Allan B. Chinen’s books, Fairy Tales for the Second Half of Life, so I checked out both of them, and also Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, the book Priscilla Howe cited.”

“Nice!” said Simplia, taking Sagacia’s bookbag so she could catch her balance–or, perhaps, out of eagerness to look at the books herself.

Sagacia tripped lightly up the last step into the kitchen. She turned on the burner under the teapot, found a bag of Lemon Zinger and placed it into a teacup.

“Listen to this!” Simplia called out from the table. “Chinen is talking about that ‘happily ever after’ part, you know? And he says, ‘This book is about what happens next, when the Prince goes bald and the Princess has a midlife crisis.’ Sounds like what Middle-aged in Madison wanted to know.”

The tea kettle whistled. “Sounds like the wicked queen in Snow White, to me,” said Sagacia, pouring some hot water into her cup. “The midlife crisis, I mean. She had a crisis of lost beauty.”

“And the bald prince,” Simplia reflected. “Well, that would be the former prince, now king. After they got married, his father died, which made him king, so he’d be–oh, in his forties, at least. He has teen-age princes and princesses of his own running around the castle, maybe even a 20-year-old Prince Sonny out searching for his fortune and his bride.”

“King Baldy’s life isn’t over,” Sagacia agreed.

“Yeah, he’s still in there ruling every day. And our midlife hero wouldn’t even have to be a king. Other fairy tale middle-aged men might have one of those interesting occupations people told us about last month.”

“Or maybe that midlifer is a she!” Sagacia said. “A good or jealous mother, a kind or wicked queen. Or a henwife or beggar; a cook, a wise woman; a hag or a sorceress, or a…”

“Or…,” Simplia interrupted boldly. “Maybe the story is about a husband and wife both, parents or an old married couple. Baldy and his greying wife play tricks on each other like changing roles, or they compete with each other, like when they bet on who could go the longest without speaking…”

“Yeah,” said Simplia. “Those are experiences lots of married couples have–real couples, I mean. Did the beautiful maiden ever imagine that her youthful beloved would turn into someone who just sat there and did nothing to prevent a burglary? No, but there he is, his lips zipped; and she’s doing the same thing, and we can guess that they stay together in the end and keep on acting the same way. The prince never thought his princess would get pudgy, either, but he just smiles and says, ‘there’s that much more to love.’ And he’s snoring all night and farting around the castle.”

“What story is that from!?” Sagacia demanded.

‘Well, none, really,” Simplia replied. “But, also, all of them. The hodja has some ‘old married couple’ bouts with his wife; he is stubborn, and he’s a snorer, too, I’m sure!. Snow White’s stepmother has that midlife beauty crisis, like you said, and the Lute Player king has a foolish midlife crisis, going out to do battle for no reason.”

“And, a few years into her marriage, Chien Nang is worrying about both her husband and her father. Just like in real life, sometimes,” Sagacia added.

“Right! There they were,” Simplia elaborated, “Just sitting around the house when her husband said, ‘I wonder if your father has forgiven us?’ That’s all it takes to start a story. In fairy tales of youth, the prince leaves home to seek his fortune or have an adventure. In fairy tales of grown-ups, the fortune–as it is–has been found, and the adventure comes to them while they’re just sitting around the table.”

“The mirror’s message comes to Snow White’s stepmother in her own boudoir,” said Sagacia. “The king’s message comes to the castle, right to the Lute Player queen’s chambers.” She paused for breath.

“The elves came straight to the shoemaker. The weavers of new clothes came straight to the emperor’s palace.” Simplia took over.

“The fisherman was just out fishing like he did every day when he caught that fish that gave him three wishes,” Sagacia said.

“Ali Baba was out gathering firewood like he always did when the thieves came along and revealed the secret door!” Simplia added.

“So you think those are the adult stories Middle-Aged in Madison wanted to know about, not sexy naked mermaid stories?” Sagacia asked—well, she sort of asked and sort of concluded.

“Yeah,” said Simplia. “Those stories! More of them!”

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