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H. J. Ford’s illustration for Charles Perrault’s “Donkeyskin”

“Nice batch of mail today, eh?” Sagacia said, watching her friend tap and pat the shuffle of envelopes and flyers into a neat stack.

“Yeah. Some are bills,” Simplia sighed. “And some are promos. I figure if they didn’t pay more than 21-cents in postage, I don’t need to open it.”

“Wait! Don’t throw that one out!” Sagacia insisted. “Not until I check if for coupons!” She snapped the Fabric Warehouse flyer out of the recycle bin.

“Ah,” Simplia whined, holding up a hand-addressed envelope. “Vasilisa’s mail is so much more interesting than ours.”

Sagacia tucked the rescued flyer into her pocket and sat down at the table.

“Well?” she said. “Who is it from? What do they say?”

“Just a minute!” Simplia insisted, sorting another letter into the “interesting” stack.

Sagacia got up and poured them each a cup of steaming water from the kettle, laid out the teabags and honey, sat down again, and selected her Twinings English Breakfast Tea. She got up to get some graham crackers then seated herself again. She stirred her tea noisily until at last Simplia sat down across from her, then they began to read.

Sagacia read Julie Moss Herrera‘s neat cursive:

…there are young children who do need to know about frightful things. It helps them survive what they are going through. What do you say to a three year old child who tells you the babysitter molested him…? What do you say to your ten year old daughter who spends time at home alone with her older brother and his friends? How do you help and/or prepare your children for the world we live in today. It seems as if our world is as bad as the one depicted in the old tales – those that have not been declawed, censored or Disneyfied.

“I think Megan Hicks would agree with that,” Sagacia said, and she read:

To encounter your story, or bits of your story–in the context of folklore or case history or 12-step meeting or holy scripture or a conversation you’re eavesdropping on in the booth behind you at the diner–is to be affirmed. It’s one more bit of evidence that maybe you’re not “just making it up.

“Here’s a writer with a whole different perspective,” Simplia remarked, smiling.

“Who?” Sagacia asked.

“Somebody named ‘Arterial Softheart‘” Simplia read slowly from the return address.

Dear Naive in Nashville,

Incest in fairy tales? Banish the thought. I won’t speak for “The Canterbury Tales,” but the fairy tales are devoid of such things.

Oh yes, you can point to the princess in “All Furs,” saying her father, the king, wished to marry his daughter—the image of his late queen—and you may want to call that incest. That is what I would call it if I found it written in a novel, and when I read about it in history (think Caligula). Those are stories in the context of our world.

Fairy tales are other worldly. There, golden heads bob-up from the depths of a hidden well. The old woman of the wood waits with a cloak of invisibility. A severed horse’s head, hanging in the dark gateway of the city, speaks. Theirs is a magic imbued point of view.

Should you foist our definitions upon events that transpired beyond the vale? I for one will not let a thick, imposing dictionary block my way to understanding fairy tales, and you, my dear, need to hang onto your naivety; it is precious.

Arterial Softheart

“It is precious, you know,” Sagacia nodded, refolding the letter. “Naïveté. Naivety. You can cherish it no matter how you say it.”

“Yeah, Simplia agreed. “Unless you’ve lost it!” she added. “If someone is no longer naive due to circumstances beyond their control, well, they just hear those words, ‘her father wanted to marry her,’ differently than you and I do. Arterial is right, though; for those who don’t need to hear about incest, fairy tales are devoid of it.”

“Do you think that’s why Naive in Nashville was so surprised to hear about incest in stories she’d heard before? Stories she thought she knew?”

“Yeah,” Simplia nodded. “That’s exactly what I think! And I think Csenge Zalka here is on to that, too.” She waved the letter she had in her hand.

Oh yes. Cinderella is not as explicit as Catskins and its variants (dying mother’s wish that her husband should marry a woman like her, although I doubt this is what she had in mind). Some folklorists also say that tales where the prince is specifically looking for a princess with his mother’s qualities imply incest, although in my opinion they could also be a bad case of Oedipus complex…
I think as long as the tale makes sure to make a point of it being a BAD idea, mentioning the crime is not a problem in itself. Catskins runs away and starts a life on her own, which, when told right, could encourage women to break out of poisonous family situations instead of accepting them.

“Okay, maybe I get it, now.” Sagacia put what was left of her graham cracker on the table and swallowed quickly, then went on.

“No matter how bad the circumstances of the fairy tale is,…”

“Or how bad the listener hears them to be,…” Simplia inserted.

“…a fairy tale always ends ‘happily ever after’!” the two Simpletons said in an awkward duet.

“In fact,” Sagacia noted, “Maybe the worse a protagonist’s trials and struggles are, the happier the ending will be.”

“Or, the happier a listener is to discover that they made it through all the misfortune!'” Simplia concluded.

“Yeah,” said Sagacia. “So, now, did anyone mention what some of those titles are?”

“‘Catskins,'” Murzik said drearily.