The letter read:
Dear Naive in Nashville —
Arterial Softheart has many good points in his letter. But I disagree with him about what you will and will not find in fairy tales. And the Simpletons … their hearts are in a good place, but I disagree with them, too, when it comes to the universal “happily ever after” ending.
At the same time, I would never say that if you didn’t notice the “adult themes” when you were a child, that doesn’t mean you missed them. It means you didn’t need them right then. You may never need them. But if you do, they’re there for you, to instruct, to affirm, to validate.
If you’ve ever been to a family storytelling concert, chances are you’ve seen four generations of listeners — great grands, grands, parents, children — zeroed in on the same narrative. If it’s a great story, and if the teller is solid, a first grader might be listening as deeply and as intently as her grandfather and his mother. All of them are hearing, within that narrative, the story they need to hear.
Do you remember any dreams from your childhood? I remember one. When I was seven years old and woke up in a cold sweat, I remembered a nightmare of vulnerability and abandonment. I revisit that dream now as an old woman because now it speaks to me of self-sufficienct resourcefulness. Same dream. Different needs for different ages. Dreams resemble fairytales in that they, too are, in the words of Mr. Softheart, “other worldly.”
As to “happily ever after…” Ask Snow White’s jealous mother if the story ended happily ever after for her? How about the 12th Wild Swan? Ali Baba’s brother? The queen in Rumplestiltskin, trapped for life with mercurial, avaricious husband? In place of “happily ever after,” as a universal fairy tale ending I would substitute “and in the end justice was served and everthing that happened up until that moment made sense,” …except that it has absolutely no punch, and it also stretches optimism to the breaking point.
If a story has been told for hundreds of years, it is more than the sum of its parts, and there’s no way you can “get it” all the first time. It gives you what you’re ready for, if you’re willing, when you’re ready for it.
Sincerely — Flossie Squashblossom, Children’s Librarian Emerita
“One more point of view,” Sagacia observed. She refolded the paper airplane and tucked in among the other letters. “I hope Naive in Nashville wasn’t expecting a definitive reply.”