Simplia was attempting a subject keyword search on one of the library computers.
Sagacia answered, “It depends. And it’s midrashim.”
Simplia peered at her friend over the frames of her glasses.
“Do you really know stuff like this? Or am I just so gullible that you know I won’t question you?”
Lost in her own search for knowledge, Sagacia merely nodded and said, “Mmm-hmm.” Then she jerked herself out of her book and said, “What?! I thought we were here about fairy tales. Why the sudden interest in Judaic homiletics?”
“Outraged in Omaha seems to think there’s something holy about folklore, and that changing it around somehow messes it up. Well, you don’t get holier than Holy Writ, and rabbis have been making tossed salad of their sacred texts for centuries. You know– what’s actually written down and fact-checkable. I thought I’d try to find some midrashes … um, midrashim … and run them through my sacrilegeometer.”
“You’re hopeless,” Sagacia told her friend. Lovingly. “I think you’ll find them suitably reverent and respectful. I think Outraged in Omaha would, too. Look at that quote on the screen you’ve got up now.”
Simplia squinted at the fancy script and read, “‘Midrash…fills in the cracks…puts flesh on the bones…reinterprets stories and characters…gives a voice to those in the story who have no voice.'”*
“Sorta says it all, huh?” said Sagacia. “I mean…if you’re arguing for legitimizing reinterpretations of folklore. And if your motives are pure. And if you do what Adam Hoffman said you should be careful to attend to when you’re ‘making tossed salad,’ as you so colorfully express it. I’ve got that letter somewhere…”
She found it in her apron pocket, spread it out and read:
…I imagine that any sacredness in fairy tales lies in the message that’s conveyed. For example, what’s essential in “Beauty and the Beast” is the message to look beyond appearances. As long as that remains intact, the rest can change with the times.
Simplia read the comment and immediately started shaking her head, “Well, we know what’s essential to this reader of B and the B — the message to look beyond appearances. But I should think a story this old, this universal, would have other essential truths — for other people, for other times in their lives. Oh! That reminds me. I have something here from Charles Kiernan.”
She fished a folded sheet of paper from one of her back pockets. It read:
The center of Outraged in Oswego’s rant, although it comes at the end of the letter, is the trite phrase “Is nothing sacred?” I feel Sagacia hit upon the real worry when she asked “…there is a sacredness to lore, isn’t there?”
In the context of story, sacred is when the tale makes our heart skip a beat. The story is sacred to the teller and the listener when it serves our souls, and not when we are grinding an ax. A story is sacred when we tell it and are surprised. Sacred is the ground under our feet when we tell such a tale.
Not every story is sacred. Not every story needs to be sacred. But when a listener hears a sacred story, it belongs to them, a treasure that only the most evil can rob from their being. Outraged in Oswego feels a theft going on, and I empathize. Yet I feel no need to worry. The sacred is like gold and does not tarnish.
Sagacia took custody of the letter and folded the two of them together.
“I think Outraged in Oswego will be comforted by the wisdom here,” she said, “and in all the other responses her letter has prompted.”
“We still haven’t heard anything about spin-offs,” Simplia observed. “Me personally, I have a thing about artists — dramatists, writers, storytellers — who don’t have enough originality and creativity to write their own material, so they plug their favorite two-dimensional stereotypes into an ancient story. Isn’t that lazy? Isn’t that cheap?”
“We certainly know what your answer to that question is,” said Sagacia. “Let’s see if our Magical Friends have any light to shed on that vein of this topic. I’m ready for a cup of tea.”
*Institute for Contemporary Midrash — http://www.icmidrash.org (site hasn’t been updated since 2003, so we’re not sure it’s still a going concern).