Simplia swept the front steps to the rhythm of her favorite little ditty. It helped to keep her on task.
Sagacia was not amused.
“Simplia! That’s awful! What if the neighbor children heard you? Do you want them to grow up thinking verbal and physical abuse is acceptable?”
“No,” said her friend. “I do want them to love classic children’s literature, though. That’s Lewis Carroll.”
Sagacia tried a diversionary tactic: “Why don’t you put the broom down and come with me to the post office? We have some wedding pictures and advice to send off to Bride-to-Be in Brandenburg. I hope she wasn’t planning on a June wedding. At least not this year.”
Simplia was never reluctant to put her broom down. Especially if there was a walk to be taken.
At the post office they dropped their packet into the mailbox and were on their way out the door when the postmistress stopped them.
“Here. This just came for you…um…for Vasilisa the Wise.”
It was a magazine. Storytelling Magazine. The June/July 2013 issue.
“That’s odd,” said Sagacia. “It usually comes in an envelope, delivered to the house. This one is rolled up with a paper band around it. Oh. With writing on it.”
Simplia turned her head sideways so she could read the short message: “Vasilisa — See p. 32. What think you of THAT?! — Signed — A Purist in Pikesville”
They went straight to the Fairy Tale Lobby, ordered tea and gingersnaps, then sat down and unrolled the magazine, which fell open to page 32. It was an essay titled “Fairytales, Power and Status,” by Robin Bady.
Purist in Pikesville had highlighted some of the early bits of the piece:
I became uncomfortable with stories that promoted old, anti-democratic, hierarchical social structures. I could not help but wonder: 1.) Am I ignoring the proglems of class and subtly reinforcing the romantic baggage of old forms of governance and status? 2.) How do power and status relationships drive narrative? 3.) Am I narrating from the point of view and interests of the upper/ruling classes? 4.) Do the class view and aspirations of the author and/or anthologist factor in?
And then she or he had written in the margin: “Puh-leeze! They’re just stories for heaven’s sake, not manifestos. Vasilisa, you’ve seen this so-called ‘ladder of power’ from the bottom rung and the top. Can you talk some sense into this woman?”
Before the Simpletons could settle in and read the entire article, a host of Magical Friends descended on the magazine and spirited it off to a large round table. In less time than it takes to tell, more than a dozen erudite minds were busy devouring the reading matter. Simplia and Sagacia were not among them. They did still hold onto Purist in Pikesville’s poison pen polemic, though, so that was the direction their conversation now took.
“I think he’s kinda got a point,” said Simplia. “I mean. There’s a reason they’re called fairy tales: because they’re not based in reality.”
“Well, not so much anymore,” Sagacia said. “But in the days when they were written or collected, indeed they did reflect the times and social structures. If fairy tales were purely an oral folkart, they’d have evolved to reflect current times and cultures. But as soon as they got written down — splrrrt! — they were stuck in time. And I’m not saying the collectors and writers were evil people, but every one of them had an agenda they were working to advance. That’s just human nature.”
Simplia looked worried. She said, “So you’re saying we re-write folklore to make it palatable for the…the…I don’t know…for the Occupy Movement? Neuterize the stories?”
“I think ‘neutralize’ is the word you want there,” Sagacia prompted.
“I know what word I want. Neuterize. You’re advocating the emasculation of fairy tales.”
“How do you know they’re male?” Sagacia asked with a sly grin. “As a matter of fact,” she went on, “not long ago, I had a little Facebook chat with the author of this article. She doesn’t think we should ‘neuterize’ fairy tales, either. Here, I still have it on my phone. Read that last comment.”
Simplia read, “I think it’s important that artists look at these fairy tales and ask, What are the templates we’re putting out? Especially when the templates put more prejudices in the world.”
She looked up, blinked a couple of times, and said, “Oh. Well. When you put it like that…”
Sagacia cut her eyes over to the big round table, where heads were still bent over the magazine.
She said, “I hope our Magical Friends can come up with some advice that calms Purist in Pikesville down.”
“You and I might come up with something helpful,” said Simplia, “if we ever get our hands on a copy of the whole article.”
Please consider helping the Simpletons out. You can read the full text of the article in question by clicking here. If it sparks any thoughts or strong feelings, we’d love to hear from you. You may communicate with us through the WordPress comment box, the FaceBook comment box on our Fairy Tale Lobby page, or by carrier pigeon.
“Fairytales, Power, and Status,” by Robin Bady, was published in the June/July, 2013 issue of Storytelling Magazine, the journal of the National Storytelling Network. It is used here with permission from the publisher and the author.