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Rounding the corner with a load oflaundry, Sagacia heard something cra-ackle beneath her heel.

“Uh-oh!” she said.

She leaned out from the basket to look toward her foot. “A Lego?” she said aloud. “A Lego? Where did this come from?”

“Oh, sorry!” said Simplia. “I dug it out of the nieces’ toy drawer.”

“Whatever for?” Sagacia insisted, pushing the broken pieces to the side with her foot. She sat at one end of the Chesterfield and put the laundry basket on the floor.

“I’ve built a ladder — steps, anyway — so I could try out Robin Bady’s Ladder of Power,” Simplia reported. “I’m using the fairy tale Charles Kiernan reviewed this month in his ChazTales blog, ‘The Six Swans.’”

“So, what have you got?” Sagacia asked, folding a dish towel in her lap.

“Okay. Here on the top rung of the ladder, or, in my case, the top step, is the witch,” Simplia explained, tapping a small matroyshka doll against the top row of Legos before letting it stand. “She is the one who forced the widowed King to marry her daughter and, when he tried to hide his children to protect them, she found the six sons and turned them into swans,” she explained. “She didn’t find the daughter, though.”

Sagacia shook out a pillow case.

“But the king still has the power of a king,” Simplia continued. “At least at the beginning of the story when he hides his children from her, so he goes on the next step.” She poured out the Goldie Blox figures and placed the business bear on the second rung of the ladder. “And that other king, the hunter who wanted the sister to marry him. I guess he goes on the same rung.” She picked up the sloth and balanced him on the step beside the king.

“But what about that king’s mother? She hid their babies and blamed the sister?”

“Oh, yeah!” Simplia said, moving the hunter king down a rung and placing above him the cat to stand in for the queen mother. “There!”

Then she centered the porpoise ballerina on the lowest step to be the sister and leaned back to admire her work.

“You’ll never keep track of who’s who!” Sagacia observed.

“It won’t matter once I get it in my head,” Simplia said. She folded some white paper and snipped and trimmed around it with tiny scissors, like she’d seen Priscilla Howe do many times.

“And, here, at the very bottom are the six brothers, the swans,” she said, fanning her paper cut-out along the base of the plastic stairway. “They are at the mercy of everyone.”

“So, that’s the power ladder, eh?” Sagacia remarked, removing her glasses to admire the miniature installation.

“Yeah,” Simplia said. She cocked her head. “But something’s wrong here! It’s the sister who breaks the spell and gets everybody back to where they ought to be, so doesn’t she really have the most power of all?”

“Hmm-m-m,” Sagacia pondered.

Simplia moved the tokens up and down the ladder, trading places, shaking her head, rearranging. Sagacia folded another towel and two pillow cases, then, suddenly, clapped her hands.”

“Know what?” she asked excitedly. “The way you had the ladder set up at first? That was the power ladder at the beginning of the story. The power ladder in the society in which they lived. But once the story is set in motion, the ladder gets all shuffled around! By the end, the sister had the most power. Or, at least, she had all the power she needed.”

“A-ah!” said Simplia. She rearranged the figures, putting them back the way she first had them.

Sagacia watched. “So, maybe the whole point of doing a power ladder is to discover where the power starts and then where it goes after the story takes off!” she said.

“That’s what I think, too! In this case, it is the sister who passed everyone’s trials and tests and wins in the end!” Simplia explained. “She’s the heroine, the one who’s going to live happily ever after, and, because of her, her brothers will, too. So at the end of the story, the ladder is kind of reversed!”

“Well, different, anyway,” Sagacia hedged. “We don’t know what happened to some of the characters at all.”

“True,” Simplia acknowledged. “But we know the witch would be saying, ‘Curses! Foiled again!’

“And the sister and her brothers would be celebrating!” Sagacia confirmed.

“Even the one who still had a swan wing for one arm!” Simplia harumphed.

“Right! Even him!” Sagacia concluded. “And as Marian Leeper said…

Great article to discuss! I thought it would be suggesting we retell stories in gender and class neutral ways, but quite the opposite: it was urging us to confront power struggles.


The Fairy Tale Lobby NSN Discussion Group Story Swap will be at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, August 2, at the National Storytelling Network Conference in Richmond. Do come and bring your 10-minute marchen, or just march in to listen and enjoy!

At 5:45 that same day, we fairy folk will have a Dutch Treat dinner at Baker’s Crust (information and menu at http://www.bakerscrust.com/) at 5:45. Jump on the shuttle to Short Pump Town Center, just a few minutes northwest of our hotel.

To help us make our dinner reservation as accurate as possible, please let us know if you are coming. You may do that in a comment below or by FB messaging or emailing Megan Hicks or Mary Grace Ketner.

We can’t wait to see you there!