Simplia, walking slowly up the path from the road, squinched her nose, adjusted her glasses, and tried again.
“…one-stop shopping for a tale of exemplary manhood, I heartily recommend the story of…”
“That’s not making any sense,” Sagacia observed from the comfort of the front porch glider. “What are you trying to read?”
“Something that fell from that horseman’s saddlebag just now,” said Simplia.
“That red cowboy who raised all this dust?! How inconsiderate. Galloping in a residential area. There should be a city ordinance about that. Who’s the letter from?”
“Well, I can’t tell. It doesn’t make any sense… Oh! Wait! The pages are just out of order. I bet it’s a letter for Beleaguered in Bellingham.” She began to shuffle pages. Then she began to hyperventilate. “Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness! The salutation says ‘My Dearest Simpletons,’ and see here, the back page, it’s from… it’s actually from Vasilisa. To us.”
My Dearest Simpletons —
First, let me thank you for so ably discharging the task I laid at your doorstep all those many months ago. Whenever my travels bring me to rest in a spot with free WiFi, the first thing I do — even before checking email and Facebook — is to see how the two of you are faring. I knew you’d be the perfect stewards of my advice column, especially with the Fairy Tale Lobby and so many magical friends closeby.
The question from Beleaguered in Bellingham, concerning stories for young men, brought to mind one of my favorites. It’s a story that, sadly, tends to be cut short just as it is getting underway. I wanted to send you a portrait of the title character of this story, but I’ve lost the porcelain miniature he gave me as a keepsake when we first met, years and years ago. And my online searches yield nothing but pages and pages and tedious pages of cartoon cels that don’t do my hero justice. So you’ll have to imagine what he looks like. Of course, by now you might have guessed that the story I would most highly recommend to our April correspondent, if you had to recommend one above all others, my pick for…”
Simplia had come to the end of the first page and was now searching for page 2.
“…one-stop shopping for a tale of exemplary manhood is the story of Aladdin. Ala al Din and the Magic Lamp. I would urge you to find a good translation — I love the one by Husain Haddawy — and look at it not as a romance but as a coming-of-age story. A lazy, selfish boy looking for an easy way through life is ripe for exploitation and betrayal. At his lowest moment, emotionally broken, he is visited by grace. He returns home chastened, and instead of flouting the gifts he received during his symbolic death and burial, he is circumspect and discrete. He bides his time. He proves himself to be teachable. Rather than feed revenge fantasies about the sorcerer who betrayed him, he remains watchful, and he applies some important ‘social skills’ he gleaned from his days with the evil man: openhandedness will buy you acceptance in many circles; listen more, talk less; pay attention; play your hand close to your chest; comport yourself with dignity.
Aladdin won the lottery! He has magic talismans that can deliver the world to his doorstep. Well… We have heard many true stories about people whose lives were ruined by sudden wealth. Aladdin is a model for how not to be ruined, how not to draw unnecessary attention to yourself, and when it is necessary to make yourself and your powers known, how to ride forth with confidence and imitate the greatness you hope one day to attain. He walked a tight wire with the emperor — commanding vastly more wealth, but in possession of vastly less experience in the world. And so, he was careful always to be respectful and discrete, low key.
The story follows Aladdin all the way to full maturity. He does indeed grow to greatness. He received much. He proved himself a wise steward of the gifts entrusted to him. And he became a man of power and influence. A man much beloved by the love of his life and by the people he ruled.
I’m sure there are other tales from other lands that are as instructive as Aladdin. But he’s a dear, dear friend. And his story is one of my favorites.
Again, dear Simpletons, please know that you have my eternal gratitude. I hope to find an opportunity to give you my thanks face to face, but until that time, please know that I am always
Your friend and ally —
Vasilisa … currently voyaging on the Volga
Sagacia and Simplia beamed at each other.
“She likes what we’re doing! She hasn’t forgotten us!,” Simplia exclaimed.
Sagacia pulled herself out of the glider and scooped up the manila envelope on the table next to it.
“Let’s get these letters to the post office,” she said. “I have a feeling another magical missive is making its way to the Fairy Tale Lobby even as we speak.”