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1936 Churchman’s Cigarettes trading card, “Legends of Britain” series.

“It can’t be done!” Sagacia insisted. “Not at a quickie story slam!”

“What do you mean?” Simplia asked.

“You can’t get from ‘once upon a time’ to ‘happily ever after’ in five minutes,” Sagacia repeated. “You simply can’t tell a fairy tale at a story slam which has a five minute time limit.”

Simplia wasn’t buying it, so Sagacia tried again.

“First off, in a fairy tale, you’ve got to get the character out of the house and onto a journey, have him or her meet some magical friends (probably three of them, one at a time) and help them, have her or him encounter some obstacles or challenges, have him or her or them try to overcome an obstacle or three, have the magical friends each come to their rescue one at a time, and then they all have to get back home again or to the palace or somewhere and then be transformed somehow by the experience, like from a lonely child to a child with a loving home or from a mixed-up teenager to a happily married adult or from a struggling tradesman to a respected craftsman or from midlife crisis to stable or from some stage of life to the next stage. At least half of those things happen in any fairy tale worth it’s capital F and capital T. You can’t rush that.”

Simplia was stunned. It had been a while since she’d seen her friend on a rant. “‘Fairy tale’ doesn’t have a capital F or a capital T,” she said.

Sagacia was unphased by the orthographic observation. “If you’re supposed to tell a five-minute tale, you’ll just have to draw from a different genre!” she said in a final sort of way.

Turns out, it wasn’t final at all.

“In the end, fairy tales have to give people hope for their own lives,” she continued. “And they can’t do that unless we’ve spent sufficient time watching the protagonist suffer and persist through many challenges. The reward can’t come too easily. The hero has to prove he’s worth whatever the prize is. Or ‘she.’ These are not people with easy lives or simple tasks to do! You can’t just solve a little riddle and then live happily ever after! You have to stick with it and overcome a lot. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have to keep coming and coming and coming, and you must stay with it until you prevail!”

“If the challenges are easy, can you live happily for a little while?” Simplia asked.

“Well, yes,” Sagacia said. “I guess so, but, then it wouldn’t be a fairy tale, now would it?” she asked, crossing her arms as though that had settled it.

A long silence followed. Simplia sat at the table, restless, fumbling through the pile of mail, reading a bit here and there. At last, Sagacia sat down with her, and they both looked at the letters for Stymied in Sturbridge, passing them back and forth.

“Look at this!” Simplia said.

Sagacia looked across the table at a trio of letters lined up in front of her friend.

“What!” she demanded.

“It looks like other people are saying the same thing you are,” Simplia suggested. “See, they are suggesting folktales for a short time frame.”

Sagacia craned over, trying to read upside down, but Simplia saved her the trouble.

“See this one from Charles Kiernan?”

First up ought to be Margaret Read MacDonald’s Three Minute Tales, which can always be fleshed out to five minutes, and not to forget her Five Minute Tales.

Sagacia had a puzzled wrinkle to her brow.

Simplia continued, “And this one from Adam Hoffman.”

Has he considered “The Hare and the Hedgehog”? One of the first tales I told and about five minutes long on a good day.

Sagacia cocked her head skeptically.

“Get it?” Simplia asked. “They are suggesting folktales for that short time frame. Not fairy tales, at all!”

“O-oh-h!” Sagacia said, letting the truth of it flow over her, welcoming its comfort. “O-oh! NOW I get it! Yes!”

“And, if you really want to stick to fairy tales, Csenge Zalka has a suggestion. Listen.”

Another idea would be to find a format that allows you to compress your favorite fairy tales into a shorter time frame. It is more a question of style and pacing than material, if you want to stick to fairy tales, I think. But I’ll keep an eye out for short ones :)

“And here’s her postscript:”

Or you can just tell it in rap :D.

“True,” Sagacia agreed. “If it’s a familiar Fairy Tale, you can shorten it or play with it in all kinds of ways and people will still love it!”

Simplia smiled proudly at having gained concensus.

“But I have another question,” Sagacia said, suddenly ponderous. “Remember when you asked if a simple tale could make you happy for a short time?”

“Yes,” Simplia said, wondering where all this was leading.

“Well, then,” Sagacia continued. “What are those short tales, and are they fairy tales? or something else entirely?”

“Like what? For example,” Simplia asked.

“Well, like ‘The Peddler’s Dream,’” Sagacia replied right away. “No magic, no enchantment, just coincidence. Right? But it makes you happy to hear it. And isn’t it told as a legend, with historical backup for whichever town it is set in? And is the peddler transformed? Has he grown into a new stage of life, happy, emotionally settled, prepared for whatever comes next? He and his wife did live on happily and he left the townspeople happier ever after, at least more prosperous. Does all that make it a fairy tale? Or something else?”

“Oh,” said Simplia, and after a long, pensive moment she added, “Well, that’s just too many questions for now! Let’s think about it. Better yet, let’s ask our magical friends!”

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