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One wonders who is looking wistfully upon whom.  If you're an an overbred, overbooked, high overhead princess, an amphibian's might appear to be enviably simple. Mightn't it?

One wonders who is looking wistfully upon whom. If you’re an an overbred, overbooked, high overhead princess, an amphibian’s might appear to be enviably simple. Mightn’t it?

Simplia was defending the scarf she had just taken off her knitting needles.

Random lace pattern, indeed. Those holes were not part of the creator’s design.

She thought, Why do I bother? I’ll never be the knitter my grandma was.

Privately, Sagacia thought her friend’s needlecraft efforts would be better expended on yarn bombs, hyperbolic free forms, and other “flexibly structured” projects.

Aloud, she said, “Why am I just now seeing these two letters that came more than two weeks ago?”

“What letters?”

These letters — from Adam Hoffman and Charles Kiernan. Responding to Speculating in Spearfish. Which I found in a folded crumple inside your knitting instructions.”

“Oops.” Simplia knew when she was busted, so she merely offered a simple apology. “I’m sorry. I got distracted. What’d they say?”

“Well, Adam Hoffman says, 

I suppose sometimes the misunderstandings of fairy tales stem from the need to have an easily applicable lesson for the world’s pop culture-tuned children. For example, the way popular culture remembers “The Frog Prince”, the princess kisses the frog and he turns back into a prince. From there, it’s easy to derive lessons about looking beyond appearances and the power of love to overcome hardships. However, in that story’s most likely source “The Frog-King, or Iron Henry” from Grimm, the frog annoys the princess so much that she picks him up and throws him at a wall. Once the frog slides down to the floor, he changes into a prince. It’s a little harder to draw from that one. There is still the idea that appearances are deceiving, but the story does not suggest any need to look beyond them. Perhaps the frog was in need of a good humbling and humility was the theme. Or maybe it’s just best left as a reminder that fairy tales, like real life, aren’t always easy to figure out.

I’d also like to point out the misconceptions with Pinocchio. In the original Geppetto’s kind of a hothead, Pinocchio’s a foolish troublemaker, the cricket is a pedant who gets killed in a fit of Pinocchio’s rage, and over all the father-son relationship between Pinocchio and Geppetto is more complex than what you’d expect from the cartoons. But I don’t think Pinocchio technically counts as a fairy tale.

“Yeah,” said Simplia. “I don’t think Pinocchio technically counts as a fairy tale. Any more than, technically, The Little Mermaid does. But it’s regarded as one.”

Sagacia scrunched her forehead and said, “What’s with Western culture? We can’t deal with ambiguity. Or mystery. We need to have all our loose ends tied up, tidied up, and out of the way.”

Simplia agreed, “Yeah. As if not knowing the answer to a riddle, not being able to figure out a mystery makes us stupid. I think we’re at our stupidest when we think we have everything figured out. Is there no hope for enchantment in this culture that demands all outcomes be measurable?”

“Buck up,” Sagacia said. “Charles Kiernan gives us all sorts of reason for hope. Listen to this:

Back in 1812, the Grimm Brothers issued their first edition of fairy tales, in part to preserve the German national tradition of storytelling. They were not the first to collect fairy tales, but they served as a model to other collectors in other countries through the rest of the 19th century. The general fear that pervaded these collections’ introductions was that these tales might otherwise be lost if not written down.

For two centuries the fairy tale has survived on the fringes of social consciousness, upheld by its staunch supporters. Perhaps the fairy tales has always been on the fringes, with the occasional rise to popularity, such as when Charles Perrault introduced them to the French court, or when Hans Christian Andersen drew from them for his literary purposes, or when Walt Disney animated them to his profit.

I’ll suggest we call these stories fairy tales because the name reflects their ethereal nature, that they exist on the borderline between the real and the unreal, fluttering on delicate wings, staying aloft, so easily crushed, yet they endure.

Staring out the window at nothing in particular, Simplia stroked her scarf. Yes, it was wonky, but she marveled at how soft it was and how warm it would keep her when winter came.


Illustration credit: Crane, Walter. The Frog Prince. London: George Routledge and Sons, 1874. Again, always, and forever, thanks to Surlalune for making these images so easy to find.