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This drawing by Isobel Lillian Gloag (d. 1917) illustrates the Grimm’s 1912 version of Rapunzel.

This drawing by Isobel Lillian Gloag (d. 1917) illustrates the Grimm’s 1812 version of Rapunzel–not the 1857 version.

Simplia burst through the door.  “Haloo-oo!!?” she said.

From upstairs she heard Bob Dylan singing The Times They Are A-Changin’. (Not really, she knew. It was just the radio.)

“I’m up here!” Sagacia called out. “I’m changing the sheets.”

Simplia puffed up the stairs and plopped into the window seat.

“I thought you were going jogging,” Sagacia said, or maybe asked.

“I was,” Simplia replied, unlacing her shoes. “But these new running shoes pinch, so I came home to change to my old ones.”

She stepped into the closet and pulled the cord. The light flicked on quickly, then off again.

“Ooops!” she said. “Time to change the bulb.” She picked up her old shoes and stepped back out.  “I thought you were going to the post office.”

“I was,” Sagacia said. “But I changed my mind.” She flipped the fresh sheet open across the bed and it floated gently downward. Murzik darted underneath.

A pale blue sheet of onionskin paper floated downward, too, from–well–somewhere and landed itself right on top of the sheet. Murzik had crawled his way out from under the sheet, and he pounced for it, but Sagacia reached it first and read:

Dear Vasilisa the Wise,

You know how, when you’re crafting a story and there is sometimes something in it that you don’t like or that doesn’t seem right to you, you just change it slightly? Well, to me, that is something different from changing the story.

What I mean is, when storytelling and story-passing-along was an entirely oral activity with no written versions around, wouldn’t people always change them? Maybe not even on purpose, but just because you have to retell a heard story in the way that you remember and that makes sense to you, which might be just a bit different from the way you heard it.

What that means is that, as time went by and social values changed, the stories would change, too, right? Maybe “evolve” is a better word—because whatever the change is, it isn’t final, just a next step. I’m thinking of the famous example of the changes the Grimm’s made in Rapunzel between their 1812 edition when Rapunzel was pregnant and the one published in 1857 when the world was more Victorian and prudish. These days, after more time and further social change, people seem to be telling it more like the 1812 version again. To us, it just makes more sense that way.

The problem is that when a story gets written down at last, the written version quits changing; it endures way past the time when the values it expressed have lost their currency, while the various evolving oral versions simply disappear into the air. So it is that we are left with some 200-year-old written versions of stories that seem sexist or violent or unnaturally pious to today’s listener.

Might not those details have changed gradually or disappeared if left to the natural tell-listen-tell-listen-tell way of doing things?

What I’m thinking is that storytellers who adjust a story are not really guilty of “changing the story” in any culpable sort of way; they are just doing to it what might have happened naturally if the story had never been written down in the first place. Making up for lost time, you might say.

If that makes sense to you (and your magical friends), I’m  wondering how you and they may have changed some stories to make them “right.” I’m very interested in this process, so I’d also be interested in others’ views in general.

Changing in Charleston

“Maybe I should change shoes, too” said Sagacia. “We need to run this over to the Fairy Tale Lobby right away and ask our magical friends for help.”

“Right!” Simplia agreed. “Time to change the Fairy Tale Question of the Month!”

“Meow,” said Murzik.

“And maybe change the litter box, too,” said Sagacia. “When we get back.”

They thundered down the stairs as Bob sang on . . .

Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen
Keep your eyes wide, the chance won’t come again

Don’t speak too soon for the wheel’s still in spin
And there’s no tellin’ who that it’s namin’

For the loser now will be later to win,
For the times they, they are a-changin’