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“Bahram Gur in the Yellow Pavilion” from the Khamseh of Nizami.

The Simpleton’s posted Bewildered in Bakersfield’s question in the Fairy Tale Lobby, and just like that–(snap!)–some magical friends gathered around the hearth for tea and conversation.

“So, do you do it? And, if so, how?” Sagacia asked. “Change a story, I mean. And what story? And how?”

Csenge Zalka put down her teacup.

The example that comes to my mind is from Nizami’s Seven Wise Princesses (not a folktale, but a tales-within-tales kind of situation like the Arabian Nights, based on folktales). There is a story in it (told by the Yellow Princess) about a king that amuses himself with slave girls every day because he is afraid of being betrayed by a wife (very Shahriar of him). Finally he falls in love with a slave girl who declines all his approaches and won’t even let him touch her. He finally decides on a new approach: he sits down with her and actually asks her what is wrong (I know, very novel, right?!). She tells him that she loves him too, but in her family every woman dies in childbirth, and she is too afraid to be with anyone.

Csenge took another sip of tea and looked around the parlor. The assembled company were listening attentively, except for Murzik, who purred happily next to Sagacia. Csenge went on.

Now, the first time I read this in an abridged version, the king confessed his love and said he was fine without having children, and it was a very cute ending that highlighted the importance of honesty, communication, and alternate family models. But when I read the original text, I was horrified. The original story ends with the king having sex with another hot woman in front of the love of his life to incite her jealousy and drive her into his arms anyway.

Murzik’s eyes ripped open in astonishment. He was listening, all right! Csenge concluded:

No way I am telling the story that way, and I don’t think modern audiences would be okay with it either. So I stick to the abridged version, because I think it gets out an important message about relationships that people need to hear. If the audience is appropriate (adult & interested in historical approaches) I might talk to them after the fact about how I changed the story and why.

“So,” said Sagacia, petting the cat back into comfort. “In that case, you simply made a choice to tell the version you first fell in love with.”

“Is that skirting the rules?” Simplia asked. “Like T.H.E. Cat, that old TV series? But getting the desired results? Like T.H.E. Cat?”

“Maybe, but talking about it later to anyone interested makes it not skirting any rules,” Sagacia said. “No matter which rules you’re talking about. TO change or NOT to change.”

“Of course, both the original and the revised version are ‘recorded,'” Sagacia said in her dismissive pedantic way. “Both are versions listeners might find in a library without ever knowing there is another, just like Csenge did at first.”

“The thing is, though, they might think the attitudes and actions in whichever version they read reflect the original Persian cultures,” Simplia noted. “I’m so confused! My brain wants a straight answer!”

“There is no straight answer, Dear,” Sagacia said, patting her friend’s knee. “Besides that, people who conclude that there is probably have no clear view of what that culture even is, neither ancient Persia nor modern Iran,” she sniffed.

Simplia heaved a sigh. Charles Kiernan, standing by the fireplace, was lighting his pipe, which meant he had something to say.

Storytellers often bemoan that when a story is written down it becomes part of the strata of oral history, now fixed in its potential development forever, no longer an evolving entity.

Let me present the other edge of that sword.

He gave a puff, then transferred the pipe to his other hand.

Recording a story, which in the 19th century context meant writing it down, preserved the tale until it could be heard once again.

Here is my example. Stephen Badman, to the service of us who have not bothered to learn to speak or read the Danish language, has translated some of the voluminous folklore collection of Evald Tang Kristensen. One of these tales is “The Princess Who Became a Man.” Yes, it is exactly what it sounds like. Why Kristensen had the courage to write it down is the tribute to his non-judgmental approach to collecting what he heard. Had he not done so, this story would certainly have been lost, given the following century of homophobic insecurity. You can find this tale in “Odds and Sods,” available at Amazon (of course).

This is not a tale for the faint-hearted. There are brutal aspects to it, but the true nature of love comes through. “Love” is one of those four lettered words that demand we deal with them at our risk.

Csenge sprang from the Chesterfield.

Whoa! Thanks! I have collected a couple of versions of this story, but I was not familiar with the Danish variant. Cheers! :)

“So,” said Simplia, looking back at Charles. “You’re just grateful that the story was saved to await a generation where it might be appreciated?

Charles gave a puff and a nod that Simplia took to mean he concurred.

“Or listeners who may be heartened by it,” Sagacia chimed in. “Anyone who doesn’t like it can just let the book gather dust, . . .”

“Or leave it untranslated . . . ” Simplia interjected.

“. . . until the cows come home!” Sagacia added snappily.

“Moo-oo!” Simplia nodded.

Murzik gave her that what-the-heck-was-that-all-about look.

So, what the heck was it all about, Magical Friends? What have you done to preserve or change a story, and do you make any explanation about it to your listeners? That’s what Murzik wants to know.

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