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Anne Andersen, 1935.

And who was that little gnome in the shadows? The diminutive mannekin with quill and parchment? The wee fellow furiously taking notes in the corner?

Simplia found out the next morning. She arrived at the Fairy Tale Lobby just as Dawn’s rosy fingers tickled the clouds away, and there he was on the lawn, that little guy, dancing off the morning chill and singing

‘To-day I bake, to-morrow brew,
The next I’ll have the young queen’s child.
Ha, glad am I that no one knew
That Rumpelstiltskin I am styled.'”

“Hello!” Simplia called from the end of the path.

At that the mannekin or gnome or elf or whatever he was turned sharply displaying a wide-eyed, surprised stare.

“I was hoping you were still here,” Simplia said, approaching. “I wanted to ask if you got any good notes last night.”

“Oh, er, uh, why, YES,” the fellow replied. “Uh, let me see, now; um, not sure where I put them.”

“That little scroll in your jerkin pocket, maybe?” Simplia inquired.

“Oh! Why, yes,” he said, pulling out the coiled paper and unrolling it. “Yes, indeed. Yes. Uh, I made some very good notes on people’s comments about how they change stories!

“So, let’s see,” he continued. “There was this woman there named Fiona Birchall. And, you must know, she’s a rather well spoken English woman. Anyway, she said (ahem),

I came across a story online which was set in mid-west America: it was amusing with a terrific punch line and it tickled my funny bone, but there was no way I could tell it as it stood. I took the bones out of it and fed it on haggis and dressed it in tartan – now I tell my version as if it had happened to my great grandfather in Scotland. It goes down well, and afterwards I talk about the source and why I changed it and how much of my version is based on fact. I only have to say (in my most refined BBC accent) ‘Honestly, do I SOUND like an American cowboy?!’ for my audience to understand perfectly why I made the changes I did.

“Of course, she would have to change that one!” Simplia laughed. “And, by the way, I’m Simplia. I don’t think I caught your name last night.”

“R-r-r, Rum-, R-r-r,” the befuddled fellow gurgled, then, “Rambo!” he declared firmly. “At your service.” He gave a deep bow.

“Glad to meet you, Rambo!” Simplia replied gaily. “So, what else did anyone say.”

Rambo looked back down at his page. “There was a certain harper there, Barra the Bard. She said:

I did the same thing, Fiona, with a Mideastern story about pickles, changing it to a village in the Highlands, because i was invited to a dinner in honor of a pair of new parents, and was asked to tell “something funny about being pregnant.” So the wife of the man keeping the barrel of pickles for his absent friend has a craving in the middle of the night for pickles and (fill in the blank; I used the things I knew that young woman had craved that the couple were laughing about)…and he opens the barrel to get the pickles, intending and forgetting to replace them later. Each time the wife is pregnant, he goes back to the barrel…until finally he finds the gold his friend had hidden in the bottom of the brine. Horrified, he hurries out the next day and buys replacement pickles. Now, the year that his friend planned to be away has become several, and eventually, he decides that the older man must be dead…and when he has some business reverses, he takes some of the gold, again intending to replace it. When the owner comes home, he is given the barrel, apparently untouched–until he opens it and tastes the top pickle. As a renowned pickler, he knows they aren’t his, checks that the gold is gone, and takes him to court. Two other master pickle-makers are called as witnesses; the better of the two deduces that not only are these inferior pickels, but they have a metallic overtaste….Eventually, the truth comes out, and the two old friends are reconciled. It’s a fun story, in any culture.

“So, again, she just changed the setting, right?” Simplia asked rhetorically. “To fit the occasion.”

“Sure, I guess so,” Rambo agreed. He looked back down at his parchment. “And here’s another comment I wrote down. Charles Kiernan. He was standing by the fire tamping his pipe when he suddenly seemed to get a light bulb over his head, and he said,

Fairy tales are magical. As in all magic, there is sleight of hand. How do we handle these tales? Unlike magicians, who pull rabbits out of hats, we storytellers take our listeners and ourselves down the rabbit hole. What changes we make to the story during our decent, we make at our peril. We are messing with magic.

My impulse is to say, “Don’t change the story,” but when I take the story in hand, it morphs in front of my eyes. The words on the pages of collected stories may be static, but the images they create shift and change every time I read them.

Bear with me my illusion that the tales ask me to change them. The tales cannot live in the words spoken and recorded in the past, but must be revived, given new breath to survive.

“Simplia!” Sagacia called out, running up the path, spoiling that astonishing and epigrammatic moment. “I was hoping you were here!” she called out breathlessly.

“Of course,” Simplia said. “I’m talking with . . .”

But when she turned to gesture, the petite personage was nowhere to be seen.

“I thought I saw someone there, too,” Sagacia puzzled. “Who was he?”

“That little fellow who was taking notes last night,” Simplia said. “He said his name was Rambo, but I don’t believe him for a minute!”

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