Just as a happily-ever-after serves as a story's final punctuation mark, so also, whatever words one uses as once-upon-a-time launches the tale and sets it on a specific course.  H. J. Ford, illustrator. London: Spottiswoode and Co., n.d. (Provided by Richard J. to SurLaLune.

Just as a happily-ever-after serves as a story’s final punctuation mark, so also, whatever words one uses as once-upon-a-time launches the tale and sets it on a specific course.
H. J. Ford, illustrator. London: Spottiswoode and Co., n.d.
(Provided by Richard J. to SurLaLune.

Simplia had approached spring cleaning with missionary zeal and had attacked the winter’s dust bunnies like an avenging angel. Sagacia looked up from washing dishes to see her friend wave a filthy sheet of torn paper from the pile of dirt she had just emptied into the yard.

Sagacia looked at the calendar, and, yes, it was the Magical Third of the Month, when questions to Vasilisa the Wise were wont to appear in strange ways.

“Read it to me while I rinse,” she said.

Simplia stomped loose dirt off her shoes, sneezed a couple of times, and then brought the letter indoors, took her customary “commencement” breath before she started reading, and then screwed up her face in a bewilderment.

“This isn’t the letter we’re supposed to get today,” she said. “It’s not a new question for Vasilisa. It’s a comment about last month’s question — the ‘happily ever after’ thing.”

At that moment, a soap bubble floated up from the kitchen sink, rapidly growing larger as it rose, until it reached the ceiling, where it burst and emitted an origami butterfly that wafted down on a light rain of blue glitter. Murzik watched with cool interest as it came to rest next to the cushion on which he spent his days in a state of suspended animation. As he reached out to bat the butterfly with his paw, it unfolded itself and lay open. Writing covered the plain side of the paper.

Sagacia dried her hands on the seat of her jeans and went to retrieve the paper.

“You want to read yours first, or should I read mine?”

“You first.”

Sagacia read:

Dear Vasilisa–
I am following with interest the discussion amongst your magical friends concerning ever afters. Whatever form they take, they are critical to a fairy tale, for without some form of “ever after,” the story does not end, it merely stops.
Beginnings, too, are critical, for they set the course of a story. They are the key to unlocking the narrative and winding up the action. I wonder if you and your friends have anything to say about beginnings?

Many thanks from an enthusiastic
Amateur in Amsterdam

“Oh now this is just creepy,” said Simplia.

She unfolded the letter she had retrieved from the vacuum cleaner and read:

…While “…happily ever after” is actually hard to find, “Once upon a time…” is common—in Grimm. We have let Grimmisms define fairy tale structure for us. (Did I just coin a word?)

I am reading The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Fairy Tales, by Erika Eichenseer, which is her English translations of some of Franz Xavier Von Schönwerth’s voluminous, Bavarian folk collection.

One of these stories, Three Flowers, starts, “Three huntsmen went in search of their sister, who had been abducted by a witch and hidden away in the woods.” If this were a novel that would be the first fifty pages.

The story ends referring to the cottage of a wood sprite central to the tale, “But it was always empty and remained gloomy, with just a cricket chirping beneath the hearthstone.”

This is the sort of beginning and ending that I love. The beginning should inform us and the ending satisfy. But if “Once upon a time…” and “…happily ever after” does that for a listener, then so be it.

The letter was signed Charles Kiernan.

Simplia looked at her friend with arched eyebrows and said, “Coincidence?”

Sagacia shook her head. “No. I think not.”

Without another word the two friends headed out the door to the Fairy Tale Lobby to see if their Magical Friends had anything to say on the matter.

Advertisements