The Simpletons were on their way to the Fairy Tale Lobby to see if anybody had weighed in with anything to say on the matter of fairy tale beginnings before they headed out to post a reply to Amateur in Amsterdam.
Sagacia stopped abruptly, as if she were listening, realized that, yes, she was listening … to the sound of her own voice muttering aloud.
“Say it again,” said Simplia. “It sounded interesting.”
“Um, uh, I, er, I think it was something along the lines of, Why wouldn’t you want to set people up for magic … you know, as you launch into a story? I mean, if you didn’t set them up for magic, wouldn’t they become cynical a ways into the story? If not setting listeners up for magic, what else should your enticement do?”
“Oh, you’re still on Jeri Burns’s comment. Lemme see. Where’s that paper?… Ah! Here’s what I think stuck in your brain:
“So, crafting an opening that entices listeners to lean in and move forward with the story is important. I think of ‘once upon a time’ as a magic incantation for a certain crowd, but not all crowds. And that is another story.”
Sagacia said, “Exactly! Yes. Doesn’t a fairy tale need a magic incantation to wind it up and let people know before you launch it that they’re entering a magical space.”
“I sure think so,” said Simplia. “I don’t think Jeri was discounting the importance of the magic words. I think she was saying ‘once upon a time’ is usually not her incantation of choice.”
When the Simpletons arrived at the Fairy Tale Lobby, they found several of their magical friends poring over Flossie Squashblossom’s new birthday present — a copy of The Turnip Princess.
“Read out some of the beginning lines of some of those stories,” Simplia called out over everybody’s heads.
“Sure!” said Flossie. “How ’bout a quick survey of Part I: Tales of Magic.”
Simplia whispered to her friend, “Let’s count the ‘once upon a times.'”
Flossie cleared her throat and commenced to read titles and flip to new chapter headings.
King Goldenlocks — “A king had a son with hair of gold.” The Beautiful Slave Girl — “A wealthy merchant had a son named Karl, who was the silent type.” The Iron Shoes — “A man was working in the service of the king as a groundskeeper, and he had a son who was a real burden.” Three Flowers — “Three huntsmen went in search of their sister, who had been abducted by a witch and hidden away in the woods.” The Figs — “There was once a king who loved figs more than any other food.” The Flying Trunk — “A carpenter who had landed in jail sent word to the kind: ‘If you spare my life, I will make something the likes of which the world has never before seen!'” The Enchanted Musket — “There once lived a charcoal burner who had three sons, each of whom had to help him at the kiln.” The Turnip Princess — “One day a prince lost his way in the woods.” The Three Abducted Daughters — “A wealthy merchant learned that the town of Dillenberg housed many treasures.” The Wolves — “A wealthy prince was married to a beautiful woman.” The Portrait — “There once lived a couple, and they worked hard to make a living. Ashfeathers — “An innkeeper lost his wife.”
“There are more Tales of Magic,” said Flossie. “You want me to keep going?”
“No,” said Sagacia. “That’ll do.”
She and Simplia sat down with cups of chamomile tea.
“Not much ‘hocus pocus’ in all those first lines, was there?” said Simplia.
“No,” her friend agreed. “But each one is compelling in its own way.”
“Yeah. They all have the quality of sounding as though they had just rolled trippingly, thoughtlessly off the narrator’s tongue. But they make me want to hear the rest of the story.”
“Yep,” said Sagacia.”And you can bet each beginning line was carefully crafted to lead nowhere else but straight into the heart of its story.”
“And that,” said Simplia, “is the point I believe both of our correspondents were making. These are ‘household tales.’ It’s folk art. It’s simple and plain. And maybe all the more magical and compelling for that — no fireworks, no fairy dust.”