The Mailmouse did not, in Simplia’s opinion, appear or act particularly sorry as he handed her the rumpled envelope postmarked weeks and weeks ago.
“It got … um … rerouted that day when your cat was trying to eat me. I was distracted.”
His life had been in peril. But she had taken matters in hand, scolded the cat, and apologized profusely. Clearly, this Mailmouse knew how to harbor a grudge.
Simplia smiled pleasantly and said, “Well, I’m happy to say you’ll have no more trouble with Murzik.” She nodded to the porch swing where the cat lay snoozing with one eye open and digging his claws into the seat cushion. “He’s given up red meat.”
The Mailmouse dropped the letter on the porch and turned to scuttle away. But then he turned back.
“Oh. And there’s this one. Postmarked yesterday.” Instead of an envelope, though, he dropped — with a loud clang — a can of beans.
As the Mailmouse was going, Sagacia was coming up the walk with a bag of books from the library.
“Ah, yes!” she said. “It’s the Magical Third of the Month, and there’s our letter addressed to Vasilisa the Wise. It looks like it’s been buried. How did it arrive this time? By com-post?”
“The Mailmouse,” said Simplia. “And look. Bonus! This month we’ve got two letters. Or one letter and a can of beans.”
They decided to read the older one first:
*I am a professor at Northern Michigan University and I am writing a book on the gaze in fiction. I am looking for a very specific piece of information on fairy/folk tales of any region and thus far no one seems to be able to provide this vital piece for my work.
What fairy/folk tale(s) have the following directive: DO NOT LOOK BACK or DO NOT TURN AROUND or something of that nature?
If anyone can assist me with this query I would be most grateful.
Thank you in advance,
Prof. of French and Russian
Department of Modern Languages and Literatures Northern Michigan University Marquette, MI
Sagacia let the letter fall to her lap and she gazed at the horizon, lost in thought for quite some time.
Finally, Simplia asked, “You got anything? I’m coming up blank.”
Sagacia snapped back into the present tense. “Only mythology,” she said. “Orpheus as he’s leading Eurydice up from the underworld. He’s under strict instruction not to look back. Perseus had to keep his back to Medusa and only look at her reflection. I don’t know if that counts or not.”
Simplia said, “I’m thinking of Psyche gazing on Eros by lamplight, but ‘don’t peek’ is different than ‘don’t look back.’ And that’s not a fairy tale. Mr. Fox is a fairy tale with ‘don’t peek’ at its heart, but that’s still not ‘don’t look back.’ I wonder, is this question is about observation or revelation? Or does it matter?”
They both sat gazing into the middle distance. Finally, Sagacia stirred.
“Shall we open that can of beans?”
“Oh. Yeah. Here.”
As Simplia lifted the beans, the label slid off, revealing writing on the blank side.
Dear Vasilisa the Wise —
I am fascinated with the way fairy tales often neatly overlay true life experiences, taboos, injunctions, cautions, and exhortations. “Don’t deviate from the path.” “Don’t stop and pick flowers.” “Don’t talk to strangers.” Because if you do any of those things, a wolf will eat you.
And the “do” list: “Do be polite to strange old people you meet along the path.” “Do share your food.” “Do help animals in distress.” “Do accept help when it’s offered.” “Do remember to be grateful.”
What are some others? I’m trying to compile a list of fairy tales that speak directly and immediately to issues, problems, triumphs, conundrums, victories, defeats, and challenges that ordinary real people face in their ordinary real lives. I’d really love some titles to go along with the motifs. And I wonder, across cultures, about similarities and differences.
Pragmatist in Providence
Simplia wrinkled her nose.
“I do wish Vasilisa would make an appearance for this one,” she said. “What if all our Magical Friends are on vacation, and we have to come up with replies to both of these queries? I don’t think my brain reaches that deep.”
“We’ll be fine,” Sagacia assured her. “Let’s open this can. They may be magic beans.”
*This is the text of an actual “letter” the bloggers received on a page they did not realize would/could accept comments. It has languished since March of this year. We sincerely hope it is not too late for the Simpletons and their cohorts at the Fairy Tale Lobby to help this very real professor with her actual research. Pragmatist in Providence is, of course, a pigment of the bloggers’ colorful imaginations.