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“Ivan Tsarevich,” said the Pike. “Take pity on me and toss me back into the sea.” From “The Frog Princess,” illustration by Ivan Bilibin, 1899.

The Simpletons reached the Fairy Tale Lobby and quickly tacked up the question on the bulletin board.

It was the proverbial dark and stormy night, which should have provided even more incentive for magical friends to come inside, sit by the fireplace and partake of the the Simpleton’s reliable hospitality, but the place was empty and cold. Sagacia started making some hot chocolate and stuck some frozen scones in the oven to warm, ready to welcome the hoped-for guests. Simplia set about building a fire, and when her friend came in with a warm scone and a cuppa, she settled into the Chesterfield and pulled an Afghan over her lap. (One of those little blankety things, that is; not a Pashtun or a pop singer.)

Still, no one.

“So,” Simplia sighed.

“Yeah,” Sagacia echoed.

They listened to the fire crackling.

Simplia sighed again.

“Well, what I think,” Sagacia said at last, looking around in case anyone might object; no one did, of course.

“What I think is that if the animal is an enchanted human, it serves a different function in the story than do animals who started out as animals,” she continued. “I mean, if it’s an enchanted human, the whole course of the tale is directed toward breaking the enchantment.

“If it’s an animal just being an animal,” she continued. “. . . like a carnivore who is ogling a savory little red-caped lass or a horse carrying its bogatyr like it’s supposed to, well, they feed into the tale in a way that reflects their animal natures, or their supposed animal natures.

“If it’s an animal who needs assistance, and who may later assist the hero, I might add, it moves the story along and it adds intrigue, and it also reinforces the idea of cooperation or gratitude.

“If it’s a magical animal like a firebird, it is probably the object of the quest or perhaps an obstacle intended to deter the hero from reaching the object of his quest.

“In any collection,” Sagacia knew she was being more longwinded than she needed to be, but that didn’t stop her in what looked to become a long night no matter what. “In any anthology you can find several spec– in any collection, there will be enchanted and natural and magical ani–in any book you’re going to . . .”

“Book?” said a voice.

Sagacia jumped a full twelve inches off the Chesterfield, and Simplia whipped the fire poker she held into saber-attack position. They looked toward the source of the sound, and there, curled up in a quilt on the window seat was Kim Weitkamp.

“How long have you been there?” Sagacia asked, still startled.

“We didn’t mean to wake you up,” Simplia began. “We didn’t see you. We, I mean, . . . . When did you get here?”

Kim gave a great yawn and a stretch, and wriggled out from under the quilt.

“Mmmffmmrgl,” she said, toddling toward the warmth of the fireplace.

“Let me get you some hot chocolate, dear,” Sagacia said, hastening to the kitchen door.

“Coffee!” said a voice behind them. The Simpletons and Kim each gave a little jump.

“Charles?” said Simplia.

Charles Kiernan?” said Sagacia.

“The same,” said Charles. “At your service.”

“Ca-aw-fe-e-e . . .” Kim moaned.

“Let me get you BOTH some coffee!” Sagacia ran into the kitchen to punch the heat-up button on the Keureg. She set out two pods of dark roast Nicaraguan.

“Now,” she said, pushing back through the door into the living room. “So, what’s going on?”

But the newly discovered guests had already been through that with Simplia, and Charles was already into giving a view on fairy tale animals:

The sentient animals in fairy tale slip in through that door in our heads opened by magic. This is the door that many a cautious mind would keep locked, but fairy tale holds the key.

Through this door wanders Little Red Riding Hood, followed by the wolf; a young, foolish prince, followed by a fox and a golden bird; and quite a few bears and composite monsters of other beasts find their way through as well. Oh, this is not safe!

Then, at night, drawn by the inexplicable, we tread over that threshold, into their realm where the veil is rent and borders are not drawn. There we stumble, lost, our usual bearings of routine taken away, rescued by awakening that pulls us back through the door, tugging on Ariadne’s thread, to which we are attached.

Should animals speak? Should they hold magic? Beyond the door, of course they do.

At that last “door,” Sagacia remembered her task. She tiptoed into the kitchen but left the door ajar so she could listen as she prepared the coffee and set the warmed scones onto a serving plate.

But, alone in the kitchen, she wondered. What next? Are there more magical friends sitting quietly in other corners? Is that what makes magical friends magical? The fact that they can disappear into the furniture and, as long as they remain silent (or asleep), even fairy tale freaks–that is, fairy tale enthusiasts as the Simpletons prefer to be called–will not see them until they speak.

And, as for that “beyond those magical fairy tale doors” business, what magical English-speaking animals yet lurk? Maybe someone, some magical friend, will have the answer.

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