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“Further,” said the king, “surmise is aroused in us when we discover a woman far from a house; for you will have both observed and noticed that women are home-dwellers, and that a house without a woman or a woman without a house are imperfect objects, and although they be but half observed, they are noticed on the double.” (Irish Fairy Tales, James Stephens; illus. Arthur Rackham. Thank you, Project Gutenberg.

Simplia cradled her teacup in both hands and leaned in so she could hear better. Flossie Squashblossom was passing through town, and she never turned down an opportunity to indulge in the Fairy Tale Lobby’s famous lapsang souchong. Nor could she turn down an opportunity to voice an opinion. Flossie was never short of strong opinions to voice.

Today, some of the Simpletons’ Magical Friends were discussing how infrequently one encountered a theme of friendship between women in fairy tales. Mary Hamilton had cited one of her favorite examples — Kate Crackernuts — solid friendship between two step-sisters.

Flossie, gave half a nod and a cocked eyebrow to that suggestion. “Granted,” she said, “they were not blood relations; but they did share a set of parents and they did live in the same household.”

“From which they both ran away together,” Sagacia said.

“True,” Flossie conceded. “But I contend that their friendship was a product of their parents’ relationship. What started this vein of questions in the first place?”

Tarkabarka told her that the story “Wild Goose Lake” had inspired Amy in Amityville to write to Vasilisa the wise. She pulled out her phone and emailed everybody a link so that they could read the story at their leisure.

Flossie was not a patient woman; she was never without her iPad; and she read really fast.

“Different events than Kate Crackernuts, but still … their friendship took root and grew because they became members of the same household. Will someone bring me a cosy for this teapot? It’s growing cold.”

Charles Kiernan spoke up and suggested “Snow-White and Rose-Red,” and then he thought of Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree. “Odd,” he muttered, “how the two titles are so similar.

“And again,” said Flossie with the emphasis of a pointing index finger, “our protagonists are either related by blood or by marriage, and they are part of the same household.” She stopped for a sip of tepid tea. “My point being: Just as there are today vastly fewer women who become step-mothers because of Death by Childbirth than there were back when these tales were embroidered on the fabric of society, there were vastly fewer women back then with the leisure and autonomy to go out and make friends. They were too busy raising children, raising chickens, cooking, sewing, managing a house, subsumed in the drudgery of domesticity. Only a tiny handful of women enjoyed leisure and independence — ‘Me Time,’ if you will. When you do encounter the rare fairy tale with strong women forging strong friendships — of course it stands out. It’s an anomaly.” Flossie drained the teapot, then drained her cup; she stifled a ladylike belch and said, “At least, that’s my take on the matter.”

All the other Magical Friends glanced sideways at one another, blinked several times, and waited for someone else to break the silence that grew and grew and grew.

Simplia couldn’t resist.

“Maybe the friendship between Gold-Tree and her wife-in-law was only possible because they lived in the same house, but you gotta admit this is one story that blows all sorts of other stereotypes away. The jealous queen was the actual womb mother, not a step-mother. And the two co-wives were devoted to each other in spite of the fact that the king — insensitive twit! — makes no secret of his preference for Gold-Tree over Second Wife. What I wouldn’t give for a key to Second Wife’s diary…”

Sagacia had nodded off. As she yawned herself awake, an idea occurred to her. “Is there a number in one of the motif indexes for what we’re talking about? Let’s go to the library and check it out, Simplia. Tomorrow.”

 

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